How can I explain to a crowd of firefighters, most of whom never met Dennis, who he was? He was a fireman. He would want you to know that he was a truckie. He wouldn’t brag and tell you that he had spent more than three decades in the fire service, many of which were spent as chief at his local Palmyra Volunteer Fire Department. He would never say that he was considered the senior man, not only on the truck and for his shift, but for Charlottesville Fire Department as a whole.
He would tell you that he was a member of the Charlottesville Fire Department Honor Guard, but you wouldn’t know how devoted a member he was, that he traveled extensively without notice so that he could be there for the loved ones of someone he never met.
He would want you to know that he loved his family. He inspired me to be a good father to my own son with the way he spoke of Travis so lovingly. He was the kindest man I have ever known.
Firefighters by rule are fixers and helpers. But firefighters are also pranksters, jokers, and boy do they love to tease, especially when they know you don’t want it. I had been an A shifter with Dennis since I had been hired. On the truck with him as I described earlier. Shift changes had just come out, and I was on the list. Don’t get me wrong, I love my shift now, but at the time, my home was with Dennis on A shift. The shift ribbed and pushed and teased me about my upcoming transfer in non-stop good fun. I made the best of it, but after a while my defense broke, and I wore my feelings on the outside. Fuel to the fire…Dennis found me in the lounge, sitting by myself, all in my feelings. It was my last day on A shift, and do you know what he did? He stood me up and he hugged me. He actually walked in from the kitchen, pulled me up out of the chair and hugged me. He had some good words for me as well, but I’ll keep those. Nobody saw, and as far as I can remember, I never told anyone that story. He probably wouldn’t remember it if you could ask him, but that was the kind of man he was.
He left kindness in his wake, the ripples of which still move our fire department.
It’s ok to laugh. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to pull someone out of a chair and give them a hug if you think they might need it.
– Captain Jesse Heller