Our department lost a dear friend yesterday after a long battle with cancer. Lt. Bruce Schultz came down from Ohio back in the day when hanging out at the station for long enough would get you hired. I remember that when he did this, we were faced with a longer than average lull in our hiring and he stuck in there until he got the call to the majors.
Bruce and I knew each other for just under thirty years, which for two people not from the same zip code, is a very long time. Just like anyone who works together for a long time, we had our ups and downs, but honestly, he was a good man and would do anything for you if you needed it.. So, I know you are looking at that blue 1975 Datsun B210 and wondering, "What the hell does a 1975 Datsun B210 have to do with honoring a firefighter?" Well, my hard drive crashed a while back and I don't have any old pictures on it, so unfortunately, I don't have a picture of Bruce for this memorial. Instead, I posted a picture of a 1975 Datsun B210 in his honor. He, of anyone, would appreciate the sentiment.
I remember one night, when Hilton Head Island's night life wasn't what it is today (not that it's roaring around here at 0200 or anything), we went to Savannah to do a little drinking and to meet some young ladies. This was right after he started dating his future wife, Dale, who also happens to be the sister of our "C" Shift Battalion Chief/Ops. In those days, driving after you had a few cold ones was looked on as youthful indiscretion. When we left the bar (Remington's, for all you Savannahians) I decided to go back to the Island by way of Interstate 516.
Anyone who knows Savannah knows that 516 goes in the opposite direction from Hilton Head Island. So a few minutes into this, we realize we have gone the wrong way, and I decide that my 1975 Datsun B210 (see above, only I couldn't find a picture of my car in red) is a four-wheel drive machine (it wasn't) and I tried to cross the median at relatively high speed (for a red non-four-wheel drive 1975 Datsun B210). Bruce was not impressed.
Bruce really wanted to go home at that point, except home was Station 6 and it's not like we were going to be welcome there in our condition either. He was also dating Dale at that point, and really didn't want to do anything that was going to set her off either, like showing up at her apartment smelling like Budweiser. The Georgia State Trooper that pulled up to see what we were doing wasn't impressed either. But in those days, like I said, we weren't as enlightened about the dangers of impaired driving. The trooper took one look at Bruce and I, decked out in our finest disco clothes, covered in grass and mud, and growled, "I've got to go to a wreck. If I come back and find you still here, both of you are going to jail!"
Luckily, two U.S. Army Rangers, probably heading back to the base for the night and likely in the same condition as us, had also ditched THEIR car just down from us and got the same speech. As the trooper sped off, we made a quick agreement: we would help them push their car out of the ditch if they would help us do the same. So that bond borne of a desire to return unscathed to our own respective beds was sufficient to keep us all out of jail and we limped back into port at Hilton Head none the less for the wear.
Needless to say, not long after that, Bruce got married. My roommates and I (also firefighters) used to joke that we would wake up in the morning, look out in the yard, and ask "who drove?" We were a little wild in our younger days and I like to think perhaps Bruce took a look at the mess we were and figured he had a good woman and a good situation, and didn't want to mess that up. He and Dale were together ever since and I, of course, was specifically prohibited from retelling that story, because Dale was and is a sweet, church-going woman and probably would have not looked kindly upon our little adventure.
Bruce got cancer a while back and after a fight, thought he had it beat. He returned to work for a while and was working at regaining his strength. Just like the demon killer-type in a nasty horror movie, Bruce saw it lying in the road, turned his back on it to get on with his life, and it came back with a vengeance.
Not too long ago, Bruce was trying to be his usual self, I gave him a hug and asked how it was going. He said he was going to keep working at it and wanted to try to get back to working condition. Mind you, Bruce was moving very slowly at this point, obviously in pain, and minus quite a few pounds. But he didn't let it get him down.
Like I said, I relieve his brother-in-law on the C to A shift change. When I saw Cliff yesterday morning, he broke the news to me that the doctors at Duke gave Bruce two weeks to live and they were sending him home to be attended to by Hospice. Bruce and Dale were determined to stick it out, or at least that was the face they showed us all. Both of them felt like they didn't need any fussing over them. His children were going to come see him, as well as his year-old grandchild. Cliff said he made sure he told his boys to go over and see him soon as well. I asked Cliff if he thought it would be okay if I came by to see him today after shift and he said, "I'd just show up. I'm sure they'd like that." I said to Cliff, "You know, my grandfather got diagnosed with cancer in 1965 and they told him he had a few months. He died in 1981." But, I said, I'd make sure I went to see him.
I did not get the chance to say goodbye. Within four hours of that conversation, Bruce passed away.
I like to tell the funny stories after someone has gone, because I remember the good times and I think of how different we all are in our "adult" years. I think the concept of a wake to celebrate the life of a departed loved one has a lot of merit. Some people see that as almost sacrilegious, but I see it as something that we should be joyful for, because our friend or our family member, in this case, our Brother, is in a place where there is no pain. And how can you not be happy about that?
I ask that you all keep Bruce's family in your thoughts and prayers. They are good, good people and they will surely miss him, and even when we know that our loved one is no longer suffering, the times will still be hard to bear. But with time there is healing and hopefully they can move to that place quickly and remember him for the person he was.
Thanks to Chief Barry Turner and our brothers at Bluffton Township Fire Department, the brothers at Burton Fire Department, and the others who have offered to cover the Island during the funeral, so we can be together and celebrate Bruce. It's a shame that something like this has to happen sometimes to see who is there for you, but our departments have always had a good relationship and we would do the same for them as well, and that is truly brotherhood.