Mourners’ brave fronts by two children of dead firefighter

Joshua Roman, 4, looks toward the chair bearing his father’s boots, helmet and coat as he and his sister Sarah, 6, clutch the hands of two female members of the London fire department.  They are at the central fire station during Wednesday’s funeral procession for their dad. Photo by Dick Wallace of The London Free Press

Joshua Roman, 4, looks toward the chair bearing his father’s boots, helmet and coat as he and his sister Sarah, 6, clutch the hands of two female members of the London fire department. They are at the central fire station during Wednesday’s funeral procession for their dad. Photo by Dick Wallace of The London Free Press

Four-year-old Joshua Roman stood in front of the central fire station at York and Waterloo streets in London Wednesday morning, clutching the hands of two uniformed female members of the fire department and pointing out the familiar faces in the cars sliding by.

The family friends and relatives put up a brave front behind the car windows but as soon as they passed the child and his six-year-old sister Sarah, their tears started to flow again and tissues wiped red-rimmed eyes.

Joshua and Sarah didn’t attend the funeral service – their mother Norma didn’t want them to be there – but as the 28 bells sounded for the last alarm, they watched about 600 relatives and friends – more than half of them in firefighter’s uniforms – say goodbye to their father.

Rick Roman, 32, a firefighter for seven years, died Monday morning, pinned beneath a pumper that overturned after colliding with an ambulance at Curry Street and Mornington Avenue as both vehicles rushed to answer a fire call.

London hasn’t lost a firefighter on duty since 1960 when Capt. David Moffit suffered a heart attack while fighting a blaze. In the last two years, Fire Chief Ray Morley said, 18 firefighters in Ontario have lost their lives on duty.

About 200 black-uniformed London firefighters and another 150 from departments throughout Ontario and from Montreal took part in the funeral procession and service.

Roman’s wife Norma, distraught and wan, sobbed as she left the Donohue Funeral Home, supported on both arms by family friends.  Behind her, Roman’s parents, who flew in Tuesday night from Labrador, clung to each other, shedding tears for their only son.

Roman’s wooden casket, draped in a Canadian flag, was raised to the top of a pumper, the same kind of fire truck that carried him to his death.

The firefighters assembled in front of the central firehall and marched a block to five waiting buses on York Street that took them to St. John the Divine Church on Base Line Road West for mass.  Behind them, seven family cars, police cars and the red fire truck, flanked by six firefighters, filed to the church.

At the church, firefighters line three-deep along the road and sidewalk, paving a route for six pallbearers and six honor guards in white gloves – special friends to Roman – who carried the casket into the church.

They held their hats to their chests as they filled all the church pews, overflowing into the balcony and along the walls.  Rev. Patrick Mellon, Roman Catholic chaplain for the department, paid tribute to Roman and expressed sympathy for his family.

“I knew Rick,” he said during the half-hour mass.  “He was a football player and I often thought that a fellow like that insisted on first, second and third efforts . . . He didn’t do it for himself, he was rather a quiet person, he did it because he loved his family, the men he worked with, his neighbors.”

Firefighter Paul McPherson, an honorary pallbearer and a close friend of Roman, also spoke warmly of him.

“Everywhere this young man tread, everyone experienced his life.  Rick was dedicated to his family which he cared for and loved deeply.  In his daily work with his fellow firefighters, he reached all of us with his peace and hope for the future.”

“With his friends, Rick was always there to lend a hand and never lacking in generosity.  Rick was loved by all who knew him.  To know him was to love him as a husband, father, friend and fellow firefighter.”

They filed out of the church and raised the casket once again onto the fire truck.  Arms linked arms, soothing and comforting.  En route to St. Peter’s Cemetery, the procession returned downtown to pass the firehall for the “last alarm.”

Roman’s hat, boots and coat, symbols of his work, were draped over a chair on the sidewalk in front of the hall as the bells sounded.  His children were there, standing beside the chair.

The firefighters standing stiffly behind the chair may have recalled the words of the Firemen’s Prayer, recited by McPherson during the funeral service:

And if according to thy will, I have to give my life.  Please bless with thy protecting hand, my children and my wife.

By Terry Brodie of The Free Press