A Fireman’s Prayer
When I am called to duty, God whenever flames may rage,
Give me the strength to save some life whatever be its age.
Help me to embrace a little child before it’s too late,
Or some older person from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout,
And quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and give the best in me,
To guard my neighbor and protect his property
And if according to your will I have to lose my life,
Please bless with Your protecting hand
My children and my wife
This week I attended a fireman’s funeral. Not just any fireman but my uncle’s. Recently, I read a blog about why we seem to write so much about people that have passed away. It seems to me, we all want to put aside the sadness of loss and hold onto what makes us happiest…..the things that bring us some comfort and closure.
Why write about this one funeral and not any of the others I attended over the years? Maybe because I was profoundly impressed by the ceremony, the reverence and the love in that room when the fire department held their honor service. It wasn’t long, no big speeches, no politicians, no prayers, nothing much to an outsider or someone that does not understand commitment to community; nothing much except respect, honor and brotherhood. All day long, the casket was flanked with two uniformed firemen standing watch, standing at attention one at either end, respecting his life, respecting his service to his community and respecting the memory of their fallen comrade.
The simple service started with a fireman walking to the front of the hall, asking that we allow them the time and space to give their final goodbye to Wayne with a very quick service. It seemed that everyone that had never seen this type service raised a collective eyebrow but also gave the men and women of the South Holland Fire Department a wide berth. I knew what to expect, my family included volunteer and full time firemen for many, many years and yet I was profoundly moved by the outpouring of love and respect for my Uncle Wayne. The fireman’s walk-through is a silent service. A column of more than 60 firefighters in dress blues, coworkers, and police officers silently and reverently walked past Uncle Wayne, their Assistant Chief, one last time, saluting, saying a final good-bye and paying honor to their friend and co-worker.
Uncle Wayne volunteered for the fire department over 51 years ago as a result of his niece dying from burns received in a house fire. He felt helpless at the time and vowed that he would do everything in his power to make sure no other child, no other person died as a result of a fire. That vow resulted in many cold meals when he was called out for a fire, many family parties not attended or interrupted because of his commitment, and many missed opportunities to spend time with the ones he loved because of a fire call. We all knew of his dedication. We saw it every time we were together.
Throughout the years Uncle Wayne moved up through the ranks attaining the rank of Assistant Chief. But, I can assure you the firemen in that hall were not there out of duty to their superior, they were there out of respect and love for a fellow fireman. At almost 83 years old, Uncle Wayne was semi retired, not fighting fires any longer but he still went out to fires on the canteen truck, keeping the men in coffee and conversation, offering advice and giving them encouragement knowing that his service was important also. He was forever the optimist, glass half full kind of guy. He cajoled and encouraged everyone. His smile and kindness are what I will remember most. On Thursday evening, for a few brief moments as they passed him one last time and saluted, they each in their own way said good bye to this amazingly wonderful man who encouraged, appreciated, loved and mentored them all. They were his firemen. They were his friends, they were his family and he loved each of them fiercely, would have done anything for each one of them; they knew it and would have returned the favor if called on. Uncle Wayne was the definition of dedication and brotherhood. He lived it everyday.
When I think about it, I find it very fitting that my Uncle Wayne, the fireman of 51 years died during the month we observe National Fire Safety Week. While anyone he ever met knew Uncle Wayne was a fireman, he was first and foremost a family man extremely dedicated to his community and his God. May he rest in peace.