SOUTH WALTON Fla. (WMBB) — South Walton Fire District officials are participating in a nationwide campaign to honor firefighters who have died on the job by lighting the night red.

This tradition started nationally in 2017 and is observed every October. Sadly though, this hits home for SWFD. They lost one of their own back in 2004, Robert Heighton. 

“Now it is my job to make sure my guys stay safe in everything we do, that is how we honor him,” said District Chief Glen Kuehner. 

On October 20, 2004, an air heart one flight crew with paramedics and firefighters crashed into the Choctawhatchee Bay killing all three onboard, including SWFD Robert Heighton. For District Chief Glen Kuehner, this loss was especially difficult.

“Robert Heighton, a good friend of mine,” said Kuehner. 

Both men had served together as rescue partners for many years.

“There have been numerous times where we’ve had, and even myself have had near misses,” he said.

But remembering those who served before him, Kuehner said, that is what he thinks of when those red lights illuminate the night sky.

“Remembering those who served before us and sacrificed their lives, but we also need to remember them to remember not to make the same mistakes and also to honor their dedication for the profession,” said Kuehner. 

One of the extra measures they take to keep their staff safe is closing down roads when there is a traffic accident.

“Working roadside of a motor vehicle accident, sometimes we shut these down for a few moments of inconvenience sometimes means that our first responders get to go home at the end of the shift,” said Kuehner. 

As a community, SWFD officials want to remind everyone to take extra driving precautions when fire responders are roadside. They encourage people to light up their homes or businesses with red lights for lighting the night red this entire week, leading up to fire prevention week.