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Fire fighters from across North America pay tribute to two Winnipeg colleagues

February 2007- Manitoba - On Wed. Feb. 14, 2007, beneath the extended ladders of two fire trucks and a giant Canadian flag

December 14, 2007 
By Fire Fighting in Canada

February 2007- Manitoba – On Wed. Feb. 14, 2007, beneath the extended ladders of two fire trucks and a giant Canadian flag, 2,000 fire fighters from across North America gathered to honour two of their own who died in the line of duty.

“They were loving husbands, loving fathers, loving brothers, volunteers who gave up their time to the community,” Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz told mourners who came to the MTS Centre to remember Tom Nichols and Harold Lessard. The two fire captains died Feb. 4 fighting a house fire.

“They were humble spirits who were the first to tell you they were simply doing their job, and that’s maybe why their sacrifice seems so great to all of us,” Katz said, his voice breaking.

“They were ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”


Acting Winnipeg Fire Chief James Brennan said Nichols and Lessard will be added to the department’s honour roll. He presented Canadian flags and memorial plaques to their families.

“Harold and Tom dedicated their lives to making society safer,” said Brennan.

“Today we celebrate their lives, grieve their loss, and honour their legacy.”

Prior to the service, a long line of sombre fire fighters snaked its way through the streets in the bone-chilling morning cold en route to the centre. They marched in formation to the rat-a-tat of two snare drummers and some walked beside fire trucks. A few had their collars turned up for the eight-minute walk in the -25 C morning.

They held aloft provincial flags or banners of various fire departments. They had come from such places as Whistler, B.C., Halifax, Toronto, Dallas, Fargo, N.D., and New York.

Robert McCarthey of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts said he flew almost 2,000 kilometres to pay his respects to two men he never knew but now will never forget.

“We’re a family, notwithstanding borders, gender or age,” said McCarthey.

“An injury to one is an injury to all, and we’re here to help ease the pain for our brothers and sisters.”

The pair died when they were caught in a flashover – a sudden burst of flames and extreme heat.

Inside the centre, the two trucks with ladders extended represented arms welcoming the firefighters home.

To the mournful skirl of bagpipes, the firefighters marched into the hall. There was a large contingent from the Winnipeg fire and paramedic service, along with RCMP, military and border guards. All were given small black bands to put on their badges.

Fifty-five-year old civilian Gary Whittaker said he came to honour two men he knew personally.

Whittaker, sitting in a wheelchair, said both Nichols and Lessard came to his home on separate occasions last year when his diabetes and low blood sugar became a problem. In another instance, he fell and broke his hip.

“I got very good care,” said Whittaker. “They were very nice people, both of them, so I’m here to respect their memory.

Rob Wilson, a 27-year veteran of the fire department in Fargo, N.D., said there is a bond in firefighting not found in many professions.

“I have a hard time imagining what the chief officers are going through.

“No one wants this to happen on their watch.”

Fargo fire fighting veteran Bruce Hoover said fire fighters spend a third of their lives with their comrades – 24-hour shifts, 10 times a month.

“We know more about the guys we work with than we do about our own families,” he said.

(CP)   –Michelle MacAfee

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