By JAIME ARON
AP Sports Writer
BROWNWOOD, Texas (AP) - For the last 18 years, firefighter Shannon Stone's family dreaded getting a phone call telling them something had gone horribly wrong.
That call came Thursday night. Only it had nothing to do with his dangerous job - it was from the simple pleasure of taking his 6-year-old son to a Texas Rangers game, and trying to catch a ball tossed his way by the boy's favorite player, Josh Hamilton.
The 39-year-old Stone lost his balance and fell headfirst about 20 feet onto concrete with his son, Cooper, watching. Witnesses said Stone was conscious after landing and spoke about Cooper being left alone. Stone was pronounced dead within an hour; an autopsy ruled the cause as blunt force trauma from the fall.
The unfathomable circumstances behind Stone's death has made his loss even more difficult for family, friends and fellow firefighters.
Hundreds mourned him during a public visitation Sunday, many leaving the funeral home with tissues in hand, tears in their eyes, their voices crackling with emotion.
"When you're married to someone that's a first responder, you go into it knowing there's that possibility," said Trease Burke, whose husband, Scotty, was a Brownwood police officer for 14 years and is now on the Lake Patrol. "But you don't expect it to be like this. ... You don't expect it to be a freak accident."
Media was asked to stay out of the funeral home. Many of those leaving the building declined to be interviewed, citing the family's wishes.
"It's still obviously a very somber occasion," Brownwood Mayor Stephen Haynes said. "The family of course is honoring him appropriately and celebrating his life. But it's still difficult to accept, obviously, the nature of the death and the timing of the death and the way that it happened."
A funeral is scheduled for Monday, followed by a procession to the cemetery that was expected to include more than 100 fire trucks from across the region. Representatives of the Texas Rangers were planning to attend, too.
Brownwood is a town of about 20,000 residents in the Hill Country of central Texas, some 150 miles west of the Rangers' stadium in Arlington.
Flags across the area have been at half-staff since Friday, with several wreaths and a dozen yellow roses left in his memory at a monument outside the fire department.
"We're a small town," Haynes said. "We're not (small) enough that everyone knows everyone, but we are small enough that everyone is impacted in some way. Everyone has a friend or family member who was close to that family."
Jarratt Lawler grew up with Stone in Cleburne, about 100 miles from Brownwood. They weren't especially close, but renewed acquaintances a year ago at their 20-year high school reunion.
Lawler was so moved by Stone's death that he drove 3½ hours from McKinney with his pregnant wife and young daughter just to pay his respects.
"He was an all-around good guy," Lawler said. "He was just always trying to help people, always did the right things."
Stone was twice voted firefighter of the year by his peers, Haynes said. He worked as a paramedic, and as a rescue technician at Texas Motor Speedway. He also was involved in disaster relief following Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and fighting wildfires.
"He was a character," Scotty Burke said. "He was a firefighter's firefighter. You could see that in his dedication to the job. He was very professional on the job. Off the job, he was lighthearted and always had something good to say."
Haynes said there already has been discussion of a permanent way of remembering Stone.
"Certainly we're going to do what we can to keep his memory and the honor of what he stands for alive for as long as we can," Haynes said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)