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Mysterious Ways: The Firefighter's Coat

It was a favor for a firefighter’s widow, but it turned out to be so much more.

By Chief Bob Kissner, Kingsville, Ontario, Canada

Darrell Ellwood wasn’t just any firefighter. He served with my department for 11 years and the City of Windsor for another 18, and had a reputation for being “the man with the plan,” always looking out for his brothers. He was the provincial firefighters association’s best advocate as a member of the provincial labor department’s firefighter health and safety committee.

He was a husband, and a father to three children. He was also one of my best friends. His death at age 50 from multiple myeloma, a cancer, shocked me. How could someone with such a profound influence be taken so soon?

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When his widow, Kelly, called to ask a favor, I told her I’d do anything. “We want to display things from Darrell’s life for the wake,” she said. “We have his old fire helmet and boots from his days in Kingsville, but we really want to have an old fire coat like he wore. It looks like something’s missing without it.”

I wanted to help, but there was a problem. I knew we had some photos from back then, but the old black ¾ length fire coats we all used to wear had all been disposed of when the safety standards changed in the late 1980’s, more than 20 years ago. Any coat like the one Darrell wore with us would be at the bottom of a landfill. Unless maybe there was someone who collected ancient fire gear?

There was somebody who might know. A retired captain who owned an antique fire truck.  I gave him a call, and told him what I was looking for. “You’re in luck,” he said.  “I grabbed a few from a huge pile of them before you threw them away. I’ll see which are in the best shape and I’ll send them over.”

One was a later model we’d worn after Darrell moved to Windsor, but the other—that style of reflective striping, the length, yep, that was it. Same style as in the old photos.

Then I looked at the label inside the coat… “Darrell Ellwood #52.”

The retired captain swore he had no idea. That’s simply what he had on hand. Exactly the thing Kelly and her family needed right now.

I thought about my friend Darrell, always looking out for the health and safety of others. Always the man with the plan. Someone still was.