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Families touched by fire department’s tribute to their late loved ones

By Chad Feehan/December 20, 2023

Bill Bursey wasn’t always a volunteer firefighter, and indeed spent the last years of his life with his coat on the rack, but the spirit of firefighting stayed with him until his death earlier this year.

Last month, Bursey and 10 other former members of the CBS Fire Department were posthumously honored with their inclusion on the Captain Vincent H. Fowler Memorial Wall at the main CBS Fire Station in Kelligrews.

Bursey’s daughter Cherie Cable, along with other members of the family, were present at the ceremony on his behalf.

“While it’s sad that you’re acknowledging that these people have passed on, it’s really a big honour to see that they’re being recognized for their contribution to the community,” Cable said.

For years after his retirement, Bursey would tell stories of his firefighting days and the people he served with, many of whom also have their names on the memorial wall.

Cable was just a young girl when her father served as the first Chief of the Conception Bay South Volunteer Fire Department, but she has her own fond memories of this time. Hung up on the wall of their family phone was a red telephone, known as “the fire phone.” Upon answering the phone, Bursey would be out the door no matter the time of day.

“No no one was allowed to answer it only the fire chief, and we knew it meant there was a fire call,” Cable said.

After Bursey’s retirement, the department kept him within their hearts and minds by inviting him to annual galas and immortalizing his image in a bronze bust at the Monument of Honour, a memorial dedicated to first responders at the cenotaph outside the Town Hall in Long Pond.

Some old firefighting habits stuck around, too.

As a firefighter, Bursey always had a change of clothes ready to go in the living room, so he could get out of the door as fast as possible when the necessity arose.

“That habit never ever left him. He did that right up until his last days,” Cable said. “That’s something that stuck with him forever.”

Elaine Bickford was also at the ceremony to honor her husband Reuban Bickford, who died this past April.

Bickford said her husband loved being a volunteer firefighter and would be out the door immediately at the first sign help was needed.

“If he heard sirens going, he was gone in a flash,” she said.

Much like Bursey, Bickford attended events hosted by the department well through his retirement years and would proudly wear his firefighter’s dress jacket to all of them.

In an act of generosity after his passing, Elaine included the jacket in a donation to Value Village, a move she regretted after seeing jackets from other firefighters on display at the department. Reuben’s name is on the sleeve of the jacket, and she hopes she may be reunited with it someday. Anyone who happens to know the whereabouts of the coat, can reach Bickford through the CBS Fire Department. The Shoreline News is offering a small reward to the owner of the jacket if it is turned in.

“I wish I had to bring it up to tell you the truth, but it’s too late now,” said Bickford.

While Elaine misses Reuben, she was moved by the honor and respect the fire department showed her husband at the ceremony.

“He was a good fellow, I tell you,” she said. “Good husband, good father, good grandfather. Couldn’t ask for any better… And he always had a smile no matter who spoke to him or where he went.”

The Captain H. Fowler Memorial Wall was unveiled in May 2001, and was named in memory of Captain Fowler who died in 2000 after 23 years with the department.

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