Tomorrow, I will be attending the funeral of Elizabeth Fire Department Acting Captain Gary Stephens. This will be my second (unfortunately I doubt it will be my last) time attending a LODD funeral.
I was in a bit of a bad mood (about something unrelated) and was talking to my girlfriend and mentioned I would be attending the funeral. She asked me why, since funerals put me in a bad mood, I would go to another funeral that I didn’t have to go. I know I need to go.
My question, I suppose, is how do I explain to someone outside of the fire service the brotherhood that we all share and why I would feel compelled to go to a funeral of a man I’ve never met?
I read his question with great interest because I’ve been in his shoes before. I’ve tried to explain this “thing” that we share. I’m not sure I’m very good at it. Here was my response:
You’ve answered your own question. The fact that you feel compelled to go to a funeral of a man you’ve never met – is the definition of brotherhood.
The answer to why you feel compelled to go – is because he would do the same for you.
That’s the real brotherhood of the fire service in its rawest and most public form.
I readily admit that it’s difficult to explain and can even be quite intimidating to those who “don’t drink from the same cup,” but as my good friend Art Goodrich said: If she doesn’t get it, she probably doesn’t get you.
Two words: Good Luck.
That very same day, I too attended the funeral of a firefighter from a neighboring county who died in the line of duty. I never met the man, but you see, I didn’t need to. I know plenty just like him.
His brother firefighters did a great job in giving due honors to Corfu/East Pembroke Captain Norm Koch. I was proud to stand amongst my brothers in Genesee County. Here’s the link to the newspaper article detailing their efforts: http://thedailynewsonline.com/articles/2009/01/05/news/5025653.txt
Still in my Class-A uniform, I decided to go to the Erie County Medical Center to visit Friendship NY Firefighter Tom Torpey. ECMC is the trauma center where Tom had been since a brick wall collapsed unexpectedly on him and three of his brother firefighters from Friendship and Cuba at a commercial structure fire on December 22, 2008.
Tom’s a hard-working young man, a dedicated volunter, all of 29 years of age; and a father figure to five children with his wife Jessica. In what should be the prime of his life, those bricks crushed his body, but certainly not his spirit. He’s a fighter.
I went to his room, but he wasn’t there. Just a few days out of the ICU, and with the help of his wife and a fellow Friendship Firefighter, Tom was roaming the halls in a wheelchair, making friends and influencing people.
He’s completely aware of what happened that fateful Sunday morning. Feeling blessed that the outcome wasn’t worse, Tom keeps himself busy sharing his positive attitude with anyone who passes him in the hall. Not letting it keep him down, he’s already taking baby steps with the aid of a walker. But he’s far from out of the woods.
It’s expected that he’ll need close medical attention for at least another month or more, whether in the trauma center or after being moved to a rehab center closer to home, which is more than 80 miles away from the hospital in Buffalo.
For now, their lodging and transportation needs are being met through the graciousness of our local Ronald McDonald House in Buffalo, but there may be gaps where they need our help. Jessica is starting to go home on the weekends to take care of the kids and because of the distance, Tom will be left alone at times.
In just our brief encounter, I can tell that Tom Torpey is a self-motivated person. And to keep him motivated and in good spirits, everyone’s suggesting that he gets lots of cards, patches and visits from his brother and sister firefighters. See what you can do about that.
Send cards and well wishes to:
Friendship Fire Department
P.O. Box 503 – Friendship NY 14739
A benefit is planned for the four firefighters on Saturday-February 28, 2009 from 1-6pm at the Friendship Fire Department. A fund has been established by the Cuba and Friendship Fire Departments to assist the firefighters and their families with expenses.
You can visit the Cuba Fire Department’s web site: www.cfdsmokeeaters.com for frequent updates on the injured firefighters and fundraising efforts. Please send checks or money orders to:
Collapsed FireFighter Fund
c/o FASNY FEDERAL CREDIT UNION
107 WASHINGTON AVE.
ALBANY NEW YORK 12210
Before I left the hospital, Tom’s fellow firefighter thanked me for stopping by. As I shook his hand, I sensed that he was a little taken back by my visit, maybe wondering why I just appeared at the hospital, unannounced.
You see, I had never met Tom Torpey, but I didn’t need to. I know plenty just like him.
I thought to myself, “Because he would do the same for me.”
This blog is also published at YourHub.
URLs in this post:
 Image: http://tigerschmittendorf.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/35/2009/01/dscf4362.jpg
 FirefighterNation.com: http://www.firefighternation.com/forum/topics/ff-funerals
 Adam Box: http://www.firefighternation.com/profile/Pokey559
 Gary Stephens: http://firefighterclosecalls.com/fullstory.php?77841
 Art Goodrich: http://www.chiefreasonart.com
 Genesee County: http://www.genfirewire.com
 http://thedailynewsonline.com/articles/2009/01/05/news/5025653.txt: http://thedailynewsonline.com/articles/2009/01/05/news/5025653.txt
 collapsed : http://www.buffalonews.com/437/story/530171.html
 Ronald McDonald House: http://www.rmhbuffalo.org/
 www.cfdsmokeeaters.com: http://www.cfdsmokeeaters.com