Retirees of N.C. Department Purchase Honor Guard Uniforms

Aug. 29, 2013
The Burlington Fire Department Honor Guard have been sharing uniforms for more than a decade.

Aug. 28--Many, if not most, have witnessed the solemnity with which a fallen first responder or military member has been laid to rest at the hands of a white-gloved honor guard.

Being part of an honor guard is what the name implies -- an honor. And in order to perform the duty with utmost dignity, the honor guard's movements must be precise and uniforms in tip-top shape.

The latter was becoming a problem for the Burlington Fire Department Honor Guard, whose 15 members had to swap portions of their uniforms to ensure members performing services were perfectly dressed.

"I've been in Honor Guard 12 years now, and they were issued to us then," said Capt. Anthony Davis. "They're getting old and worn."

"Based on the different sizes of people, there wouldn't be enough," said Engineer Adam Dixon, who's been on the Honor Guard for a year. "Somebody may have to borrow somebody's jacket or someone's hat."

The Burlington Fire Department Retirees Association found out about the problem and stepped in to help pay for the uniforms, which cost about $700 to $750 for each full set.

This month, retired Battalion Chief Ed Carroll presented a check for $5,200 to Fire Chief Jay Smith to buy new Honor Guard uniforms on behalf of the Retirees Association, which raised the money in July by hosting a golf tournament.

"We've been to so many funerals of the guys who've retired," said Carroll, who chaired the tournament at Quaker Creek Golf Course. He and the other retirees learned about the worn uniforms at one of the association's monthly breakfast meetings, and decided to do something about it.

Retired Capt. Kenneth Dixon heads the Retirees Association and likes to keep the retired firefighters engaged with what's currently going on with the fire department. He customarily brings in speakers from the Burlington Fire Department to keep the retirees connected.

At one of those breakfast meetings, Engineer Chuck Loy, head of the Burlington Fire Department Honor Guard, spoke to the retirees about their rights to a free Honor Guard service when they pass away. He also mentioned the worn uniforms.

Kenneth Dixon said when budget time rolls around, city money allocated to the fire department is reserved for general operations, and not for programs like the Honor Guard.

"Now all money for that program has been cut," he said.

That's where the idea for a golf tournament began.

"We had an awesome response from the community," Kenneth Dixon said. "It was a tremendous outpouring."

THAT OUTPOURINGcame because the community recognized the dedication given by the 15 men in Burlington who mark an otherwise somber event with the dignity it deserves. Several of them have retired firefighters as fathers.

"There's four of us on the Honor Guard that are second-generation," Loy said.

That includes Davis and Adam Dixon, whose father is Kenneth Dixon.

"My dad was on the original Honor Guard when it was first formed," in the late 1980s, Davis said.

Adam Dixon said he, too, was inspired by his father, whose own father-in-law -- Adam's grandfather -- was a captain with Graham Fire Department and got him interested in fire services.

"I take a lot of honor and a lot of pride in my job -- for one, being second generation here ... (and) because of my grandfather starting the whole tradition in our family," Adam Dixon said.

A firefighter really has to want to be on the Honor Guard and to commit to it when chosen.

"There's pretty much a waiting line for people that want to get on," Davis said.

"I was on the waiting list for three-plus years," Adam Dixon added.

Interested firefighters inform Loy of their intent. He puts them on a list that fluctuates based on who decides to stick with it or drop out of the volunteer program.

Davis said the Honor Guard meets and practices movements or "cadences" each month, save for the summer months, so they're ready for the city's annual holiday parade, the Relay for Life event each year, and the funerals, which can't be predicted.

"A lot of times, over half these guys might be on duty," Loy said. So when a funeral arises, he rounds up as many of the off-duty Honor Guard members that he can to present the colors.

"They're all military-type movements that we do," Davis said.

AT EACHretired firefighter's funeral, Loy initiates the cadences with, "Honor Guard, prepare colors," at which point the American flag is removed from the casket. The Honor Guard folds the flag, then presents it to the fire chief to inspect before delivering it to the deceased's family members.

"There's a whole lot of responsibility on those guys," Adam Dixon said. "Everybody's watching you. Everybody's watching your movements."

And it's important for those movements to be executed well for the flag to be folded tightly, Loy said. "You want it to be the last time that flag's ever folded," so the family has but to frame it, he said.

Davis said that a sense of pride and "job well done" spurred him to sign up for the Honor Guard. It's another way he can serve as a firefighter.

And whether they're told or not, those who serve by presenting the colors and standing guard at a casket make a huge difference in the lives of retired or fallen firefighters, Kenneth Dixon said.

"They stand guard ... during the entire visitation," he said. "Honor Guard is a big part of the families that have lost a retired or current firefighter."

The importance of the duty was impressed on Adam Dixon in April during a funeral for retired firefighter Mike Brown.

"I had one guy tell me ... 'I want you guys standing beside my casket when I die,'" Adam Dixon said. "Pretty powerful, there."

Copyright 2013 - Times-News, Burlington, N.C.

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