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Never Forget

Time Flies Dayhoff: Death of 'ordinary hero' Tommy Brothers a reminder of what first responders do for community
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By Committee Chair Kati Townsley
March 30, 2018

Tommy Brothers, a 37-year veteran of the Reese and Community Volunteer Fire Company, died unexpectedly of a heart attack at his home on March 15. His death at the young age of 55 came as a shock — and as a stark reminder of the thin red line that separates life and death for those in the first responder community.

Hundreds of folks from the greater community — childhood friends, firefighters, and EMS personnel — gathered at a firefighter memorial service on March 25, in the social hall above the engine bays at the Reese fire station to celebrate the life of Brothers, an ordinary hero who selflessly dedicated his life to serving his community.

We stood silently throughout the service with the stoic, uncanny fusion of the cold-eyed vivid realism that comes with an occupation that constantly deals with death and the dying.

A life that attempts to negotiate the bottled-up feelings of the loneliness, grief, fear, love, and hope that come with the day-to-day of being a first responder — that only our brothers and sisters on the front line of mayhem in the community can understand. Others pick up the newspaper and read about traffic accidents along with a cup of tea in the morning. At night we pick up the body parts along the road and place them in a bag, then place our feelings in a small box that we nail shut and place in a corner of the room.

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His pastor, John Morill, spoke for many when he said that as news of Brothers’ death spread through the community, we shook “our heads and wanted very much for this news not to be true. But he was only 55. … What happened? Sudden and unexpected death drops us into a state of shock and disbelief …”
Brothers’ memorial service came at the end of a particularly “deadly week for firefighters nationwide,” according to a recent Washington Post article. The same day as the memorial service for Brothers, the names of the two firefighters who just died in Charleston, West Virginia were released. It is reported that both of the firefighters had just recently gotten married.

The Washington Post reported, “Five members of the Pratt Volunteer Fire Department were en route to a wreck on Interstate 64-77 on Saturday evening southeast of Charleston when their truck hit the wall along state Route 83… [Pratt Volunteer Fire Department] assistant fire chief Michael Edwards, 46, and Lt. Thomas Craigo, 40, were killed… Both men had just gotten married…”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice asked for prayers for those involved. “‘Our first responders risk their lives every day for us and when events like this happen it serves as a somber reminder of just how dangerous the public service they provide for us can be…’

“In York, Pennsylvania, two firefighters were killed and two were injured when a former piano factory collapsed Thursday,” according to the Washington Post. “A New York City firefighter died Friday after battling a fire at a movie set in Harlem. And a firefighter in Ellinger, Texas, died Friday of injuries sustained while battling a large grass fire earlier this month.”

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, 21 firefighters have died in the United States so far this year. An article on Fox News last week reported, “Since the start of 2018, at least 24 law enforcement officers across the U.S. have died while on duty. … Roughly 135 cops died in 2016, making it the deadliest year for police officers in at least five years. … A total of 129 officers died last year…”

Often unreported are the number of dispatchers, police officers, firefighters, and EMS providers that retire, or take the weekend off, and die of a heart attack — or commit suicide.

A recent article in Military Times reported, “Federal officials estimate about 20 veterans a day nationwide take their own lives, but outside advocates say they believe that number could be even higher. The departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense have launched numerous initiatives in recent years to increase outreach to at-risk veterans, with mixed results.”

At a time in which much of the mainstream media glorifies themselves, athletes, movie stars, politicians, and most recently adult film stars; last Sunday, we came together to celebrate an ordinary man who actually accomplished extraordinary things with his life and contributed greatly to our community.
Much of today’s hero worship is misplaced, displaced, and inappropriate. Too often Hollywood and sports hero worship sends the wrong message to our children and demonstrates a wrong set of values for our community. The real heroes in our community are teachers, soldiers, police officers, firefighters, dispatchers, and public servants.

Brothers graduated from Westminster High School in 1980. He joined the Reese Volunteer Fire Department at age 18, in July 1981. According to his obituary, “During his 37 years with Reese, he served the company and community in many roles as both a fire officer and as a member of the board of directors.”
My colleague, Reese fire department member Kati Townsley reported at the memorial service, “He rode his first fire call on August 29, 1981…” On August 5th, 1987, he “began what would become a 29-year career with the Anne Arundel County Fire Department. He retired from Anne Arundel Co as a Lieutenant in 2016.

“Throughout his life, he was known for his professionalism both on and off the fire ground. As a career firefighter for 29 years and as a small business owner for over 25 years of Brothers Chimney Sweep and Brothers Hearth and Home here in Carroll County. He was remarkably hardworking. A dedicated man of great integrity…”

Morrill observed, “In Tom’s life he truly lived out the meaning of John 15:13… “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Tom was always giving for his family and for his friends. He was always there for many of us, anytime and anywhere.”

Townsley continued, “Sir Winston Churchill once said ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give’ … Tommy Brothers made a great life in his short time here on earth. He was one of the nicest and most giving people that I’ve ever known.”

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. Email him at


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