Remembering The Parting Glass

Two years ago, I wrote these lines out as I sat up in an absolutely silent firehouse. The crews of both houses were each passed out, exhausted. We’d just lost our battalion chief.

Even though we had been given the option of going home, the whole shift had stayed put. We were allowed to stay on duty perhaps it would be good for us to keep busy.  Only a week before we had driven him to the hospital in the back of the ambulance, as the days went by we went to see him, watched him struggle to breathe. And then that last night came and while we ran calls, he slowly slipped away. I had been ordered to the hospital and was able to say goodbye one more time. On my return I gathered the shift together to tell them we would soon hear a single tone out over the house radio to mark his passing. I didn’t even get finished telling them before it began to sound a long, long, mournful tone. He was gone.

Right in front of me, B-shift fell apart. Just for a few minutes, they cracked. We grieved together, sitting on the tailboard of one of the engines in the bay. Firemen held their heads in their hands and cried. We’d lost the “Man”. I have been through some tough tours of duty. But this one was by far the hardest I’ve ever had to face. So after the guys had all drifted to their bunks, the lights out, the crowd gone home, I alone sat awake in the Battalion’s office. Watching over Phil’s boys. I could not bring myself to go to bed. I felt as though I had to stay awake and keep watch while they slept. (I didn’t of course, but I wasn’t mentally all there). Sitting there at the same desk he had sat at, doing his job, I began to write. I think it took me all of five or ten minutes or so. And it came out with such relief. Several times I broke down with my hands still typing. We had watched him fight it for months and months and we had listened to him strugglng to breathe. It was over and he was gone. Cancer is the one thing that has gotten under my skin. I have known so many who have been affected. We all do. I have come to believe that if I make it through this job without getting it, I will be a blessed man.

Here on this 2nd Anniversary of his passing, I wanted to put this out there again. I still miss you, boss. B-Shift is well and running strong. Our knew chief is at the helm, we are kickin’ ass and takin’ names.   Always, you are not far from our thoughts.  RFB

Its late, I need to get hit the bunk.

Watash

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Phil and I when we were together in '03 on B-Shift. Photo by Jerry Carpenter

The Parting Glass; Goodnight Chief

I am sitting alone at last. The firehouse is quiet and I can hear the pipes playing in my head. My Chief has fallen. While we ran from tone out to tone out, he slowly let go. As his boys ran the beat, he went to sleep. I miss him, you know. For some silly reason he used to call me “Watash”. I think I’ll write that on the back of my helmet. He believed in me.
He was our bull dog, our champion. He loved his men. We loved him. You couldn’t help it. He believed in us. As the pipes play and the bell is rung, we’ll sing a song for our Chief and remember him fondly as he was. But I will remember forever my last moment with him.
We had just run a Code, the boys had performed flawlessly. None older than 22, they fought for another man’s life while thier own Chief lay dying in his hospital bed. They did it all, ET Tube first try, EKG and drug therapy, the works. I just stood there and passed them what they needed. You’d never know they were “just kids” as so many prefer to dubb them. I was watching them work and thought, “Not professional? Kiss my Ass!” We can take these boys anywhere!

So as I stood next to the chief, I couldn’t wait to tell him how well they’d performed, even then, knowing of his struggle, wanting to be with him. I took his hand. It was cold. I leaned over and said, “Watash reporting for duty, Chief.” His eyes lit up, and he struggled for breath. I held his gaze, begging God to help me hold back my tears. “You shoulda seen your boys tonight, Chief” I said. “You can be so proud!” He reached up and placed his hand on my face and his eyes grew bright. He tried to talk, but we had to calm him. I told him I understood and I told him I loved him. Then I left him. I left him knowing we were on duty, toeing the line, ready to make him proud. Each University Firefighter, with grief in his/her heart, refusing to quit the tour.

I’ve never wanted to be a Battalion Chief or any other kind of Chief. I like my place, I like being a company officer and have never longed for the crossed bugles. But now I sit in his place. Only a week ago he sat here, saying “Well, Watash, whats for lunch?” Now I’m here…… And he is gone. Its after 2 am, and I can’t sleep. Somehow I have to find the focus and will power to begin again, to press on. I need to tackle that Battalion Chief’s job, and do it for him. I know he wanted that. He believed in his people. He wanted one of us to step up and take it. So we must step up even as we plan his funeral.

We are the very embodiment of his life, his devotion to duty and his dedication to the young men and women who worked under him. We will be a living memorial to the Chief. What an honor to follow behind this man.

But just now, at 2:30 am, in a quiet firehouse, I miss him and I wish I could sit and talk with him just one more time. He was my friend you know.

The Parting Glass

“Of all the money that ere I had
I spent it in good company
And all the harm I ever done
A’ las’ it was to no but me
And all I’ve done, for want of wit,
To memory now I can’t recall,

So fill to me the parting glass,
Goodnight and joy be to you all!
So fill to me the parting glass,
And drink a health what ‘ere befalls,
Then gently rise and softly call,
Goodnight and joy be to you all!

Of all the comrades the ere I had,
that are sorry for my going away,
And all the sweethearts that ere I had,
that wish me one more day to stay,

But since it fell into my lot,
That I should rise, and you should not,
I’ll gently rise and softly call,
Goodnight and Joy Be To You All!

So fill to me the parting glass,
And drink a health what ‘ere befalls,
Then gently rise and softly call,
Goodnight and joy be to you all!”

–The High Kings

Good night to you, Chief. We’re on duty, we’re ready to roll!…..”And all those kinds of things.” –Watash

3 Comments

  • Alan Mitchell says:

    It’s 1:30 AM now Ben and my thoughts are of him. Chief always reminded me of who I am and how I shouldn’t question myself so much, “…you know what to do, do the work.” I miss him. I always wanted to work for him, never got the chance. Worked around him when I was with Steese but never directly for him; nevertheless, he was always there.

    Thank you, brother, for “The Parting Glass” two years ago and your words tonight.
    Rest easy, Chief; we miss you.

  • Doug Price says:

    Ben, Hope all is well Brother. I have just found this blog page and while looking through the list of blogs, I wasn’t sure who was doing the blogs that I was reading but had sort of and idea, then I found the Parting Class and I knew rite then who was running this one. Once again I read this and once I got very choked up. You my Brother have such a way with words I can’t wait to read the rest of your blogs, and hopefuly one day meet the man with such a love for the Brotherhood and the fire service. Thanks

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