Three strikes of a bell, three times. The firefighter’s last call is sounded to mark the death of a fellow firefighter who has answered his or her last call. On the second Sunday of every June, Firemen’s Memorial Sunday is a day for members of the Bristol volunteer fire department to honor fellow members who died over the past year.
Like many Bristol residents, Town Administrator Tony Teixeira said he didn’t realize the commitment, dedication and professionalism of the department’s members until he saw it firsthand. Just after he was elected town administrator, he received a call for a house fire on Smith Street.
“At 4:15 the phone rang. There was a very serious fire,” Mr. Teixeira said.
He went to the site.
“Immediately I had a great appreciation” for first responders and their devotion, he said.
Following a morning Mass, firefighters in dress uniforms left St. Mary’s Church on Wood Street, where the Rev. Barry Gamache said a special service for the occasion. The firefighters then walked in a procession through the streets to Firefighters’ Memorial Park on Thames Street, where they paid tribute to deceased members.
As David Barboza, a lifetime member of the fire department, read the name of each fire company, a ranking member of that company laid a wreath and saluted members who have died.
This year, two names were read aloud, Deputy Chief of the Dreadnaughts, Ladder Company 1, Fred Serbst, and a member of the Ladies Auxiliary, Olivia Belmore.
Among the speakers, Fire Chief Bob Martin expressed his gratitude to the men and women who serve under his command, volunteers who put their lives at risk for others in the community.
“Our department, which is second to none in the state, continues to flourish,” he said. “I give my humble thanks. Look around and take care of each other.”
After paying tribute to those deceased, the Ladies Auxiliary honored Hercubano “Oakie” Falcoa with the Vicky Van Voast Memorial Award. Each year one individual is chosen by committee who exemplifies the same qualities of community spirit, volunteerism, and dedication to the Bristol Volunteer Fire Department that was characterized by one of the auxiliary’s charter members, Victoria Van Voast.
Guest speaker Rep. Raymond Gallison also expressed gratitude for the volunteers.
“Bristol is a much safer place to live, because you’re there when you are called upon. Your vigilance and gallantry does not go unnoticed,” Rep. Gallison said.
He also acknowledged the loss of Mr. Serbst.
“Fred’s dedication was unparalleled. Fred will certainly be forever remembered,” he said.
The solemn ceremony was marked with trumpeter Steve Skuba playing Taps, and bagpipers playing “Amazing Grace.” Many wiped away tears for those who answered their last call.