Friday, October 8, 2004

 

Brotherhood treats members like family

By JASON HOWE

Democrat Staff Writer

ROCHESTER ó Firefighters define themselves as a brotherhood.

The word encompasses all facets of a bond forged through common experiences and hardships in one of the nationís most hazardous professions.

This mutual understanding makes a member treat fellow workers like family ó like a brotheró and is what drew firefighters from across the state and country to pay their last respects Thursday to firefighter Daniel Holmes, who died Sunday when a burning 100-foot-tall pine tree fell on him while combating a fire.

The 26-year-old grew up in Rochester and graduated from Spaulding High School, before heading off to Johnson State University in Johnson, Vt., and eventually becoming a wildfire firefighter in Northern California.

He died in the line of duty, a symbol area fire chiefs cite as the highest level of sacrifice a firefighter can make.

"This is something we always say is a brotherhood. If a firefighter dies in another community, itís like losing a brother. You understand because of the dangers of the job, because we serve and protect at the cost of our own lives. But everything is a team approach, thereís never an individual focus," Rochester Chief Mark Dellner said Thursday.

When one of their own dies, whether in the local department or across the country, the loss is treated like that of a blood brother.

"Iíve been in this business for 28 years, and this aspect hasnít changed since I came in, itís team thing thatís about helping each other, and this goes from funerals to putting a roof on your house," Dellner said.

Beyond just helping, there is an understanding that a firefighterís life can be taken at any time.

The bond of brotherhood plays out in the tradition of a funeral procession, with full dress and aplomb. The march shows respect for the fallen brother, but also celebrates the survival of those "brothers" still alive.

"I look at the procession as Ďthere, but the grace of God go I,í it could have been me. I think we look at that as it could just as well have been me. It could be the next time I go out that itís me, or one of my brothers that is the next to go," Laconia Deputy Chief Deborah Pendergast said.

The tradition is all too familiar for Pendergast, who recently participated in a similar procession ceremony for Laconia firefighter Mark Miller, who died in the line of duty on March 11.

Miller was killed during cold water dive training, possibly because of faulty equipment.

Regardless of the cause, it is an understanding of the officers sacrifice that draws firefighters from across the four corners of the country to pay their respects.

"The point here is that it doesnít matter necessarily where youíre from, but youíre always going to have the support of the fire service. Itís just a bond we have," Dellner said.

Democrat Staff Writer Jason Howe can be reached at 332-2200, Ext. 5022, or jghowe@fosters.com

© 2004 Geo. J. Foster Company