I stood in the sunshine on a cloudless day outside a church in College Station. There was a twelve foot Texas flag hanging in the air behind me. The flag was either new or had been in storage for a while because the static electricity could be felt as you walked underneath it. It hung between two ladder trucks; one from the city of College Station and one Bryan. Fire engines line the driveway. Pat Barrett was getting a proper memorial.
Barrett taught and trained thousands of firefighters during his 18 years with the Texas Engineering Extension Service. It seems as though all of them showed up to pay their respects. He was the Fire Chief for Spur FD. A single fire engine from that central Texas town followed behind him on the start of his journey home.
I was raised in a firehouse. My dad worked two 24-hour shifts at two different fire departments. I’ve ridden on countless fire engines, been strapped to an endless number of backboards and played in the spray of a fire hydrant on a hot summer day. Not all of these things are unique to being a fireman’s son. In fact, my cousins and friends were almost always right there with my younger brother and I. They are unique to a firefighter’s family, though.
My dad called home every night at 10pm. He would talk to my mom about his day and hers. Never being old enough to stay up that late, I suspect that’s also where my mom filled dad in on what exactly I had done wrong that day. I will freely admit I was a problem child, and for being home only every third day, my dad sure knew what I did when he wasn’t home. If the phone rang past 10pm, it meant something was happening. I didn’t realize until I was in college how that impacted me.
You always know, whether you say it out loud or not, that it’s a dangerous job. There are stories every day about the perils of fighting fire, responding to an emergency or helping those in need. The very first time my cellphone rang past 10pm, I panicked. Immediately I answered and asked what was wrong. A very startled friend from class was wondering if I wanted to get a late-night snack at Kaldis. I couldn’t quite explain to her the fear I felt. I called my dad the next morning before school just to hear his voice.
Funerals are a difficult time. Your heart is full with grief.
When it’s another firefighter who’s lost, the grief doubles.
The nature of the profession creates tight-nit groups among strangers.
“When one group experiences a loss, we all experience a loss.”