Two weeks ago I lost my adopted brother suddenly. Rickey, as we called him, was a proud firefighter from the Denver Fire Department . He called the fire department his “family” for each of the ten plus years he served. I have heard many organizations refer to themselves as “family” and have always been dubious. I have been involved in organizations that called themselves family that were anything but!
The buzzword in corporate cultures, educational institutions, governmental institutions and even churches is to function as a family. Truth be told, most fail miserably. Why? Because to function as a family requires spending time together in ways that are uncomfortable. For example, families take meals together, struggle over bathroom time, make choices based on available resources, namely money and most of all,sacrifice themselves for the good of the family. Does this sound like the institutions above? I hope yes, but have all too often seen the real answer to be a resounding NO!
I was absolutely amazed at what I saw with the Denver Fire Department during the awful week of my brother’s death. I now understand why Rickey called them “family’, they truly personified my description of what a family should be.
Rickey grew up with us since he was in about sixth grade. I will spare you the details, but his home life was precarious and my dad was one who couldn’t see a kid suffer, so we took him in and he became one of the family. My younger brother Troy and Rickey were inseparable during their junior and senior high days.
When I received the phone call from Troy that Rickey had died I was stunned. An enormous wave of emotion hit me, sadness being the most dominant. Why? How? When? All of the normal questions one asks at a time like this. Troy immediately flew to Denver to begin to make arrangements for the service and to attend to Rickey’s affairs. He wasn’t married, divorced, and his birth family was challenged in many ways. So much of what needed to be done was going to be done by my brother and his friends.
Rickey had no church, no funeral plans, no will and little money with which to take care of his affairs. When my brother Troy asked the fire department for help they responded with incredible kindness and selflessness. They helped find a church that would seat over 500 for the funeral. They helped find a mortuary that helped fireman. When my brother asked them to help clean Rickey’s house they showed up before anyone else and had the house completely cleaned before anyone else could get there.
The funeral service itself was amazing. 400 firefighters standing two deep around the church, not to mention the 150 or so that were seated. The fire chief of Denver spoke about Rickey as if he were one of his own, because in his mind, he was. He choked on his words as he described Rickey and when he rang the bell four times to signal that all are safe and accounted for (a Denver Fire tradition), a final farewell to Rickey, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Afterward we went to a bar that was and is frequented by firefighters. I watched hundreds of firefighters gather and honor Rickey in their own way. One of the white-shirted firemen stood atop the bar and toasted Rickey, it was a simple gesture so full of meaning. I thought I was in a movie, but all was real, mostly the camaraderie shared by these brave men.
What if the church looked like this? Ready to help in a moments notice, asking and doing with not a concern about how it may inconvenience them. These men and women cried real tears and did whatever they could to honor the man they worked with, slept with, ate with and faced possible death with on a daily basis.
How I long for real community in my life with others, especially those in the church. I have seen it in the flesh and know it is possible, but only if we are real and selfless, I wonder if the church has it in her? What do you think? To the men and women of the Denver Fire Department, THANK YOU, you are my heroes.