For the past 51 years, the sound of sirens would prompt Charles MacLaren to reach for his gear and run over to the Stellarton fire hall.
But on Sunday, the fire trucks went to his house instead, the lights and sirens ringing through the neighbourhood as a final send-off to a man who was a brother to his fellow firefighters and an adopted grandfather to many of the children in this rural Nova Scotia town.
MacLaren died of cancer on Jan. 14 at the age of 72.
He had continued to serve as a volunteer firefighter until the last months of his life, despite having been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said his daughter, Annette MacLaren.
Pandemic restrictions meant the MacLaren family — and the Stellarton firefighting family — couldn’t hold a funeral reception with its accompanying honour guard and parade of fire trucks.
So more than a dozen volunteer firefighters drove up Charles MacLaren’s street in uniform and recited the firefighter’s prayer outside his family home.
His daughter and her children watched from the porch.
“I know my dad was up there smiling down, knowing that they had come to the house,” she said. “The fire department was such a big part of his life.”
MacLaren had just turned 20 when he and his brother joined the Stellarton volunteer department. Although his brother later moved away, Charles found another brotherhood at the fire hall.
“His brothers from another mother,” Annette MacLaren said, laughing.
Until his COPD diagnosis, Charles MacLaren was always the first person to climb onto the roof of burning buildings. One of his daughter’s earliest memories is seeing her dad from a height, surrounded by smoke.
“I remember him running, because we only lived two streets over from the fire department,” she said. “When that beeper would go off, Dad would be off and running down the street.”
But he had other responsibilities, too. He worked at the Michelin Tire factory for most of his adult life, raised a daughter and a son, Anthony, and while he was officially a grandfather of four, he was the chosen grandfather of many.
A life of service and simple pleasures
In retirement, MacLaren enjoyed the simple pleasures — a morning drive through town to get a coffee or a visit with friends who might be at the fire hall.
And he never retired from firefighting; he switched over to traffic control when he couldn’t climb up on the roof any longer, said Stellarton fire Chief Mike O’Sullivan.
“He was always there to help out [and] as he got older, he let the younger guys do the climbing,” O’Sullivan said. “But he was always there to help, regardless of how big or small of a job it was.”
The family plans to hold a service for MacLaren once pandemic restrictions allow.
And his fellow firefighters are promising there will be an honour guard.
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