OTTAWA: A man who tirelessly dedicated more than half a century to his community through firefighting now has his name etched on a national memorial dedicated to honouring those who have contributed selflessly to the life-saving service.
Art Andrews, who founded the Auld’s Cove Volunteer Fire Department, served as its chief for more than 40 years. In its early days, Art and his beloved wife Janice hosted bingo games and dances in their basement as a way of financing the community initiative.
Andrews, who passed away on April 7, 2020, just a few days shy of his 83nd birthday, pioneered and served on the board of Strait Mutual Aid, as well as the fire school board, for almost 30 years. He also was a member of the Cape Breton Fraternal Association and the Nova Scotia Firefighters Association for more than 40 years.
He died of multiple cancers, which were attributed to his career as a volunteer firefighter.
Andrews was one of 82 names, including four other Nova Scotians, added to the Canadian Firefighters Memorial in Ottawa, with a ceremony commemorating the occasion taking place in Ottawa on Sept. 11.
The Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation (CFFF) unveiled the national monument in 2012, which came after more than a decade of planning, including extensive fundraising.
In an interview with The Reporter, a few days before the 2022 ceremony, CFFF President David Sheen explained that the group reached the milestone without any monies coming from government sources.
“People stepped up; the response was incredible,” he said, noting supporters hosted events, while corporate sponsors also offered their assistance.
He noted that the Canadian Firefighters Memorial is often described as a crown jewel of the many monuments found in the country’s capital city.
Sheen reflected on the establishment of the CFFF by a group of “interested individuals” in Ottawa.
“They were concerned that there was no national monument,” he offers of their focus on remembering fallen firefighters and their sacrifices on that type of stage.
While adopting the mantra “honour, remember and support,” the group created a foundation that not only financed and erected the national memorial, but also provides support for the families of fallen firefighters.
After last Sunday’s ceremony, the Canadian Firefighters Memorial is now adorned with 1,811 names.
Along with Andrews, Bluenosers receiving the honour were Todd Arenburg (Bridgewater), Skyler Blackie (Truro), Christopher Myers (Enfield) and David Galley (Waterville).
The first two female firefighters, the late Patricia Byrd and Carla Kulczycki, also had their names added to the memorial.
Along with those who lost their lives “in the line of duty,” there are those firefighters who have and are dying from a “large number of occupational illnesses,” a category that is expected to steadily increase as the years go by, according to Sheen.
The annual memorial ceremony coincides with Firefighters’ National Memorial Day, when flags across Canada fly at half mast.
The Andrews family was one of 29 whose loved one died while on active duty, or within two years of retirement, which were presented with an honorary helmet at the memorial ceremony.
“Our hearts are heavy as we remember these fallen firefighters; their professionalism, courage, compassion, and service offered to others in a time of need,” Sheen said in a CFFF press release. “Firefighters face harrowing risks every day to protect their communities. This memorial ceremony is a stark reminder that their sacrifice is not only of themselves, but also their loved ones, families, and friends.”
In the same press release, Bill Blair, federal minister of emergency preparedness, assured that Canada’s national government “will continue to honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in their work to protect us all.”
Along with the memorial helmet presentation, on Firefighters’ National Memorial Day the Canadian Fire Service pays tribute to the fallen with the ringing of the fire bell, a tradition that is more than 200 years old.
“When the fire was out, it was a bell that signalled the completion of the call,” Sheen explained. “If a firefighter died in the line of duty, it was the toll of the bell, three rings three times that solemnly announced a comrade’s passing.”
When it comes to the annual memorial ceremony, Sheen said, “It is always incredible,” a morning filled with “touching moments.”
He agreed that the 2022 event would be extra special, considering there hadn’t been an in-person ceremony since 2019 due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, which was live-streamed on Facebook. Because of that, three years of recipients will be honoured, with families from each in attendance.
Noting that those remembered on the memorial have “paid the ultimate price and need to be honoured,” Sheen offered that the CFFF focuses on ensuring that they, and their families, “will never be forgotten.”
“It drives us,” he said.
Sheen added that the “biggest fear” for most of the families they work with is that their loved ones will be forgotten.
For more information on the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation and its work, visit: www.cfff.ca.