SALUTING A 911 HERO AND PATRIOT
By Andy Weddington
Friday, 02 July 2010
"If Prometheus was worthy of the wrath of heaven for kindling the first fire upon earth, how ought all the gods honor the men who make it their professional business to put it out?"
John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)
It was early evening--clear, mild and dark on Friday, 13 March 1992--when my parent's front doorbell chimed. Designated 'official greeter' that evening, I opened the door. Standing before me were five strangers; three men and two women. By any standard a handsome crew--mostly thanks to the attractive ladies. I remember asking, "You must be friends of Karen and John's?" They were and introduced themselves--Tim and Maria, Doc and Lorelei, and Bill. "Welcome folks, the party is out back."
The quintet, now in the town of Cary, North Carolina, came in from the greater Pompano Beach/Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area to witness and celebrate the union of their friends--Karen, my sister, and John--the big leap set for Saturday.
I don't remember the particulars as to how these folks first befriended one another but I know it happened in Florida where John was based flying commercial airliners. I'd be willing to bet introductions were somehow linked to a sports bar and undoubtedly beer was involved. John, who once drove fighters in the Air Force, is a connoisseur--truly, a distinguished connoisseur. He knows more about beer than anyone I've ever known. Rumor has it he even drinks one on occasion but taking the first sip only after obligatorily admiring and caressing the bottle--a moment of reverence for sure. My sister jokingly says he used to look at her that way--before a beer. My Marine friends are probably laughing--What? Huh? An Air Force guy and beer? No way. Well, in John's defense, he'd have made a good Marine. Besides, during future visits the offer of a place to sleep and a cold one from his impressive cache will be appreciated. We're good--right, John?
Anyway, these friendships, at least as I remember, predated my sister's entry into John's life. A more diverse yet outgoing and fun group of folks you'd not likely meet on a front porch; probably not anywhere. Later in the evening--over pork barbeque, bluegrass, and a beer or two--I learned they were professionals all. One a lawyer, another a bookseller, another flew a private corporate jet, and Bill, at the time, had more than a decade's worth of experience with Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue--a paramedic and firefighter; among other duties.
The friendship of these folks has endured to this day. They've shared in the struggles and joys of raising families, the American way of hard work to make better lives for themselves and done so despite the hectic pace of life and that today there is a little geography along the eastern seaboard between them--Karen and John and their two children with Ruby, the family pooch, left southern Florida a handful of years ago.
Chemistry between people is intriguing. Why is it some folks "click" with one another and others do not? We typically say it's chemistry. Well, the chemistry between my sister's family and Bill, whom some call Billy, can only be described as something special. Those five people bonded--as close to family as you can get without being blood. The children call him "Uncle Bill."
What a great guy! A gentleman in every sense of the word. A man's man. But with a womanly quirk I will always remember--obsessed with his hair. It must be perfect. In fact, Bill was more finicky than a woman--always checking and polling for approval. And on more than one occasion his hair held up the party. Even exasperated women were known to utter, "Yes, Bill, your hair looks great--let's go."
Now thinking about it, I don't recall if it was right after 9/11 or a year or two into the war in Iraq but my sister phoned and asked if it was possible to get Bill a Marine Corps T-shirt. For you see, John, my brother-in-law, relished the hoots and hollers he received--wearing Marine tees I gave him--while jogging through city streets around the country when on layovers. I don't think he ever corrected anyone. Why bother. Bill enjoyed, and most likely envied, those stories. So, of course, I sent Bill a T-shirt. In return he sent me a firefighters-themed one.
A couple of months ago my wife and I befriended Bill on Facebook--that wonderful tool for conquering geography. She had a brief exchange with him in late May that went like this...
"Hi Bill!! Yes, all is well - we just remain busy with life - which is a good thing!! Know you're headed to [South Carolina] - we'll be on that coast but not in the area this time ... maybe next trip. Also, we'll holler next time we're in your neck of the woods! Hope all is well with you too!"
"I am doing well and getting ready to retire in December. Can't wait. Then what I don't know for sure. Kind of thinking towards fixing the place up here, selling out and moving north. Where is the big question for now. Anyway take care and say hi to the big guy for me."
For the past four years Bill has journeyed a couple of times annually from Florida to South Carolina to visit his friends--my sister's family--who lived not even a half-mile down the street in a quiet 50s/60s era Pompano Beach neighborhood revitalized by a new generation. The week of July 4th was an understood and standing invitation. Bill's good fortune was to also have true family, blood, in the area. As his Facebook note revealed a new phase of life was on his mind. And relocating north was not just a passing whim.
On Sunday morning, 12 June my sister phoned with some upsetting news--Bill was involved in a bizarre accident late Saturday afternoon. While on a cross-country motorcycle ride with three friends--fellow firefighters--from Pompano Beach, Florida, traveling on a highway just north of Salida, Colorado, he was struck by lightning. The time about 4:50 pm.
