Funerals for first responders are incredibly powerful and emotional. Yesterday I attended the memorial service for Eau Claire Fire Department engineer and paramedic Denise Waterman, who passed away April 30th after a short eight week battle with cancer. Denise was married to my wife’s cousin Greg, whose family we have visited in Eau Claire many times over the years.
Forty-eight is way too young, but as Rubén Rosario wrote in a recent Pioneer Press story, cancer is a growing problem for firefighters. These brave men and women serve their community by fighting fires and conducting rescues, only to face even more danger from exposure to cancerous agents while in the line of duty. The local Eau Claire TV station WEAU had nice coverage of the event here.
When I arrived at the Plaza Hotel, the front parking lot was full of red fire equipment, including two ladder trucks that formed a memorial arch. Several hundred firefighters attended the service, which included an honor guard that changed every ten minutes, a single file procession past her badge and uniform with salutes, a bagpiper playing Amazing Grace and flowers from fire departments across Wisconsin and Minnesota. The service itself included several friends and colleagues sharing memories, a ringing of the bell (three sets of three), the presentation of a flag and other awards to Greg and a final farewell from the dispatcher that was too much for me to handle.
Also participating in Sunday’s marathon were several members of area fire departments who ran in full gear that weighed up to 30 pounds. The firefighters ran in memory of Denise Waterman, a 16-year veteran of the Eau Claire Fire Department who lost her battle with cancer Wednesday. The firefighters ran with Waterman’s photograph taped to their air tanks. “You lean on each other, and you support each other, and this was a great event to lean on each other and support our brothers and sisters,” said Tony Biasi, a member of the Eau Claire Fire Department. Eight firefighters ran the relay marathon and four ran the full marathon.
Colleen and I did not know that Denise also went to UW-Madison, studying art and creating beautiful paintings, many of which were on display at the memorial. After the ceremony, the room was flipped to serve dinner and celebrate the life of a very special person. It was the party she wanted and it was an honor to be a part of it.Originally published by DK on May 7, 2014 at 2:46 pm