As a child, Thomas Marovich Jr. was never caught without his toy fire truck.
The toy, according to his sister, Christy Marovich, symbolized "T.J.'s" dream to follow in his father's footsteps of serving in public safety. Thomas Marovich Sr. spent nearly 32 years with the Foster City Police Department, when fire and police services were combined.
"T.J. idolized and admired my father," she said. "He knew at a young age that he wanted to help people and get out there to make a difference."
Marovich, 20, of Hayward, achieved his dream of becoming a firefighter when he was hired in 2007 by the U.S. Forest Service to serve in Modoc National Forest in the northeast corner of the state.
His experience on his dream job — and in life — was cut short when he fell some 200 feet Tuesday from a helicopter during a training exercise for firefighters in Willow Creek, about 20 miles east of Arcata, Humboldt County. The accident's cause is still under investigation.
"T.J. was selfless. He was giving and never expected anything back," Christy said. "He was a passionate person and was full of integrity."
Christy fondly remembers one of the first times her brother had the opportunity to ride in a fire engine.
"His eyes lit up," she said. "It was his world and he fit it perfectly."
Marovich was a 2007 graduate of James Logan High School in Union City. In 2006, he was named student of the year in Mission Valley Regional Occupational Program's fire technology program.
Paul Tappan, a Union City firefighter, was one of the course's instructors and is a longtime friend of the Marovich family. He said Thomas Jr. was very dedicated to fire service.
"T.J. held his head up high with his chest out," he said. "But he did that because he was proud of the profession."
During his high school years, Marovich also was active in the Fremont Fire Department's explorer program, which teaches teens about fire service with hands-on experience. He became an explorer adviser in 2007 and led a youth wildland training program on Sunday, said Battalion Chief Jim Martin of the Fremont Fire Department.
"Thomas was someone you could count on," Martin said. "It's a tragic loss for all of us."
In 2008, Marovich was hired into the Modoc National Forest's apprentice program as a wildland firefighter apprentice.
He most recently served on the Chester Helitack Crew from Lassen National Forest. The crew was called into the Willow Creek area to help battle the Backbone Fire in the Trinity Alps Wilderness, which started July 1 because of lightning.
At the time of his death, Marovich was participating in a rappel training exercise required every two weeks to ensure the crew's skill, said Robin Cole, a Backbone Fire spokeswoman.
On Friday, Marovich's body was flown from Arcata-Eureka Airport in Humboldt County to Hayward Executive Airport. The California Highway Patrol, fire engines from the Six Rivers, Modoc and Lassen national forests, as well as CalFire, took part in an escort to the Arcata-Eureka Airport.
At the Hayward airport, the Fremont Fire Department explorers and honor guard participated in an escort to Mission Funeral Home on Mission Boulevard.
Marovich is survived by his parents, Thomas Sr. and Judy Marovich of Hayward; sister Christy Marovich of Hayward; grandmother Virginia Marovich of Palo Alto; and grandparents Regis and Louise Blutas of Missouri.
A full firefighter service is planned for 10:15 a.m. Thursday in St. Clements Church at 750 Calhoun St. in Hayward.
Cards to the family may be sent to the Big Valley Ranger District, Thomas Marovich Family, P.O. Box 159, Adin, CA 96006.