Friday, March 12, 2010

A Beautiful Tribute to Honor our Local Fire Chief

Thursday was a very sad day as I attended the funeral of Rich's Fire Chief, Tom Dickensheets. (He also happens to be family as he is my father-in-law's cousin.) Tom passed away early Sunday morning at the young age of 55 from an apparent heart attack. He had served as Fire Chief for 22 years and, being in the fire service for nearly 3 decades, it was the passion of his life.

As I walked up to the local Catholic church to attend the funeral, the street was lined with fire trucks from all over the county. There must have been nearly a hundred fire service, local and county police and EMS waiting outside on what turned out to be a beautiful day for early March.

The funeral service started and I was without a tissue! I kept telling myself not to look at family and I'd be okay. Luckily, the actual service wasn't too emotional, but what happened afterwards would have made just about anyone shed a tear.

I followed with family and friends as the local firemen, dressed in uniform and wearing white gloves, carried their Chief out of the church in the casket. They walked him up to vintage 1924 fire engine that had sat in the fire station for years in non-working condition until this last week. The firemen made sure to have it fixed so it could be used as the hearse for their Fire Chief.

The casket was gently laid in the old fire engine, then the top 3 officers, dressed in white uniform tops and black slacks, took their positions in the fire truck. The Lt. drove as the Captain road in the passenger seat and standing on the back of the fire truck was the Assistant Fire Chief with one white-gloved hand placed on the casket for the entire ride to the cemetery.

The old fire truck left the parking lot of the church to start the funeral procession, as Tom's close family followed. Every fire service vehicle from the the local fire station followed the family, then the rest of the family and friends with the procession ending with nearly another dozen fire engines from neighboring fire departments.

The local and county police had left early to block off the route to the cemetery. I had no clue what that route was going to be until I realized they turned the opposite direction than where the cemetery was. The procession went slowly through town. People were standing outside their workplaces, homes and even their cars watching the procession and paying their respects.

As we continued along, we turned a corner to pass in front of the fire station. Before we even arrived, we could hear the old fire bell ringing, "Bong....Bong....Bong....Bong...." as the funeral procession passed. Rich's old fire department had sent a half dozen men to stay at our local fire station in case of a fire during the funeral. They were all positioned outside with the old bell and a set of fire gear sitting next to it, symbolizing the loss of a fireman.
We passed by the fire station and turned another corner. More people were standing outside paying their respects and then we stopped just short of the cemetery. The old fire truck carrying the casket had stopped as the rest of the fire department parked the fire service vehicles and got out to walk the rest of the way behind their Chief.

As the procession started back up again, we could hear a bagpipe playing. The bagpiper was standing amongst the graves a good distance away from Tom's final resting place. We went a little further and saw two aerials (ladder trucks) positioned with their ladders extended toward one another with an American flag hanging between them. The funeral procession passed under that flag to enter the cemetery.

We all stopped and the firemen carried their Fire Chief for the last time to the grave site. We stood around and listened to the Priest say a few last words and prayers. What happened after the Priest had finished was the hardest part of the whole funeral.

There was a brief silence then, all of a sudden, all the fire pagers of the local fire department went off. There was a bit of static following the tone, then the dispatcher came on...."Attention Croswell firemen. Attention Croswell fireman. This is the final call for Fire Chief Tom Dickensheets." And the dispatchers voice started to waver as she finished, saying "Sanilac Central clear. 12:53."

Weeping followed as the bagpipes started up again playing "Amazing Grace" and the casket was lowered into the ground. When most everyone had left except for family, they stood around to say a few final words and sing a song.

Tom was a wonderful man who his whole family loved and everyone else greatly respected. He was a local hero that will never be forgotten.
Rich and I came home to relax that afternoon and talked about the days' events. It came up that Rich's pager would actually play back the final call if we wanted to hear it, but it would be deleted if he shut it off. For the sake of keeping the memory of Tom's final call, we recorded it with the video camera and just so it will never be lost, I wanted to post it here:

**The pictures above are not mine....actually if you look close enough you can see me in one of them! These pictures were borrowed from the local newspaper, The Times Herald, and they were taken by MELISSA WAWZYSKO.


Marissa said...

He sounds like a wonderful man that will surely be missed. Looks like he had a beautiful funeral service as well. It's amazing how just one person can touch so many lives.

Wendy said...

I am in tears as I write this... Brought back so many memories of my brother who passed away a few years ago of a heart attack at the age of 43. He was a volunteer fireman and loved it! His funeral was very similar and I can't hear amazing grace by bagpipes without breaking down! It is beautiful. I remember his final call like it was yesterday.....

I am sorry for your loss. Sounds like he was a great man and will be missed.

Nancy M. said...

Wow, I am crying just picturing what you said! Sounds like a great tribute to a wonderful hero!

Unknown said...

He sounds like such an admirable man who was taken from those who love him much too soon.

Thank you so much for sharing with us. I'm so sorry. {{hugs}}

Debby@Just Breathe said...

Oh Kristie you did a beautiful job telling this sad story. He was certainly a man of honor. What a beautiful service. I like that you taped the pager, I love the way they did that. I know it doesn't make it any easier for the family right now but what a wonderful way to be appreciated for your life's work.

Nancy said...


It was the most beautiful service. Truly, the firemen loved Tom as much as he loved them. Wednesday nights memorial service with all of the fireman from different departments at the funeral home. I think I heard 250 plus. I could not talk about it today without crying. Thanks for taping the last call. That was the most touching part of the service. I am so honored to be the cousin of this wonderful person. Did you see the link to the speech by Candance Miller about Tom?

Alexis AKA MOM said...

Oh sweetie the final call made me cry reminded me of the final calls they played for the police people killed it was a beautiful way to remember them.

I see you :)

Much love to Rich and all the other amazing people!

Caroline said...

This story made me remember my uncle who was a fireman for 37 yrs. He lived in a small town and that's the way his was. My brother is a fireman today and has been since he got out of school. It takes a special person for that line of work and I'm thankful for those special people that can do that. Thanx for sharing this so much.

Marsha said...

Hi Kristie,

There's hardly a day that goes by that I don't pray for Amanda and Ayllissa. How are they doing?

Alesha @ Full Time Mama said...

This brought me to tears. Sounds like the most wonderful tribute to an obviously very deserving man. Thought and prayers go out to his family.

LCUACE said...

Hi Kristie,

I am Tom's brother.
Thank you so much for this. I was hoping and trying to figure out a way to get a recording of Tom's last call. Thank you also for the write up. It is very touching and very thoughful of you. God Bless You.

Patrick Dickensheets

Patrick Dickensheets Jr said...

Hi Kristie,

This is Tom Dickensheets nephew. This was a very nice article, and thank you so much for the video, it was a touching announcement and very evoking emotionally. Your gift of this video will be appreciated by all the Dickensheets' family members.\

Patrick Dickensheets Jr.

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