Brandon Thompson's brothers, Jeff, left, and Frank hold a brick from the Sofa Super Store while their parents, Frank Thompson and Diane White, hold an article about the deadly blaze. Retired New Bedford Chief Roger Nadeau assisted them this weekend.
Photo credit: Susan Nicol Kyle/Firehouse.com
EMMITSBURG, Md. -- A retired fire chief from Massachusetts and a deputy chief in South Carolina may live thousands of miles apart, but they share a bond.
Both lost brothers who were firefighters.
Former New Bedford, Mass. Chief Roger Nadeau lost his brother, Gerald in 2002. Pine Ridge Vol. Fire Co. Deputy Chief Jeff Thompson lost his brother, Brandon, on June 18, 2007 in Charleston.
In the dining hall just yards away from a monument dedicated to fallen heroes, Nadeau and Thompson swapped stories and shared laughs. It was hard to believe they met only months ago.
The two took turns introducing each other as others joined them.
Nadeau vowed after his brother was honored by the National Fallen Firefighters' Foundation that he would help others move on.
His brother, Gerald W. Nadeau, 51, was district chief in Fall River Fire Department in Massachusetts. He died of lung failure just weeks after responding to a house fire and hazmat incident.
Nadeau wore a large button bearing his brother's picture. Above it are the words: "Always in our Hearts."
When he read in a local Florida newspaper about a bike ride in memory of the Charleston 9 this past spring, the retired chief did more than open his wallet.
He called Jeff Morse, a Naples firefighter who was organizing the ride, and offered his support.
The ride of 600 miles lasted nine days, one day for each Charleston firefighter who perished in the furniture store blaze last year.
"Each morning, a bio of one of the firefighters was read while the 19 bicyclists gathered in a circle. They ended the ritual with a yell," he explained.
Upon arrival, they again would gather in a circle, say a few words and officially end the leg for that particular firefighter.
Along the way, they were received fire and police escorts. Just outside major cities, they would don fire helmets for their arrival.
Their last day was dedicated to Brandon Thompson, a Charleston firefighter and deputy chief of Pine Ridge Vol. Fire Co.
When they arrived in Charleston, they were escorted to the scene of the deadly fire where they spent time remembering the fallen heroes.
Later, they were hosted by the Charleston Elks. The man wearing the apron was Frank Thompson, Brandon's father.
"What a dedicated bunch," Thompson said. "Cooking chicken was the least I could do."
The riders raised $35,000 for the families of the fallen firefighters.
Nadeau explained the memorial weekend activities and the NFFF, and his involvement as a returning survivor volunteer.
The Thompsons asked if he would be their family escort for the weekend. "I told them I'd be honored, but that decision usually comes from the NFFF staff."
A month or so later, Nadeau received a call from a firefighter asking if he would be interested in bricks from the Sofa Super Store.
"I wanted to make sure it went somewhere important. I called Linda Hurley (NFFF chief of staff), and she agreed to place it in a display case in the chapel. She also told me the Thompsons had requested I be their escort."
Nadeau points to goose bumps on his arms as he starts telling what happened next. "I was starting to wrap this brick to ship when my wife told me I had a phone call. It was Frank Thompson on the phone. Can you believe that? We think Brandon was looking down on us."
Frank Thompson said he's pleased that the brick is on display -- just yards away from the memorial and plaque containing the names of the fallen firefighters.
Following the memorial service Sunday, he had tears in his eyes as he struggled to find words. "Beautiful, absolutely beautiful, a fitting honor..."
Later, Thompson made another announcement. "I'll be back here to help others. I can't tell you how many people made me feel at home these past few days. They understand because they've been there. It was great having Roger with us. I can't say enough about what he did for us."
Jeff Thompson also was impressed by the hospitality. "I thought people in the south made people feel welcome. I have to say we've been impressed from the very start."
When the Thompsons landed at BWI airport in Baltimore late Thursday night, they were met by firefighters. Andy Levy, with Maryland Fire-Rescue Institute, was there to chauffer them to their hotels in Frederick.
"It's been incredible. Even people at our Marriott hotels have been overwhelmingly helpful and kind. Everyone has made us feel right at home."
He also will be returning to Emmitsburg in the future. "Having Roger there was helpful because he lost his brother. Maybe, I can help someone in the same situation."