08-11-2010, 08:11 AM #1
This is from Fire Engineering posted Aug 10, 2010
An Unwanted Reunion in Death
Aug 10, 2010
By Ronald E. Kanterman
As most of you in the fire world already know, two firefighters in Bridgeport, Connecticut, died in the line of duty on July 24. The Bridgeport (CT) Fire Department (BFD) suffered what all of us would believe to be the unthinkable--a double line-of-duty death (LODD). A single LODD is horrendous. Simply stated, a double is twice as bad.
The funerals for Lieutenant Steven Velasquez and Firefighter Michel Baik took place on Friday, July 30. As we all know, a bit of us is always torn away when we hear about an LODD anywhere in the country, or even in the world. When it’s nearby, it cuts a little deeper.
Working in Connecticut brought it closer to me this time. One captain, two lieutenants, and I met at the firehouse at 0630 hours and headed south to Bridgeport. The five days of heavy planning by the BFD, the Connecticut Statewide Honor Guard, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department, and the FDNY Ceremonial Unit (on requested mutual aid) had paid off. We pulled in to parking fields just off the turnpike and parked among the 400 other marked and unmarked fire service cars. There were 50 buses in cue waiting to take us to the church a few miles in to the city.
Between 0730 and 1000 hours, the start of the ceremonies, the uniformed crowd swelled to almost 10,000. There we were, amidst a “Sea of Blue,” as noted by Bill Manning, former editor of Fire Engineering. Bill had created this metaphor in a speech he delivered in Washington, DC, in October 2002, honoring the fallen firefighters from 9/11/01 and the rest of the country in 2001. We were six-persons deep for a quarter mile.
The processional came up slowly, police motorcycles from all over Connecticut out front, then a few limousines, BFD apparatus and cars, the caisson with Lt. Velasquez, the entire BFD on foot, pipes and drums, and buses full of family and close friends. The governor, the mayor of Bridgeport, other officials, dignitaries from the Connecticut Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the IAFF--all were there. A large contingency of firefighters from Prince George’s County, Maryland, were on hand as well, since Lt. Velasquez had worked there previously.
I’ve been here before. Most of us have. The look on the faces of the BFD members as they marched by looked the same as the faces of members of other fire departments that have marched by in similar fashion, and for the same reason. As the honor guard commander called us to attention, I noted the rear door of the first limo opening. Out stepped Mrs. Velasquez holding her one-year-old daughter.
You can’t swallow hard enough to make that lump in your throat disappear, so you turn your attention on something else. Despite the effort, however, an uncontrolled tear makes its way down your face. You just can’t help it, and you can’t stop it.
The honor guard commander then called “Present arms” as the casket was removed from the hosebed of the caisson. With right hand to hat peak, pain sets in after 10 minutes. We all held it for almost 15 minutes while the casket was taken off the pumper and carried to the church. We had all been standing in the sun for two or three hours prior as well. All the while, you are saying to yourself, “This isn’t about me; keep your arm up,” and we all do just that.
Once those who belonged inside the church got there, the honor guard dismissed the detail until, of course, we aligned for the exit. That’s when the unwanted reunion started. I turned around. Behind me was Mike, an FDNY battalion chief whom I hadn’t seen since 2007 at the National Fire Academy. We had previously met in 1996.
As we’re catching up, another FDNY deputy assistant chief from the Bronx approached, and we rekindled our friendship. I moved on toward a shady spot under a tree and ran into Earl, a Hooksett (NH) Fire Department firefighter and one of the honor guard commanders, with whom I have the privilege to work each year at the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Weekend.
As I waded through the Sea of Blue, I saw Connecticut chiefs and firefighters I knew. We shook hands and acknowledged the day’s tragic circumstances, knowing that this is the first funeral of two for the day. As I headed for the Red Cross canteen for a bottle of water, I recognized Brian, a pipe and drum major who also works the National Memorial Weekend who has traveled up from Fairfax County, Virginia, with a half dozen others from his department. As I left his company, I started to look at shoulder patches walking by. The local six-state area (Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania) were pretty well represented. Then two guys from the London Fire Brigade walked by. Among the Sea of Blue, the many out-of-town fire department shoulder patches I spotted included Washington DC, Ann Arundel County (VA), Jersey City (NJ), FDNY, and Boston. There were too many to list here. There were hundreds.
