Answering the last call
One of Cloverdale’s own travelled to Ottawa last weekend to attend the dedication of a memorial site honoring Canada’s fallen firefighters.
Cindy O’Brien Hugh and her sister Kerri were among the relatives who gathered alongside fire services personnel for the Sept. 9 ceremony at the Canadian Firefighters Memorial.
Designed by Douglas Coupland, the new memorial was officially dedicated by Governor General David Johnston at the ceremony, hosted by the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation, or CFFF.
The memorial consists of a six-metre-high bronze statue of a firefighter and a wall inscribed with the more than 1,100 names of firefighters who have died in the line of duty since 1848 – while answering their last call.
Johnston thanked the nation’s firefighters for their willingness to go “the wrong way” into danger, adding they “represent an ideal of service and selflessness that is very rare and very precious.”
On August 12, 1974, Cloverdale resident Larry O’Brien was the driver and sole occupant of a pumper truck that skidded on a wet road on the way to a fire, landing in a deep ditch. He died at the scene.
He was survived by his wife Arlie, and two daughters, Kerri and Cindy, who was a Grade 10 student at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary at the time.
The loss was devastating, said Cindy’s husband, Rick Hugh.
Cloverdale was still very much a small town in the mid-1970s. Everyone knew everyone else.
The tragedy touched the entire community.
The sound of the fire alarm at Hall #8 – an air raid siren perched in the hose tower of the fire hall – could be heard throughout Cloverdale and beyond.
[‘Never to be forgotten.’ Cindy O’Brien Hugh, left, and her sister Kerri, at the new Canadian Firefighters Memorial.]
When the alarm was raised, volunteers hurried from their jobs and families, converging at the hall.
O’Brien was captain of Hall #8 in Cloverdale at the time of his death. He was just 44 years old.
He followed his father, Bill, a 20-year veteran and proprietor of O’Brien’s Super Service gas station, into the Cloverdale Volunteer Fire Brigade, in the early 1950s.
“Larry served proudly and passionately for 23 years,” says a biography included on the CFFF’s website.
The trip to Ottawa was an emotional one for O’Brien Hugh, who works as a secretary in the office at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary, and is a familiar face to many Cloverdale residents.
Though it was difficult, the journey was worth taking, she said Tuesday.
“The opportunity to meet with so many families that have shared the same loss was something that will stay with me forever,” she said.
She and her sister were able to chat with the Red Knights – members of a firefighters motorcycle club taking part in the Ride of Respect to attend the monument’s unveiling. It was led by Surrey firefighter Tim Baillie.
She also looked for the name of another Surrey firefighter inscribed on the wall, Patrick Glendenning.
O’Brien Hugh also met up with ceremonial piper Jeff Sim, a long time Surrey firefighter who recently retired, and spent four years at Hall #8 in Cloverdale.