On an icy cold morning in Danielson, Connecticut, the world bid farewell to Connecticut State Police Sgt. Chris Guari. Chris was 47, married with three children and was a dedicated public servant. All the time on the state police, he also served as a volunteer firefighter in Brooklyn, CT working his way to Chief and was a Deputy at the time he was called home. I only knew Chris for 4 years through my affiliation with the local fire marshal’s association. He and his staff of troopers never missed a monthly meeting. He supervised the Eastern District Fire & Explosion Unit for the CSP which is an arm of the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Chris was all the things we aspire to be. Hard-working, honest, kind, community minded and a family man. He coached sports in between his job and being a fireman. He liked to have fun and a cold beer now and then. Definitely our kind of guy. Definitely anyone’s kind of guy.
Wednesday March 6, 2013 was a cold nasty day in northern Connecticut. The wind was whipping a cold combination of rain and sleet upon us as we waited for the funeral procession to arrive. The CSP Commander in charge of the funeral detail lined his troopers up on one side the entry walk to the church and placed the fire service on the other. The first thing I noted was that we were all in this together. Just folks in uniforms in one group, in one place for one cause. In my mind, I started to recount the number of times I’ve stood in front of a church in Class A uniform for this very occasion whether LODD or not. It was too many to count. (BTW-I did cheat as far as Class A’s go. Wore my uniform winter duty coat. It was no day for a Class A “sport jacket.” Old age I guess.) I looked across the walk way at the CSP. I immediately noted they all looked exactly alike. Each and every person in uniform was wearing the same exact thing, collar brass, medals etc. all in the same exact place. Very impressive. I looked right and left and we were a mix of career and volunteers, it was truly a mixed bag of uniforms and uniform parts as well. Most in Class A’s. A few in winter coats, like me. My thought then was that I hoped the other guys across the walk way weren’t looking back at us thinking “it looks like a mixed bag over there.” I don’t think they did. We were all there for someone else and a greater cause.
The CSP Commander snapped me out of my mental wander as he yelled “ten hut.” We all snapped to attention as if we had all rehearsed for days. As they opened the rear of the hearse and carried Chris inside, we got the “present arms” command. Again, about 300 of us in unison snapped our right hands to our hat peaks. The wind and sleet got heavier but no one moved. It wasn’t about us. As we were dismissed when the family entered the church, someone commented “Chris got us and he’s probably laughing” as we all retreated to the church basement to escape the elements. The service was piped in to the room so we were able to hear the prayer service and the speakers who eloquently spoke about Chris, his family, his friends, his career and his life. Since I only knew him for four years, this gave me the opportunity to really hear about him and what he had accomplished. It was too much to list here. My only regret was that I didn’t know him longer. As the service wound down, a CSP member asked us to all to go outside and line up again. Ironically, the sun had poked through while we were in the basement but as we lined up, the wind and rain started again. The same guy on line standing next to me during the first line-up said “he got us again” and we laughed.
So there we were. On a dark day in Northern Connecticut, the State Police, fire service members from around the state, dignitaries including the Commissioner, the State Fire Administrator and the State Fire Marshal, a detail from the Massachusetts State Police, State Environmental Protection personnel and a host of others came together to honor and pay tribute to one person. A person who made a difference every day whether his “nine” was on his hip or he was wearing a leather helmet while standing in front of a burning structure. I realized then there is no difference between any of us. Those stories of cops vs. firemen, them vs. us, and all the bickering that takes place around the country are a waste of time and energy. Law Enforcement has more LODD’s then the fire service does each year. Three years ago we had 90. They had 160. The police like all of us expect to go to work or an incident and go home afterwards. We all expect that, and our families and friends expect to see us afterwards too. Maybe Chris brought us together to create an example for the rest of the world. There we were, for about 2 hours, talking, chatting, making exchanges and realizing we are the same.
Chris like a lot of others whom we’ve come to know succumbed to cancer at age 47. As a final unselfish act and in the interest of taking care of those whom he loved the most, he retired last Friday which qualified his wife and family for a host of benefits they may not have seen had he passed while “active.” He passed away on Saturday. He was way too young to retire and way too young to leave our midst but smart enough to take care of business. He gave, right up to the last minute.
Nice meeting you Sarge. Rest in Peace. Till we meet again.
Be safe & see you at FDIC,