Growing up in Cedar City, Joe Thurston was energetic, kind and willing to try anything, from soccer to music to skateboarding.
“He was never one to shy away from a challenge or new experience,” recalled Thurston’s classmate and friend, E.J. Overson, upon learning of Thurston’s death Sunday as a member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots fire crew, battling the Yarnell Hill fire near Prescott, Ariz. The fire has burned more than 8,000 acres and was still mostly out of control Monday.
The 32-year-old Utah native was one of 19 firefighters to die in the fire. The Hotshots are part of the Prescott, Ariz., fire department. A city spokesman didn’t have information about how long Thurston had worked with the Hotshots, but Thurston’s family wrote in a press release that he had worked as a firefighter and EMT since 2008.
“He had all the qualities that a firefighter would need to possess,” Overson said. “He was service-oriented, very caring and willing to do some things that many others would say, ‘I don’t want to get involved.’”
Longtime friend Scott Goodrich agreed.
“He was a very determined guy. He wasn’t a slacker. He was very generous. All that is definitely in his character,” said Goodrich, who went to Cedar High School and Southern Utah University with Thurston.
“He was one of the best guys I ever met,” he said.
Goodrich and Thurston played in a band — Thurston was “a natural” at the drums — and rode skateboards and went cliff-jumping together.
“He was definitely one of the daredevil types,” Goodrich said. “We went to Quail [Creek] Reservoir, and we’d be finding 40- to 50-foot cliffs that people would be scared to jump off. He would just show up and be front-flipping off of them,” said Goodrich, now of St. George.
Among Goodrich’s favorite memories of Thurston were late-night swimming parties, which Thurston facilitated by sneaking a key to the school pool.
“We got caught a couple of times, but he was good at talking his way out of that kind of stuff,” Goodrich laughed.
Overson played soccer with Thurston from early elementary school through their graduation from Cedar High School in 1999. He remembered Thurston as a person of many layers.
“He was not very outspoken; he was a very nice, considerate person. When you got to know him you’d realize there was a lot more to know than you might think at first blush,” Overson said.
“He wasn’t good at any one thing — he was great at many things. He was able to touch a lot of lives.”
Thurston’s family released a statement on Tuesday:
“He will be remembered for his bravery and selflessness,” they wrote. “Joe was enthusiastic about his work and very service oriented. He was energetic, compassionate, determined, loving, funny, hard working and extremely kind. Joe managed to be wildly fun to be around, always rallying the group to the next adventure. He was the type of guy whose smile filled the room. Dependability and decency radiated from him even at a very young age. A devoted family man, he could always be found at the baseball field or on the floor playing with his kids. Head over heels for his high school sweetheart and wife of eleven years, Marsena, Joe used every day as a new opportunity to show his love and support. Joe will be missed and will forever be our hero.”