Donald Chase couldn't be honored by his firefighting brothers in Connecticut because he fell ill during a visit to South Carolina. Rock Hill firefighters heard about the 90-year-old staying at a Rock Hill hospice and decided a "hero's goodbye" had to be done.
So they brought the tribute right to Chase's hospice bed.
Chase's bed was wheeled outside the Hospice and Community Care Thursday afternoon. A pair of fire trucks filled with the "A" shift of the Rock Hill Fire Department showed up. The firefighters dismounted the gleaming trucks and marched up to the bed holding the man called "Cap" because he retired as a fire captain.
They thanked Cap for being one of them.
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"Cap, we are brothers forever," said Rock Hill Fire Department Lt. Michael Cox as he leaned over and touched Chase's hand. "You are a hero."
The other firefighters lined up to thank a guy who, like them, chose a job requiring a rush toward danger. A job where teamwork is essential to survival. A job where firefighters live together for 24-hour shifts, like families in fire stations.
All thanked Chase for a job well done.
Because of a recent stroke, Chase couldn't express his gratitude with many words. The words he spoke were quiet. But his face beamed and shone.
Rock Hill's chief, Mike Blackmon, told Chase he and his crew were honored to honor Chase.
"We are proud of you, Cap," Blackmon said.
Chase's wife, Elaine, also 90, called the tribute "wonderful."
Chase had come to Rock Hill in recent weeks to visit his daughter, Elaine Bauer, who lives in Rock Hill with her family. Chase had a stroke during the visit and had to be moved to hospice, Bauer said.
Chase was a member of the Hartford, Conn., fire service for almost 30 years, his family said. The plan was to hold a tribute in Connecticut, family said.
"I never thought his tribute would be here, but this is his family, too, in Rock Hill," Bauer said. "Firemen."
Finally the firefighters had to get back to work. Chase had to be put back in his room. But not before Battalion Chief Chris Channell whispered to Chase something only firefighters know: A "hero's goodbye."
"Cap, thanks for your service," Channell said.
Chase said the word: "Brothers." Then he found the strength to lift his hand and wave goodbye.
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @Andrew DysHerald