At the fire hall or the family cottage, Capt. Dave Cartmel was the guy everyone called for help.
The 27-year veteran of the Brantford Fire Department, who died Sept. 3 at the Stedman Community Hospice after a prolonged illness, was remembered as a selfless family man who could always be counted on during a crisis.
Several hundred fire, police and EMS personnel from Brantford and neighbouring communities streamed into New Life Church Friday morning to salute Capt. Cartmel, whom friends described as that rare person who could balance his chosen profession and his family in equal measure, with neither left wanting.
Capt. Cartmel’s casket, draped in a Canadian flag, rode in procession to the church atop a Brantford Fire Department pumper covered with black cloth. Brantford police and County of Brant OPP and EMS provided the honour guard.
“Every time we had an issue, it was, ‘who we gonna call?’ And it was Dave,” said Dean Braund, who spoke on behalf of the family to a large crowd that spilled into two overflow rooms to watch the service on projection screens.
Braund told stories of Capt. Cartmel dropping everything to fix a neighbour’s leaky pipe, tend to injured children and even scale a catwalk to locate Braund’s child who was lost in the crowd at Disney World.
One memorable afternoon while fishing near Long Point, Braund described how a huge squall boxed in their boat, ripping off the roof and sending the craft spinning. Instead of panicking, Capt. Cartmel got his boys into their life jackets while he and Braund donned scuba masks in order to see through the thrashing waves and guide the boat to safety.
“What a first mate,” Braund said of his “rock solid” friend.
Becoming a volunteer firefighter in Buckhorn was Capt. Cartmel’s dream job, Braund said. The avid outdoorsman, who enjoyed hockey, hunting and fishing when not on the job, joined the Brantford Fire Department in 1986 and was promoted to captain in 2006.
Capt. Cartmel was the departmental handyman who insisted that fire engines be kept clean.
“It is ironic that today is the best our trucks have ever looked,” said Fire Chief Jeff McCormick.
A stickler for detail, Capt. Cartmel would put together a list of things that needed doing around the station and check in with staff to make sure the list was complete before a shift ended. He had no time for laziness or complacency in others or himself, said Ed Glover of the Brantford Professional Fire Fighters Association.
The “relentless provider” with a gift for mentorship cherished his family and his brothers and sisters at the fire hall, Glover said.
“Dave was respected and admired by all the firefighters under his command,” McCormick said. “He had their complete trust at all times.”
McCormick thanked Capt. Cartmel’s widow, Debbie, for letting the department play a leading role in Friday’s service, while acknowledging that Capt. Cartmel’s three decades fighting fires directly contributed to his illness.
“In the past two years, Dave has demonstrated to me more courage, more faith and more determination than I ever imagined possible from one individual,” McCormick said. “Dave Cartmel was a firefighter’s firefighter, a man’s man, an outstanding husband and dedicated father. Simply put, he was the best of the best.”
Rev. Mario Hryniewicz paid tribute to Capt. Cartmel’s “life of care and dedication.”
“That’s what Dave did – he took the risks to save the lives of others, and he paid the highest price,” Hryniewicz said. “Grief is the price we pay.”
To close the service, a firefighter rang a bell nine times to signal the end of Capt. Cartmel’s duties and his return home. Capt. Cartmel’s helmet, boots and captain’s jacket were carefully placed on the front of the pumper that carried his casket to Farringdon Burial Ground.
In closing his eulogy, Braund told Ben and Matthew Cartmel that they should now expect to get the calls for help that had previously went to their dad, and his father before him.
“And that’s a good thing, because it runs in your family,” Braund said.