Tribute paid to Calais firefighter

Posted May 06, 2009, at 9:37 p.m.

CALAIS, Maine — Firefighter Billy Townsend took his final ride Wednesday aboard a 1926 Mack hose truck.

The 27-year-old Calais man on Friday lost a two-year battle with leukemia.

Funeral services were held Wednesday at the Calais United Methodist Church. From there, Townsend’s casket was lifted high atop the Mack truck and taken to the Calais cemetery. Behind the truck more than 50 firefighters and EMS personnel from Bangor to St. Stephen, New Brunswick, walked under gray skies and drizzle.

After the graveside services, firefighters and EMS personnel and family and friends gathered at the Calais Fire Station on North Street where the “Firemen’s Last Call” was held.

The ceremony began with firefighters lined up outside the fire station. Then the tone-alert last alarm was broadcast and the large bay door opened to reveal Townsend’s bunker gear — his No. 13 prominently displayed in front of two tables that held some of his favorite things, including a fishing pole, his hunting rifle, a McDonald’s cup of coffee, a bottle of Mountain Dew, a picture of him and his dog.

Then it was time for the last call.

“We gather on this somber occasion to remember our friend and colleague, Billy Townsend, a fellow firefighter, who, from the very young age of 14 years as a junior firefighter, exemplified the spirit and practice of volunteerism,” Firefighter Geoff Maker read. “The practice of caring for our fellow citizens, their life safety and well-being. Let us pause and reflect at this ‘last alarm’ to ponder the absence of a dear friend and brother firefighter.”

The center door of the fire station slowly closed.

When it reopened the tables and all those things that represented parts of Townsend’s life were gone.

“The empty apparatus bay signifies that someone — our brother and colleague William E. Townsend — is missing,” Maker said. “Likewise, as Firefighter Townsend’s gear is now retired, let us also restore our memories of Billy and keep them ever present in our minds, as we hear the words of the FireFighter’s Prayer.”

The bell on the Mack truck struck 13 times.

Lt. Tim James of the Calais Fire Department then read the “FireFighter’s Prayer.” “When I am called to duty, God, whenever flames may rage; give me strength to save some life, whatever be its age,” he read in part. “And if, according to my fate, I am to lose my life, please bless with your protecting my children and my wife.”

Townsend’s wife, Alicia, along with family members and friends stood in the rain listening to the prayer.

Capt. Dale Purton said afterward that in Calais each firefighter is issued a badge and in Townsend’s case it was the number 13. So the bell was rung 13 times to honor him.

Townsend in March 2007 was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, a type of blood cancer. He underwent radiation treatments and, after a search for a bone marrow donor, was treated earlier this year at a Boston hospital. He died May 1 after further complications of his illness.

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