NYSAFChief’s Memorial Sermon

June 10, 2010


(This Chaplain’s Message is the Memorial Sermon that was preached at the Annual Conference Memorial Service of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs held the Turning Stone Resort in Verona, New York on June 10, 2010)


Words are important and often choosing the precise word to use is a challenge. For example the word “shock” has numerous synonyms:






But do any of them really begin to capture the meaning of the word “shock”? Shock is defined as - an unexpected, intense, and distressing experience that has a sudden and powerful effect on somebody's emotions or physical reactions”. That is much different than simply being “surprised” or “astonished” or “amazed” or “dazed”. Right words are important.


"What's the right word for a Memorial Service?" The word "memorial" is defined by Webster as "something to keep in memory as a deceased person or event." The Vietnam memorial is a case in point. It took years to pull it off, but now this simple slab of granite, some 493 ½ feet wide with 58,261 (one was added in 2009) names has become one of the most visited sights in Washington. Persons go there, much like Jews go to the Wailing Wall at Jerusalem. They leave notes. Notes like "I miss you." "We love you." Most of the time they simply read the list of names until they find the one they are looking for. Tears come to their eyes as they read the name. Sometimes they will rub their hand over the engraving as though feeling the name will make the memory more alive.


At the New York State Fairgrounds in Solvay, near Syracuse there is the “Veterans and 9-11 Memorials” just outside the horticulture building.


We have memorial services at our annual church conferences - - a specific act of recalling those of our vocational family – maybe clergy and their spouses, who "have fought the good fight, kept the faith, and finished the course". We read their names and remember. The word "memorial" comes from the word memory, and what a blessed gift memory is -- the capacity to recall and live again the previous experiences and relationships. Many of our local fire departments and our county fire organizations have their yearly memorial services and we gather here annually for our memorial service where we recognize the members of our association who "have fought the good fight, kept the faith, and finished the course". We also pause to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in that they have laid down their lives in the fire and emergency medical service – our Line of Duty Deaths. Memory - it's a blessed gift.


But there are two very different ways of remembering. One is to simply reminisce. To travel back in time to consider the “good ole days”, which many will say were never all that “good” to begin with – but that is one way to remember. But there is another way. It is to bring the past and those we are remembering into the living present. It is not simply to be nostalgic – it is to remember those who have gone before us and those who have paved the way for us today and to glean from their lives elements that will enhance our lives.


So, what's the right word for a memorial service? It may be a different word at the Vietnam Memorial or the Washington Monument, or the 9-11 Memorial at the State Fair Grounds, or at Memorial Day parades in the towns of America. But here -- here where we are on this occasion and this place, what's the right word?


Several generations have been inspired by the life of a brilliant Alsatian physician who spent his life in the jungles of the Belgian Congo.


His name was synonymous with service, dedication, commitment and sacrifice.


His name was Albert Schweitzer.


Albert Schweitzer could have been just another in a long line of devoted but somewhat anonymous missionaries who taught and healed.


But Albert Schweitzer, because of the brilliance of his mind and the dedication of his whole being, became a world figure. The light of his ministry burned brightly enough to restore hope to a world in which hope is continually trampled by despair. The inspiration engendered by Schweitzer and his ministry overshadowed the place in which he labored and the work he did.


He made no profound medical discoveries. He was not a Louis Pasteur or Alexander Harvey or Jonas Salk. But he was a good physician.


Schweitzer's career was not lived out in a great teaching hospital or university. Though he probably could have easily sat on the faculties of Harvard or Drexel or Syracuse, he chose instead to work in a primitive hospital in which he was physician, builder, custodian, and administrator.


His patients were not the famous, the powerful, the intellectual, the newsworthy, however any of the aforementioned would have been honored to have been a patient of Dr. Albert Schweitzer.


His patients were the humble, unlettered natives of the African jungle whom he knew to be the children of God.


Albert Schweitzer's claim to fame rests not with extraordinary cures such as those effected by the likes of Christian Barnard or Michael DeBakey. His fame was built on more ordinary efforts, those efforts proclaimed first on jungle drums: vitamins for emaciated children, a diseased appendix removed, a mangled arm restored, a child delivered through Caesarean section.


