At Station 28 in Sumner, we often get older folks coming for help. They ask us to put up smoke alarms. They never ask to join. I was scornful. I said to Brian, ‘You do realise we don’t have a pension plan?’ He laughed. He did realise we didn’t have a pension plan. He just wanted to help.
He got a plain yellow helmet. He’d have to do course work and train at the brigade for at least six months before undertaking an eight-day course to get qualified and become one of us. I gave him no chance.
Brian turned up to everything – every training and every call, riding the truck if there was a full crew and extra room – to watch and to learn. He had dyslexia. I yelled at him once because he struggled to take a Fire Comms call when the siren went off. Afterwards I showed him how to do it. He thanked me.
He never said a bad word about anybody. Always kind. Softly spoken. Tall and smiling. Big but somehow lanky and a little slouched, maybe that was age or God just got his dimensions a little wrong. If one of us needed a hand, Brian would help out. He always turned up to his duty days and every brigade function. Everybody liked Brian. He became one of us.
I named him Hoff, because he looked like David Hasslehoff, but the moniker never really stuck. Mostly people called him Beans. Some time in the mid 90s he was diagnosed with cancer and he was told to eat fresh fruit and vegetables. Somehow that turned into baked beans and white bread. That was all he ate for 20 years. He beat the cancer.
If you didn’t know him, I won’t convince you here that he lived solely on baked beans and white bread. Three tins a day and just shy of one loaf of bread but it’s true. One day he admitted to eating the odd piece of fruitcake at Christmas. The fraud. I alerted the media to this remarkable existence. Such wonderful madness should be shared. He got sick again when they were going to do a story. But now I’m ahead of myself.
Brian failed the qualifying course to become a firefighter. He waited over a year to get his confidence up. He trained hard and gave it everything but in the end the physical component was too much. We made him an Operational Support member. He had a beaming smile. He was officially one of us.
Some days he’d turn up to duty with his grandkids. One was his spitting image. He looked at them with pride. And they looked right back.
Riddled with something he never told us about, we knew he was crook. We heard dark whispers from his family. He was in and out of hospital. He lost a lot of weight. You all right, Hoff? I’d ask. Yip, really good thanks, he would reply. Getting better, he said.
We should have known there was something really wrong when he started eating things other than beans and white bread. He was trying to put the weight back on but he never did. At 10.15am tomorrow our siren will scream but we will not rush. We will be silent and bowed.
On Sunday Brian died. He was one of us.