I was really hoping that I never had to write another of these. Theyâ€™re heartbreaking, and difficult, and make me really upset. But just like the last one, itâ€™s someone that means a great deal to me, and I would be remiss if I didnâ€™t pen something about a man who taught me so much and meant so much to me and the rest of the members of Engine 15 on Platoon #3. We miss him dearly.
The members of Engine Company 6 and Truck Company 4 stood at attention on either side of the casket. A brief pause went by before the command was given; it was a clear enough day that all of us assembled in the nearby â€œSea of Blueâ€ could hear were the flags of the Color Guard, cracking in the wind.
The firemen leaned forward on command, lifting the flag they had placed so deftly upon his casket not two hours earlier, and held it tight between their hands.
The rest of us were at attention and holding a salute in the blazing sun. My shoulder ached, my brow was streaming sweat, and my arm was shaking from emotion. Iâ€™m sure I wasnâ€™t aloneâ€”but none of us cared about any of that.
Once, twice, a third timeâ€¦
His Honor Guard folded the flag until it was a crisp blue-and-white triangle, eventually to be presented to the Lieutenantâ€™s wife. I unfortunately missed this part of the ceremony, because I broke rank in the sunlit heat and stumbled towards another member of my company who had done the same.
We didnâ€™t leave because of dehydration (although people in the back of the ranks were dropping like flies in their Class-A uniforms, so I was told), or exhaustion, or any other physiological reason.
Kevin McRae was my Lieutenant at Engine Company 15 for three years, and he was with my guys for even longer than that before I was transferred in.
I composed myself several minutes later, and I found myself standing in the sun just outside a medical tent. I had just stepped onto a sidewalk when Sergeant Brian Phillips called the Sea of Blue to attention, and I snapped to on instinct.
â€œSea of Blueâ€¦ presentâ€¦ arms!â€
After fifteen rings of a bell (in three sets of 5, indicating a last alarm for a fallen brother), a lone bugler began a moving rendition of â€œTaps.”
Before the DCFD Pipes & Drums band had even begun playing afterwards, the tears were rolling steadily down my face.
Iâ€™ll never forget 1212 Eaton Road.Â It was my first fire when I was actually assigned toÂ Engine 15, and my first fire with Lt. McRaeâ€¦ certainly not my last, however. I admired his calm under pressure, his poise when dealing with the guys, and the sense of camaraderie he engendered in his men. Before that, I had been sentÂ fresh out of the Training Academy to ride extra on Engine 15, under the tutelage of (then) FF/PM Andrew Arnold, assigned to #3 Platoon. (Little did I know that I would eventually be privileged enough to have his spot when he promoted, but at the time I was just enjoying a busy Southeast company staffed with a great group of guys.)
From the first day of meeting Kevin, he was everything you could want in an officer. He was composed, he was professional, he loved to joke around in the firehouse, clearly held the respect of his men, and was most of all a good person who wanted to help everyone. Coming to work wasnâ€™t a job, for himâ€”it was an honor, and a privilege, that he never once forgot about in twenty-four years since he first started as a cadet in July of 1989.
When Lt. McRae transferred from Engine 15 to Engine 6 a few years ago, I respectfully speak for the entire backstep when I say that we were very sad to see him leave. He was appointed to Engine 6â€”so I was happy to see him take the opportunity to lead his old companyâ€”but he made a lasting impression on all of us that was difficult to fill for quite some time. When one of my guys called me to tell me that Kevin McRae had died that very morning, my mind went blank. It was quickly filled, however, with a flood of everything that I loved so dearly about working with him.
His laugh. It echoed through the firehouse, and you could always tell if he was nearby, since it was one-of-a-kind and particularly infectious. (Especially when he would band together with the Rescue Squad officer to cause some impromptu firehouse hilarity. Those two were longtime friends and fellow officers coming up through the ranks, so having them on the same shift together was ridiculously entertaining).
His patience in helping me finish my probation, which I did about a month after I was transferred to 15. Iâ€™ll admit that I wasnâ€™t the brightest or most adept at everything back then, and Iâ€™m still not. But rather than passing me off to someone else when I did something wrong, he made it a point to teach me and make sure Iâ€™d be better for the next time it happened.
His quirky, lopsided smile that he wore almost every hour of the day. When the fellas got together after his passing, that was one of the things we remembered most dearly. The mischievous, playful, â€œI-know-something-you-donâ€™t-knowâ€ grin? It was his trademark. And anyone who knew him knew exactly what Iâ€™m talking about.
Lastly, I remembered that he was instrumental in my transfer from Engine 26 to Engine 15. Apparently I showed some sort of promise that he recognized, and since he knew that Arnold was going to be promoted soon, he always chided me in good humor and said that he â€œpulled all the strings I had left, slim. Donâ€™t fuck this up.â€
â€œThat goofy guy in the front seat.â€
It made me immensely sad to know that Iâ€™ll never see you again. That Iâ€™ll never work a trade and wave to youÂ on your way out of a firehouseÂ and share a few minutes of catching up. That we can never exchange a playful phonecall or the â€œMerry Christmas to you and yoursâ€ text that you always sent to theÂ guys.
However, it made me immensely proud to hear that you were doing what you loved. You always said thatâ€™s what you were best at, and you never once proved yourself wrong.
I can only hope that Iâ€™ve made you proud, from all those years ago.
We all do.
Rest easy, Lieu. Check in on us every once in a while, would ya?
Because the fellas and I miss the hell out of you.