The greatness of Albert Schweitzer is chronicled not because of whom he served, or where he served, but because he served! The greatness of Albert Schweitzer is chronicled not because of whom he served, or where he served, but because he served!


We are gathered here today to recognize individuals not because of whom they served (rich – poor, numerous ethnic backgrounds, the educated or the illiterate). They are not being recognized because of where they served (urban – suburban – rural, professionals in paid or volunteer departments), they are being recognized not for any of these reasons – but simply because they served, were dedicated, committed and because of their sacrifices.


Today we remember around 50 of our members – members who have served us. Members who have served their local communities, members who have served their God, because they have served others. There were many that played a significant role in our association – some of them we remember today.


We lift up and remember Douglas C. Staley of the Cortlandville Fire Department, a longtime regional representative and past committee member. He passed away on June 25, 2009, following a brief illness. Staley joined the NYSAFC in 1982 and had served as a regional rep for Cortland County since 1987. He served on the Codes Committee from 2000-2008, including a number of years as chairman.

We remember Chief Floyd William “Bill” Abrams. Bill passed away on September 29, 2009. Abrams, who joined the NYSAFC in 1972 and was a Life Member, served as Hamilton County Regional Representative for more than 30 years.


NYSAFChief Past President Anthony J. “Andy” Messina died on December 9, 2009. Andy was a 72-year member of the Bellmore Fire Department Hose Company #1 of Nassau County, where he had been a chief, commissioner, and district supervisor. He was a Life Member of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs. He joined the association in 1965 and joined the board of directors in 1981. He served as president of the NYSAFC from 1990-1991. He had a very distinguished fire service career.


Past President of the NYSAFChiefs Charles F. Hajduk, retired chief of the Jamestown Fire Department, died suddenly on April 28, 2010. Chuck joined the Jamestown Fire Department in 1974 and rose through the ranks being appointed chief of the department in 1992. He retired from that position in January 1999. Chuck was also a past member of the Sinclairville and Springbrook Volunteer Fire Departments. From 1972-1974 he worked as a 911 dispatcher for the city of Jamestown. Chuck joined the association in 1973 and was a Life Member of the NYSAFC. He served as a member of the NYSAFC board of directors from 1997-2009 and was president of the association from 2007-2008.


Past Chief Glenn A. Burton from the Onondaga Hill Fire Department was the Onondaga County Regional Representative and past member of the Annual Conference Committee. He was a familiar site at many of our shows. A great help for all of us working at them and attending them.

We remember these, our members who "have fought the good fight, kept the faith, and finished the course".


We also remember those who gave their lives in the line of duty this past year.


New York State Line of Duty Deaths May 1, 2009 - May 1, 2010


June 29, 2009 Deputy Chief David Tidings – Albany Fire Department in Albany County, died from cancer at the age of 50. Tidings, a 21-year veteran of the department and a second-generation firefighter was promoted to deputy chief in January 2008. His father, James "Tiger" Tidings, was also a firefighter, and his brother, John T. Tidings, serves in the department.


On June 29, 2009 Fire Police Lt Edward Himes of the Menands Fire Department died. Ed was 58 years old.

August 24, 2009 Lieutenant Charles W. “Chip” McCarthy Jr. – Buffalo Fire Department was the first firefighter to fall through a floor at a structure fire becoming trapped. Lt. McCarthy was a 22-year veteran of the Buffalo Fire Department and was assigned to a team whose members are trained to find and free trapped victims. McCarthy was a 45-year-old married father of three.


August 24, 2009 Firefighter Jonathan S. Croom – Buffalo Fire Department Firefighter Jonathan Croom, who was working on his scheduled day off, responded to McCarthy's mayday call and also fell through the collapsed floor. Firefighter Croom leaves behind a 9-month-old child and a fiancée.

September 9, 2009 Fire Police Captain/Chaplain Richard Holst – Huntington Manor Fire Department and Chief Chaplain of the New York State Association of Fire Chaplains. Richie married his high school sweetheart, Noreen, in Queens in 1973. He was 60 years old. Holst was walking home from the Huntington Manor fire house after a fire call when he saw smoke coming from the Uber Cafe on Depot Road in Huntington Station. He ran to the café, confirmed a fire and called 911. Then he collapsed in front of the cafe as firefighters arrived to fight the blaze.