An owner of a store along the highway, eyewitness and first to rush to Bill's aid, said it was the biggest and loudest bolt he'd ever seen or heard. Bill never knew what hit him. There's no point recalling the graphic particulars. Suffice to say the bolt struck the top of his helmet--destroying it. The consequences not difficult to figure out.
First responders found a pulse and administered CPR. Bill was airlifted to a hospital in Denver.
His injuries extensive. He was in intensive care and on life support. And there he remained while family rushed to Denver, doctors and nurses worked tirelessly to save his life, and local firefighters--a brotherhood analogous to the Marine Corps--stood vigil and helping however possible.
There would be no miracles. With his older brother and father by his side clutching hands, Bill died at approximately 6:00 pm Tuesday, 15 June.
Ironically, Highway 258 in the vicinity of Salida is familiar. I have been there a couple of times the past few years to fly fish for trout in the beautiful Arkansas River. More stunning countryside anywhere in the world there is not. What a beautiful area to be on a motorcycle.
Bill's sudden death devastated family and friends. My sister could barely speak. John, though familiar with death from his days of flying F-15s and having lost a dear friend to a drunk driver, shaken. Their young teenage children, well, use your imagination. And I could not help but think of Tim, Maria, Doc, Lorelei, and their children, too. Our first meeting barely more than 18 years ago as vivid as if we met last week. Happy times. And, yes, his family--whom I've never had the pleasure of meeting. A terrible loss all are coping with--trying to understand.
Though my friendship with Bill was not nearly as familiar, he was not the type to want those he loved dwelling on his death, but to cherish the kinship and friendship. And remember the great times. A career in emergency public service, he saw his share of tragedy. How ironic he died while on a ride with brethren and was cared for by them on-scene. And even more ironic he and his riding companions were en route to Colorado Springs to visit the International Association of Fire Fighters Fallen Fire Fighter memorial.
Struggling to find words to console my sister and her family...
"Sleep did not come so easy last night. I imagine not so well for you, either. Images and thoughts of Bill on the forefront of consciousness, and in the recesses of the subconscious; haunting. Wonderful recollections of a man I am thankful to have met and had come to somewhat know. Shortly after 9/11 we exchanged T-shirts. He wanted one with U. S. Marines on it--he sent me a firefighters-themed one; which I wore out and continued to wear far longer than it should have been, but it was important to me.
And so the sobering reality as to the fragility of life, yet again, grabs our full attention. To remind; lest we ever take one moment for granted. Death a part of life and understandable. Yet not easy--especially when losing someone so endeared and loved. But the completely unexpected, shocking, split-second end of life numbing. Bewildering. And gut-wrenchingly painful. That truly terrific people are not immune humbling for those left behind trying to sort through that which is comprehensible but never to be understood; at least in our mortal state. Perhaps there is a "plan"--perhaps one day we will understand. And smile.
And as I think of Bill and the heartache family and dear friends are now enduring, families and friends of our country's young warriors come to mind. For almost daily, officers, clad in a dress uniform, are knocking on doors of strangers--though "family"--and delivering the absolute worst of news. I have done that duty and it, too, haunts me; and ever will. Remember them.
Bill Carr. As fine a human being as they come. And who will be missed terribly; never forgotten.
Linnea and I share in your devastating loss and, of course, keep all in our prayers. Amen."
and signed off with "Semper Fidelis."
Bill cared for his fellow man. Otherwise, he'd not have committed his life to being a first-responder--paramedic, firefighter, driver-engineer--for thirty years. A member of the team at Station 67 in Weston he was also Vice President of the Broward County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Local 4321. There were so many other careers he could have pursued. He did not.
I've no idea if Bill was a religious man. My sense is he was spiritual. How could you not be in his line of work--routinely witnessing horrible things and a miracle once in a while. And he'd appreciate the reminder that if you want to make God laugh tell him your plans. Bill had plans; big plans. And God had his. Now Bill understands. Those remaining behind do not. At least for now.
The evening of his death one of Bill's firefighter friends of thirty years--who was supposed to be on the ride but was not due to a family commitment, but spoke to him on the phone a mere few hours before the accident--phoned my sister and told her he was happy, and laughing, and really in a good place in his life. Bill had told him how much he was looking forward to his 4th of July visit with Karen and John and family--people that meant more to him than I know and can capture in words. They agreed how sad Bill had been taken so suddenly. But his firefighter friend opined but what a way to go; unknowingly quick--no suffering, while happy and loving life and getting along on his Harley.
William John Carr--a son, brother, nephew, cousin, uncle, and friend--affectionately known as "Bill," "Billy," and "Uncle Bill", with more than a thousand in attendance, was laid to rest with honors, including the customary three clangs of the alarm bell signifying "final call," by his fellow firefighters in Florida, on Wednesday, 23 June 2010.
