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'He had a heart for service,' widow of firefighter recalls

By ERICA RODRIGUEZ
July 6, 2010 at 2:06 a.m.

Nikki Araguz, 30, widow of Wharton volunteer firefighter Thomas Araguz III, 30, talks about the effects his death has had on her and her family.

FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS FOR CAPT. THOMAS ARAGUZ III

WHAT: Public visitation

WHEN: Saturday, 1-6 p.m.

WHERE: Wharton Funeral Home, 515 E. Boling Highway, Wharton

WHAT: Funeral

WHEN: Sunday, 2 p.m.

WHERE: Wharton Civic Center, 1924 N. Fulton St., Wharton

Due to limited parking for Sunday, public parking will be at the Wharton High School, 800 E. Ahldag Ave. Buses will transport those attending beginning at 12:30 p.m. and immediately after the services.

Graveside services will follow at Evergreen Memorial Park, 3511 E. Alabama Road (County Road 166).

For those who would like to pay tribute to Capt. Thomas Araguz III, the funeral procession will follow from Wharton Civic Center, south on Fulton Street, west on Boling Highway, south on North Richmond Road, east on Alabama Street, passing the Wharton Fire Station, then north on Alabama Road, ending at Evergreen Memorial Park.

Public needing more information can call 979-532-4811 ext. 400.

Fire department personnel needing more information, call 281-802-4561.

Thomas Araguz III Memorial Fund Information

A memorial education fund has been established for the children of Capt. Thomas Araguz III at The First State Bank of Louise, 505 E. Boling Highway in Wharton. The bank can also be contacted at 979-532-0404.

Make checks payable to The Thomas Araguz III Memorial Fund.

Donations can also be made online at www.fsblouise.com.

WHARTON - Capt. Thomas Araguz III was at home with his two sons when he received the call to fight his last fire.

"His children were the center, the reason he breathed," Nikki Araguz, the firefighter's widow, said Tuesday. "He was God first, family second, and then the fire department. That was Thomas."

Araguz, a 30-year-old Wharton native and an 11-year veteran with the Wharton Volunteer Fire Department, died in a blaze at an egg production plant in Boling about 15 miles east of Wharton. He became trapped while fighting a massive fire Saturday evening.

His body was found Sunday as firefighters searched through debris.

Araguz leaves behind two sons, Trevor, 9, and Tyler, 7, and his wife, Nikki.

On Tuesday, Nikki cried intermittently as she remembered her husband, who she called her hero.

"The respect that I had for him and that he deserves, I want the whole world to know," she said. "My husband went in there and did exactly what he would have done in exactly any other situation, and I miss him so much."

Araguz, who graduated from Wharton High School, had a heart for public service.

He graduated from Wharton County Junior College police, fire and emergency medical technician academies last August and was a reserve deputy with the Wharton County Sheriff's Office. He had recently been promoted to the fire department's captain position.

"He loved to fight fires," Nikki said. "He really did. He died doing what he had a heart for."

Nikki described her husband as a strong Christian. The two met in church and would have been married two years in August.

She remembers always eating family dinners together, him playing with Legos with the boys and his quirky addiction to Star Wars "The Clone Wars" cartoons.

"We didn't do anything one thing at a time," she said. "It was all or nothing, and it was always together with our children."

The fire will continue to be investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Texas Fire Marshal's Office for the next few months, said Jay Evans, deputy state fire marshal. The federal assistance is common in areas with departments with limited resources.

More than 150 firefighters were called from 31 departments to fight the blaze that lasted until about 6:30 a.m. Sunday.

Two other Wharton volunteer firefighters were injured in the blaze, received medical treatment and were released before noon Sunday, Evans said.

He would not release further details of the investigation.

Tuesday, the Wharton Volunteer Fire Department was surrounded by trucks from all over Southeast Texas. The out-of-town departments are helping to cover shifts as firefighters continue grieving, said Paul Shannon, the assistant fire chief.

An American flag was flown at half-staff and a black ribbon was tied to the front door.

"It's been a grieving process because it's such a tight-knit group here," Shannon said.

The department has 28 entirely volunteer positions.

Araguz was the first line-of-duty death since the department was established in 1902, Shannon said.

"He was a very dedicated individual in his responsibility to the fire department," he said.

Counselors with the Texas Line of Duty Death Task Force are available at the station for anyone who needs assistance.

Nikki thanked the community and family members for their support.

Shannon said the support has been tremendous.

"The outpouring of support has been more than we expected," he said.

Shortly after Nikki received the news about her husband, she searched for the one thing that has given her hope.

"He gave me this necklace," she said, fingering the charm. "I was desperately going through my jewelry to find the stuff that he gave me."

Her face tightened as she read the Bible verse engraved on the back.

"It says, 'Fear not for I am with you,'" she said. "I think that just goes to show God's plan for us was always to put us together, and Thomas will always be with me ... I will forever be Mrs. Thomas Araguz III."

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