Close to 1,500 people, including more than 400 firefighters, gathered Saturday to honour fallen Cache Creek fire chief Clayton Cassidy.
Cassidy, 59, had served for more than 30 years on the Cache Creek Fire Department and spent more than a decade as chief. He was reported missing on the morning of May 5 after apparently being swept away by floodwater as he was checking rising water levels in washed out areas of the community. His body was found on May 27, and recovered on May 28.
The celebration of life began with a procession of family members and firefighters from the Cache Creek fire hall to the park.
“We are here to celebrate a life well-lived,” said retired chaplain Ray Parker of Kamloops Fire Rescue as he conducted the service.
He quoted from John 15:13 — “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
“Clayton Cassidy was that sort of man,” Park said. “As a firefighter, he would run into those places we would run away from. His love of the fire service was second only to his love of his family and of the Village of Cache Creek.”
Chief Ryan Day of the Bonaparte Indian Band said Cassidy was much honoured by the Bonaparte community.
“A well-loved, well-liked, cherished soul was taken into the water. These lands and these waters took him home to the spirit world to be with his ancestors. He watched over many of us in human form, in one place at one time. In spirit form he will be in all places at all times, and I know he is watching over us.”
Cassidy’s brother, Patrick, a year younger, told stories about how he and Clayton had a special bond growing up, being the two middle children in the family: “Clayton used to say to me ‘I’m stuck in the middle with you.’ Clayton took on the role of looking after others, and he carried that compassion all his life.
“He was a man of integrity and honesty; hard-working. He loved his wife, his family, and his community, and he left us too soon.”
B.C. fire commissioner Gordon Anderson was there on behalf of the province. “(Cassidy) made the ultimate sacrifice. He was there to protect his community, and the turnout today shows that Chief Cassidy was appreciated.”
Longtime friend and Cache Creek councillor Wyatt McMurray, who spent many hours searching by helicopter for the missing fire chief, called Cassidy his best friend.
“On the morning of May 5, I got the call that I will never forget. The words ‘Clayton is missing’ are words I’ll never forget. Suddenly nothing seemed important except finding Clayton.
“The reaction of all the volunteers exemplifies small towns. People in Cache Creek and Ashcroft were trying to find one of our heroes, and never giving up.
“Clayton was one of those quiet heroes. He worked hard, looked after his family, tried to do the right thing. There are many quiet heroes in our communities, but Clayton took it to the highest level. He was a guy you could always count on. Clayton was always there.
“He was always game for everything that was up. We all send you our love. We’ve lost a champion, an unsung hero, and a friend.”
Cassidy’s three sons all spoke movingly about their father. Middle son Kevin, a member of Kamloops Fire Rescue, said his father would be “humbled and speechless to see how many people are here to honour him.
“I wish I could find bigger words than ‘thank you’ to express my and my family’s thanks for all those who spent thousands of hours looking for my dad.” He singled out the fire departments of Cache Creek, Ashcroft, and Kamloops, as well as the search and rescue teams, emergency responders, and police who assisted with the search, with special thanks to Ashcroft fire chief Josh White and Ashcroft fire captain Jonah Anstett, who found his father on May 27.
“First responders keep helping people, and finding people, as best we can.”
“We will remember him fondly, and with great respect,” Parker said as he concluded the service. “We are grateful and thankful for a life well-lived.”
He then explained bells played a large part in the life of firefighters, signalling the call to duty and the end of an alarm.
When a firefighter dies in the line of duty, a bell is rung three times, three times each, to show that the firefighter has returned to quarters.
The bell was rung, and under the bright sunshine of a June day, Clayton Cassidy — a man of honour, integrity, compassion, and great love — was brought home and laid to rest.