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Hummel column: They do more than just fight fires

I first met Tony when he was best man at the wedding of his brother (my son-in-law). Later, I got better acquainted when Tony was the chief muscle man and workhorse in helping his brother move. The man had the strength of a bull and just a bit of impatience when the rest of us weren't moving along at his pace.

But as time went on, things did not go well for Tony. The company he had worked for went out of business. Tony was looking, but he was between jobs. His wife was not well.

What kept Tony happy was that he was a volunteer fireman with the Lake City, Minn., Fire Department. The Firemen there were a tight knit group. They had a nearly new fire station with a kitchen and lounge and first class fire fighting trucks and equipment. A proud organization, indeed a brotherhood.

Then crushing news came along for Tony -- a malignant brain tumor. Treatments, remission, recurrence, pain, more treatments, more pain. Then it spread, and about a year after it had been discovered, Tony died with his wife, mother and father at his side.

Tony was eventually taken back to his hometown, Williston, N.D., for a church funeral and burial, but a memorial service was held in Lake City just a few days after his death. His closest relatives all lived many miles away and only a handful were around to help with details and attend the memorial service. Thank God for the firefighting brotherhood.

Outside the funeral home four clean, bright red fire trucks lined the street. Then the firefighters gathered outside. There must have been 60 of them in their crisp white tailored shirts with black ties and black trousers, all proudly wearing their badges. Then there were about 20 firefighters from neighboring communities and another dozen motorcycle firefighters. They all marched in as a group and immediately lifted the spirits of the family mourners.

The fire department has its own Chaplin who conducted the service in a most respectful and most impressive manner. A representative of the department offered his memories and observations and then there was a ringing of the bell ceremony to honor a fallen brother. A most dramatic and moving moment.

At the end of the service, the firefighters left the hall first, then lined the exit sidewalk on both sides as the family passed between them. They weren't exactly at attention, but in a posture and attitude of great respect with eye contact and nods of sympathy for those passing through the formation.

Then the fire trucks and firefighters led the family to the fire station for refreshments and even a fire truck ride for Tony's mother, wife, nieces and nephews and other children in attendance.

Tony's widow will be selling their house and will be moving away, so the week following the memorial service, firefighters had been on hand helping the family clear the place out, helping haul away the surplus and generally lending strength and support at a time when it was needed most.

The men in the Lake City Fire Department demonstrated what a brotherhood really is. I have the impression many volunteer fire departments are as close and supportive. They do more than just fight fires. They are heart and soul in action. For Tony's family they were there, they were kind, they were strong and they were supportive. God bless the brotherhood.