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Fallen firefighter funeral expected to draw thousands

BRANDON (AP) — The number of people in Brandon this weekend is expected to increase by one-fourth as thousands turn out for the funeral and burial of a fallen firefighter.

Steven Ackerman, 38, died Sunday while fighting a house fire in Brandon that also killed 47-year-old homeowner David Smith. Ackerman, a 14-year volunteer with Valley Springs Fire and Rescue, is the 43rd firefighter to die in the line of duty in South Dakota since 1924, and the 22nd volunteer firefighter to be killed.

His funeral is 2 p.m. Sunday at the Brandon Valley High School gymnasium. Fire trucks will line the route from the gym to the cemetery, and the number could surpass 100 as officials from fire departments around the country make plans to attend the services, Minnehaha County Emergency Manager Lynn DeYoung said.

Officials in the town of 9,500 people expect about 2,500 people to attend the services.

"He's not going to go out alone," said fellow Valley Springs firefighter Rick Mitchell, one of many firefighters who have been keeping an around-the-clock vigil outside the Sioux Falls funeral home handling Ackerman's remains. "He won't be alone until the moment he is laid to rest."

Shuttle rides will help ferry people to the high school, since parking there is limited, the Argus Leader newspaper reported. Bagpipe groups and ladder truck towers also are planned. Ladder truck towers involve two fire trucks forming a bridge with their ladders, with a flag centered in the middle.

"Fortunately there aren't a lot of funerals for firefighters in the line of duty," DeYoung said. "But when this happens, the firemen will show up and show support."

The cause of the fire is still being investigated. Authorities do not consider it suspicious.