OTTAWA — Stephen Forsey always went big, once even cooking everything in the family fridge for his daughter’s birthday party that had 10 people.
Family always came first for Forsey, and many of them gathered Sunday in the national capital as the gregarious father and husband was among 67 firefighters whose names were added to a national memorial.
A large crowd of firefighters and their families from all over the country packed the memorial near Ottawa’s downtown core, forcing some in the back to stand on tree planters to get a view of the ceremony. Ten families, including Forsey’s, received a ceremonial helmet as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood to their left.
The memorial has 1,411 names of firefighters who have died since 1848.
Forsey was among the firefighters from Ontario singled out in the prime minister’s speech at the 15th annual memorial event.
Trudeau said the firefighters he has spoken with casually talk about saving lives as just a regular day on the job. He said country’s fire departments answer pleas for help without hesitation, no matter how dangerous the call.
“Our firefighters protect us when we’re in danger. We ask these brave women and men, who never let us down, to protect our families and our homes and they answer that call, serving with courage and distinction,” he said.
Forsey had wanted to be a firefighter since a high school aptitude test suggested it as a profession. He spent 28 years with Toronto’s fire department, answering calls his children described as difficult and others that were humbling, including one shortly before his death during which he helped an elderly woman who was also a Holocaust survivor.
“He loved going to work and it was his dream job,” his daughter, Renee, said. “He was so happy to be a firefighter.”
Forsey, a captain, died suddenly in late February 2017 of a work-related illness. He was 52.
Lt.-Col. Lee Goodman, the military’s fire marshal, said fire services are grappling with how to help firefighters with the long-term physical and mental health toll the job takes on them. Symptoms can appear while they are on the job, or years after retirement, she said.
“We cannot fully protect firefighters from their occupational risks, but we can certainly improve their health outcomes through better awareness, better procedures, and better support for them and their families,” Goodman said.
Since his death, Forsey’s family has attended multiple memorials for their dad. Sunday’s memorial had a different feel — a more official one — where a large contingent of family gathered to hear Trudeau and others speak.
“Unfortunately he can’t be here, but we … are honouring him in his own way,” said Forsey’s son Brandon.
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press