I never met Jamie Middlebrook but I knew him. I knew his heart and soul, for it is the heart and soul that unites every man and woman into the brotherhood and sisterhood of the fire service. It is the desire to serve, the urge to help, The compassion one had for his fellow man.
Jamie paid the ultimate sacrifice of any firefighter, giving up his life while serving the community and because of this the entire fire service feels his loss.
Today I had the honor of attending Jamie's funeral along with hundreds of other fire fighters from across the county. We came united in brotherhood to honor a hero.
The day was dreary and overcast. Rain drizzled down as if God Himself was sharing in our sorrow. We gathered as a group, most of us strangers but yet connected.
In solemn procession we filed in past his flag draped casket, a sea of firefighters, medics and police officers there to share in the pain of a lost brother, there to show our support to the family, his department and his community.
With the service done we lined up outside by a fire truck draped in black with an empty hose bed. Row after row standing at attention as the pallbearers escorted him out. We saluted as he was raised and secured on the back of that engine.
Our rank and file then followed in hundreds of emergency vehicles of every size and shape. Through the town on a 17 mile journey to Jamie's final resting place.
Emergency lights activated but no sirens as the procession drove down the street. The strobes, flashers and wig wags bursting into millions of brilliant diamonds as they refracted and reflected off the raindrop tears covering our vehicles.
Perhaps the biggest honor was to witness the procession. Hundreds of people lined the streets holding American flags. Little boys wore their kiddie fire gear. Girls holding God Bless signs. Men and women holding their hands and hats over their hearts as we past. Businesses were closed as all their employees stood outside watching in silence. Cars, trucks and semis pulled over and their occupants got out and stood paying their respect.
We went from Mishawaka through his hometown of New Carlisle passing under a huge flag hung from two ladder trucks. Past his fire department where his engine paused as his final page went out and then on to the cemetery.
Firefighters lined up in numerous rows, over 700 of us. We stood silently as a 40 member bagpipe and drum band escorted Jamie back to the graveside. 700 plus firefighters snapped to attention and saluted as his flag draped casket was placed before his family.
The clouds parted as if God was smiling down on Jamie. The sun brought the heat and beads of sweat formed on those lined up, but nobody cared. Our brother was being laid to rest and united we became as we honored his service and sacrifice. Though there were over a thousand in attendance not a voice was heard as the brass sounds of a trumpet played Taps.
The pallbearers lined up beside the casket. A single bagpipe started it's mournful rendition of Amazing Grace as they slowly folded the flag. Other bagpipes joined in along with the drums as their sound filled the air. But we stood at attention, saluting our fallen brother.
The New Carlisle chief presented Jamie's wife with the flag. Her body bent over holding it as tears flowed from her. Her then presented Jamie's white assistant chief helmet to her to which she got up and turned to her father-in-law who is also a 40 year member of the department and lovely gave it to him.
A brass bell was ring 5 times in three sets in the time honored fire fighter tradition to signify the end of watch. Life flight helicopter flew over the crowd add a final salute to Jamie. Then row after row of firefighters walked past the casket and placed a white carnation with a red dot in the center that they wore tucked in the black mourning named around their badge onto the top of the casket.
A final salute was given, and the crowd slowly dispersed. The events of the day will stay with those in attendance forever. A sad reminder of how dangerous our calling is, a reminder of the sacrifices we make and our families accept, a reminder that one person can make a difference and that is evident by how many lives Jamie has touched. And yes, my tears fell along side those raindrop from Heaven. I never met Jamie Middlebrook, but i know him well. R.I.P. Brother.
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