October 2, 2009 Firefighter Patrick Joyce – Yonkers Fire Department in Westchester County. Firefighter Joyce was forced to jump from the top floor of a burning 2 ½ story multi-family home and was pronounced dead at the hospital. Firefighter Joyce was a 16 year veteran of the Yonkers Fire Department. Patrick is survived by his wife Tara, daughters Isabella (7) and Charlotte (6), his parents Patrick and Kathleen.


November 27, 2009 Firefighter Walter Hessling – Dix Hills Fire Department Suffolk County responded to a call on November 21, 2009 at 10:33 hours and suffered a stroke at 15:54. Firefighter Hessling was 54.


December 25, 2009 Firefighter James Ryan – Fire Department City of New York worked at the World Trade Center site for months after Sept. 11 and whose body gave in to the side-effects of pancreatic cancer died on Christmas morning 2009. Firefighter Ryan died as a result of operating at box 8087, at the World Trade Center. He is survived by his wife Magda and three children.


January 13, 2010 - Firefighter Leroy Kemp, 80, Past Chief and Chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners of the Tioga Center Fire Company in Tioga County. Firefighter Kemp responded to a mutual aid call to the Nichols FD around 6 AM. As he responded to the fire station, there was an accident involving a car and a recycling truck, which blocked the road. It appears that Firefighter Kemp did not see the accident until the last minute. He struck the recycling truck and was killed on impact.


March 6, 2010 Firefighter Gerard Marcheterre – Borodino Fire Department

(Onondaga County, NY). Initial reports were that FF Marcheterre was on the apparatus, responding to a structural collapse in the nearby Spafford FD's response area. While responding, FF Marcheterre began having breathing difficulties and went into cardiac arrest. His brother, Frank Marcheterre Jr. is Borodino fire chief. Gerard was one of seven children and was 50 years old. He was developmentally challenged but had a heart of gold.


Sunday, April 11, 2010 Assistant Chief Garrett W. Loomis – of the Sackets Harbor Fire Department. At approximately 9 AM, the Sackets Harbor Fire Company was dispatched to a silo fire. There was an explosion and Loomis died as a result of the injuries. Garrett was elected Assistant Chief of the Sackets Harbor Fire Company just 5 days earlier on April 6th. Mr. Loomis was also a career fire fighter with the Fort Drum Fire Department. Assistant Chief Loomis is survived by his parents Gary and Amy Loomis of Sackets Harbor and two brothers. He was 26 years old.


April 12, 2010 Captain Vincent Iaccino – Roosevelt Engine Company #1. He was the Captain of the Emergency Service Squad and has 2 sons who are also members of the Roosevelt FD. He developed severe chest pains at a Dutchess County drill and died as a result.


July 23, 2009 - Lance Corporal Jeremy Lasher was killed in combat in Afghanistan. He had another job when he wasn't serving his country - and that was serving as a firefighter in Verona. Lasher leaves behind his young wife, Andrea, toddler son, Caden and his parents.


So – what is the word – “service”, “dedication”, commitment”, sacrifice”?


As the New Testament writer Paul was nearing the end of his earthly journey he wrote words of encouragement to his young disciple, Timothy, proclaiming: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.


We gather here today to remember and honor these who have fought the good fight, finished the race and keep the faith of service. Thanks be to God for their example.


(Chaplain Leon VanWie serves as Chairperson of the Chaplains’ Committee of the New York State Association of Fire Chief’s. He has been active in the fire service since 1976 and was an EMT for over 15 years. Currently he is the Chaplain and President of the Town of Watertown Volunteer Fire Department and is a Deputy Fire Coordinator in Jefferson County, serving as a chaplain. Rev. VanWie is a member of the NYS Association of Fire Chaplains and has been trained in Critical Incident Stress Management. He also serves on the Hospital Based Mental Health Crisis Team for his area. Leon was ordained a United Methodist pastor in 1977 and currently serves Asbury United Methodist Church in Watertown, NY. He has served churches and been involved in fire departments in Groveland, DeKalb Junction, Dexter and Oneida before going to Watertown. Chaplain VanWie can be reached at (315) 788-4593 [home] or through his e-mail: marlevan@gisco.net.)

~The NYS Association of Fire Chief’s Chaplains’ Committee~

Providing Spiritual Guidance and Assistance to Association Members