May he rest in eternal peace. And yet while he does rest others will live--having received critical organs he had selflessly agreed to donate should anything happen to him. Bill lives on in two folks in Iowa who received kidneys. A life-saver saving lives to the very end. That's Bill Carr.
It's going to be a different 4th of July in South Carolina this year. Missing Bill for sure. But know his buddy, John, will sure raise at least one beer--a carefully considered and selected one--in his honor recalling the good times and memories for life. From the toastmaster and those offering "hear, hear" there will be some tears but far more laughs remembering a fabulous friend who lived life to the fullest. And died doing what he loved.
They just don't come any better than Bill Carr. Thanks to him, the world is a better place.
And for all left behind the spirit and soul toughens, and life goes on. It must.
William John Carr
18 October 1956 - 15 June 2010
Eighteen October a date with special meaning for my wife and I--it was that date come this October, 31 years ago, I raised my right hand and swore to become a U. S. Marine. And 18 October last I had the privilege of promoting my wife to Captain, U. S. Navy. Life is full of eerie connections. We'll always remember Bill Carr--a warrior in his own right.
Via Facebook I recently learned Bill has a niece that was born on his 25th birthday. Her endearing moniker for the "wonderful" uncle she loved--"Band-Aid." I know not the history, and it matters not. Perfect!
"I can think of no more stirring symbol of man's humanity to man than a fire engine."
Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)
The following was written and posted on Facebook Saturday, 19 June 2010 at 2200 by Debbie Campbell Rittinghouse--one of Bill's partners--who escorted him home. The story has a familiar ring--it parallels U. S. military customs and courtesies extended to the fallen. Grab a handkerchief.
"What you should know about Denver Local 858 and what they did for our Fallen Brother"
When Billy was first flown to the Trauma Center in Denver our guys out there couldn’t immediately travel the 160 miles to be with him due to the weather. When Local 858 President Pat Rhoades was notified of this situation he contacted his guys at the closet station to the hospital and sent an Engine Company to the Hospital to stay with Billy until our guys arrived some 12 hours later. By the time our guys arrived in Denver the next afternoon Local 858 had arranged hotels and a rental car for their use. Their members picked up Billy’s family from the airport when they arrived, took them to the hospital, and made sure they had everything they needed while other Local 858 members continued to take turns standing with Billy and our guys at the hospital every day that Billy was there.
When it was time to bring Billy home they treated him as one of their own. The Colorado Professional Firefighters sent out a request for all affiliates to show respect for Billy by placing an apparatus in the procession that would take Billy to the airport. In 24 hours Denver FD had organized a full FD procession from the funeral home to the airport.
At 4am this morning DFD Local 858 Pres. Pat Rhoades picked up Billy's brother and myself to assist us in bringing Billy home. We were taken from the hotel to a downtown Denver firehouse where we met up with 3 other uniformed firefighters. We left the firehouse in a Heavy Rescue Fire apparatus escorted by all 4 firefighters and headed to the funeral home to escort Billy to DIA.
In the true tradition of a Firefighter funeral we were taken past the downtown firehouses where the trucks were out on the aprons with the lights on and FFs in Class “A”s standing at attention saluting. When we arrived at the funeral home we were met [by] numerous other uniformed Denver Firefighters, Company Officers and Chiefs along with off duty personnel (all of whom joined the procession in fire apparatus, POVs and on motorcycles).
Four uniformed Denver firefighters assisted President Rhoades and myself as Pallbearers as the rest of Billy’s uniformed Brothers from Denver stood at attention. As the procession left the funeral home at 5am, with a motorcade escort, two fire apparatus flanked the driveway facing nose to nose as Denver Firefighters stood at attention and saluted as the procession passed between the vehicles. When the hour-long procession arrived at DIA the airport FFs where standing by at attention beside their apparatus in Class A uniforms saluting.
The procession split at this point and the fire apparatus carrying Billy's brother and myself headed to the terminal, the hurst [hearse] and all the POVs and motorcycles turned off and took Billy to the secured area where he would be placed on a flight home.
It did not matter to them that Billy was not from Denver FD. It did not matter to them that they had never met Billy before. It did not matter to them that it was 4am in the morning. All that mattered to them is that Billy was a Brother Firefighter, he was in their City and they could help.
What it felt like to see this type of support for one of our Brothers and his family is something that cannot be put into words, but it is something I will forever remember.
President Rhoades and Todd Revious from Local 858 will be in Ft Lauderdale Tuesday through Thursday to attend Billy's services, please take a minute to thank them in person for all they have done."
Note: With the exception of [bracketed] material, the text is as written.
Visit: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=114076281971225 William "Billy" Carr Rememberance Page