The purpose of the Honour Guard is to represent the members of the Fire Department. Parade occasions, solemn occasions like funerals, our international and national memorials held in Ottawa and Colorado Springs every year. It’s meant to be more of a symbol of the Department.
Why did you join the Honour Guard?
I just, I liked how they carried themselves. The first exposure I had to the Honour Guard was at my recruit graduation in 2004, and seeing those members come out, how crisp and clean their movements were. How sharp they were. I knew I wanted to be a part of that I just needed to put in some more time on the job before I applied to the organisation.
Can you tell me about a specific event or ceremony that holds special meaning to you?
That’s easy, that’s our international memorial that’s held every year, in September, in Colorado Springs. For the first time you see it, it’s absolutely amazing to see that many people come together in such a short amount of time, to produce this carefully crafted ceremony. It’s like seeing your family again, but you’re there for the purpose of giving closure to the families of the members that were lost the previous year on the job.
My very first event that I did for the Honour Guard was peacekeeper ceremony back in 2008, when I first got uniformed out. You want to look good because, it’s an event where you had these older military veterans, whose drill is just as clean and crisp as the day they signed up for service. They tell you, the veterans always tell you ‘don’t lock up, relax a little, don’t be too stiff’, and of course I’m like ‘yeah, you know what, I can get through this. I can make this work’. I think we’re about 15 minutes into the ceremony, and I had to take a knee because I was just done. I was either going to take a knee or I was going to fall face first into one of the memorial walls. So I still to this day hear about that one.
Can you tell me how participation in the Honour Guard has changed you?
It’s given me a lot more exposure to more people. I’ve had the privilege of doing events for the department, that as a regular, uniform member I would not have the opportunity to participate in. Marching down the street in our own department’s memorial, it’s something I won’t forget. Especially the first year we did it, and then we started adding…after that we started adding regular uniform members, coming in with us. It’s made me, I need to manage my time more. It takes a lot of time. You have to be committed.
So, how did you feel when you had the opportunity to join the Honour Guard?
It’s honestly something I never expected. It’s such a small group that I never really believed I had a shot at becoming a member. So when I made the qualifications and they said ‘yeah, we’d like you to come on board‘, I was ecstatic. But that too, I really, at that time I didn’t have a true concept of how much work it would take, being a member. Simply, it’s the number of events too. Our numbers have grown. I think in 2008, when I joined, we had 10, maybe 12 members. With our latest recruitment we’re looking at having about 35 or 40 uniform members. Initially there was the odd event, the odd retiree funeral. We were in a big hiring spree so we had a lot more recruit graduations, and we started branching off into other events, and pretty soon we went from doing, I think, like 40 events a year to like 140. We had just this explosion of events that we were asked to participate in.
Now, my next question for you is, can you remember a time, a particular event or memorial, that was particularly challenging for you personally?
My very first year in Colorado Springs as a member of the Guard. Typically, Guard members present folded flag cases to family members who lost a loved one. And it was my job that year, to present a flag to a family member. Someone I didn’t know. This member had been long retired, before I even got on the job, and I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be. This person I never met, you try to prepare. You do want to make it personal, you don’t want to make just some canned speech. You know, ‘thank you for your service’. You try to personalize it, and I thought I could do that without breaking down. Unfortunately that didn’t work very well either. Here I am, and I am trying to be dignified and professional, and present this flag to this member’s widow. It took everything I could to get through it and I still broke down, I was still a sobbing mess by the time I got through the speech I’d prepared for her.
One last question. What’s the most unexpected event that you’ve participated in? Because I’m sure there’s a variety of things that you do, right. There’s the Stampede Parade, there’s the one in Colorado, you know, a lot of stuff. Is there anything that stands out to you?
I wouldn’t say it’s an event per se, but just the extended family that’s been created by attending all these events. Honour Guard’s in every city are pretty small, tight knit groups, so generally you see the same members attending the events all the time. I’ve had the privilege of becoming a member of this fantastic extended family. I talk to these guys all over the United States every day. Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles. I see these guys every year. It’s not an event; it’s just being able to see your friends and family again.