I heard my name called, and there was my old friend Jeff, the Local IAFF president from North Plainfield (NJ). We embraced and discussed the day’s tragedy and then caught up. This scene was repeated all day--not just by me, but by most in attendance. I then realized that I was at an unwanted reunion in Bridgeport. None of us wanted to be there for the reasons we were brought together. It was great to see old friends, associates, and comrades, but not under these circumstances.
As they placed Lt. Velasquez back onto the caisson and the procession drove away from the church, we offered one last salute. The crowd moved toward the buses to head to the next church, only to do it all over again. More reunions, rekindles, handshakes, and embraces. More catching up. All under the worst of circumstances.
For a brief moment, I couldn’t help but think that Steven and Michel had brought us all together. I thanked them quietly, to myself. It also occurred to me that this happened a few years ago while at a funeral for an FDNY lieutenant. A few days before the service, I was thinking about a captain I knew a very long time ago in the FDNY who made battalion chief and went on to another assignment. I remember clearly asking myself, “I wonder whatever happened to the Cap?” My assistant chief at that time and I were walking among another 10,000-member Sea of Blue in Staten Island (NY). I heard a familiar voice. I turned around. There he was, walking right behind me, talking to another retired member. I hugged him so hard that I took the breath out of him. The lieutenant in his ultimate sacrifice had brought us together. An unwanted reunion.
My charge to all of you in our great American fire service is to keep in touch. Make a phone call, send an e-mail, send a text, or--dare I say it?--write a letter. I know that we’d rather see each other at a picnic, a ballgame, a wedding, a retirement party, or perhaps in Orlando walking through the Magic Kingdom with our families looking for a mouse. Let’s do whatever we can to NOT have to meet in a Sea of Blue.
Thanks for your sacrifice, Steven and Michel, and rest in peace. Although you brought some of us together again, we will promise to take an alternate course of keeping in touch. You are gone, but you will not be forgotten.
Ron Kanterman is a 34-year fire service veteran with municipal, industrial, and government experience. He has a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, has published numerous articles and a book, and has contributed to many fire service textbooks. He is a career fire chief for a tribal nation in southeast Connecticut and is an advocate for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.ALL GAVE SOME BUT SOME GAVE ALL
NEVER FORGET 9-11-01
CAPT. Frank Callahan Ladder 35 *
LT. John Ginley Engine 40
FF. Bruce Gary Engine 40
FF. Jimmy Giberson Ladder 35
FF. Michael Otten Ladder 35 *
FF. Steve Mercado Engine 40 *
FF. Kevin Bracken Engine 40 *
FF. Vincent Morello Ladder 35
FF. Michael Roberts Ladder 35 *
FF. Michael Lynch Engine 40
FF. Michael Dauria Engine 40
"If my job was easy a cop would be doing it."
08-11-2010, 08:15 AM #2
08-11-2010, 09:10 AM #3
- Join Date
- Jan 2010
yeah, awesome read bro
08-11-2010, 12:20 PM #4
- Join Date
- May 2002
- Now in Victoria, BC. I'm from beautiful Jasper Alberta in the heart of the Can. Rockies - will always be an Albertan at heart!
I agree, thanks for sharing this, Ray.September 11th - Never Forget
I respect firefighters and emergency workers worldwide. Thank you for what you do.
IACOJ CRUSTY CONVENTION CHAIR
RAY WAS HERE FIRST
08-11-2010, 03:59 PM #5
That's what it is all about...."The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY
08-12-2010, 02:37 AM #6
Very awesome. Yes.....that's what it's all about!!Jason Knecht
Altoona Fire Dept.
IACOJ - Director of Cheese and Whine
EAT CHEESE OR DIE!!
08-12-2010, 02:50 AM #7
- Join Date
- Mar 2007
- Jacksonville Fl
Thank you for sharing
08-12-2010, 03:22 AM #8
Thanks for the read.
Seems like it is more true, than alot would like to believe.
.I'm the one Fire and Rescue calls, when they need to be Rescued.
Originally Posted by EastKyFF
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