Saturday, October 23, 2010
An ordinary day at work took a heartbreaking turn when York Regional Police Platoon Sgt. Rob Cullen was called to a home in Keswick last week. Moved and determined to honour the man found lifeless and alone, Cullen sent his story to AM640 Radio.
Last night, while working in my usual role as a police platoon sergeant, we were called to a VSA . . . vital signs absent, in the basement apartment of a house just north of Keswick.
The victim was 78 years old. A retired firefighter, he had served from 1959 to 1989 with the North York Fire Department. It no longer exists, having been enveloped by the Toronto Fire Department. The victim had succumbed to a heart attack.
His small basement apartment was very tidy. Upon the walls were tons of framed photos. Pieces of history from 1940s and ’50s baseball, hockey, entertainers, and horse racing. Certificates of gratitude from the North York Fire Department, the City of Toronto, and the pigeon racing club he belonged to after he retired. He had a very organized collection of 78 rpm records from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Ella, Fats Waller . . . and he had the turntables to play them. The last album he played was Frank Sinatra.
He was very well read. Books of history lined his bookshelves, with an emphasis on Ontario and especially Toronto history. His specialty was the Avro Arrow . . . the huge limited framed edition print on his bedroom wall reflected his interest. Maybe sometime, somewhere, he saw the world’s greatest plane fly. He was a huge supporter of our troops. An article from the Toronto Sun about the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion sat on his desk. Pictures of cops and firefighters were found here and there.
But as we found out, he had no next-of-kin. As the sergeant, it was my job to notify them. I had no one to visit, no one to see. No nieces or nephews, no sons or daughters. He was truly alone.
Satisfied with what I had seen, I left the detectives and constable on scene to await the coroner, and have the body removed to its final rest. As I walked down the driveway, the constable followed me out and said, “Hey Sarge, wait up! Can I ask you something?”
“Sure. Whatdya need?”
“Sarge, they’re gonna carry this guy out in a plastic bag. All the neighbours are watching. He was a firefighter for 30 years. Sarge he’s got no one . . . we can’t let him go like that. Can you find us a Canadian flag, so that when they take him out of the house, we can lay it on the gurney when they roll him to the hearse?”
7:30 on a Tuesday night. Where to find a flag? . . . Yup, the Dollar Store. The only thing open and, sure enough, they had one. Contrary to popular opinion, not everything at the dollar store costs one dollar. At this point, the cost was not really an issue. I bought the flag, and took it back to the scene.
The coroner released the body, and firefighter Robert Wilson was brought up from his apartment. Before he left the door, the flag was draped in its full glory across him, to honour the life of a man who was willing to give it at any time. For the 50 feet it took to take him to the removal vehicle, the neighbours watched in silent respect. The people from the funeral home tucked the flag secure and removed it with him. I expect it will be buried with him, too.
For a short time, the time it takes to walk a body 50 feet, he wasn’t alone. He was a firefighter, a hero. He was a Canadian. All it took was a flag to show it.
Maybe it’s time we find our heroes before their only honour comes from a dollar store.
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10-25-2010, 01:45 PM #1
Respect"My friends, watch out for the little fellow with an idea." - Tommy Douglas 1961.
Tender 9 - old, slow, ugly, cantankerous, reliable!
All empires fall, you just have to know where to push
10-25-2010, 02:02 PM #2
- Join Date
- Aug 2009
- North Texas
Thanks for sharing...Good deed you did there!*Always leave the job a little better for the next guy*
10-25-2010, 02:20 PM #3
- Join Date
- Sep 2010
10-25-2010, 02:26 PM #4
Well done. This is very classy.Matt G.
10-25-2010, 02:31 PM #5
A story that should be shared with everyone. Great to see the respect shown to the retired brother.Career Fire Captain
Volunteer Chief Officer
Never taking for granted that I'm privileged enough to have the greatest job in the world!
10-25-2010, 03:01 PM #6
You know that little feeling you get when the hair stands up on the back of your neck and the goosebumps pop out all over?
Well I got a bad case when I read the story.
Thank you so much for sharing this story. It made my day.
PKHAVE PLAN.............WILL TRAVEL
10-25-2010, 03:20 PM #7
Thank you for sharing this story. It made my day.
10-25-2010, 03:24 PM #8
Thank you Sgt Cullen for honoring this man as a true hero that he was in a life of many interests. A very moving story!
10-26-2010, 12:10 AM #9
A tip of the Leather for Sgt. Cullen for honoring FF Robert Wilson (retired)"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
10-26-2010, 01:33 AM #10
This moved me, to goose bumps and swelled tear ducts.
RIP FF Robert Wilson
.I'm the one Fire and Rescue calls, when they need to be Rescued.
Originally Posted by EastKyFF
10-26-2010, 03:26 AM #11
Wow. Great story that made me get the chills.
Excellent job Sarge!!Jason Knecht
Altoona Fire Dept.
IACOJ - Director of Cheese and Whine
EAT CHEESE OR DIE!!
10-26-2010, 11:33 AM #12
With every old firefighter, cop, soldier, or sailor dies a lifetime of remarkable memories. There is no telling what this fine Canuck could have told us about. It would behoove us to be mindful of that every time we work a death. Exemplary by the sergeant to keep that in mind and extend him the highest possible respect as he left his home for the last time.
Here's to all the old jakes who paved the way for us."Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
--General James Mattis, USMC
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