Freeman’s Flag

Freeman’s Flag

Thousands of people drove past Firehouse 33 that day and didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.  In fact, I had already passed by twice and didn’t pay particular attention to any of the details.  The American Flag was flying high and waving in the southwest breeze, just as it does on most days.  A symbol of freedom, patriotism and respect.  But this flag was different.  This flag was destined for a display of ultimate honor and sacrifice.  It was Freeman’s Flag.

The South Metro Fire Rescue Honor Guard hoisted a brand-new flag to fly proudly above 33’s that day knowing it would soon be presented to a grieving firefighter family.  I discovered that fact shortly before my daily drive home, which led me past Dry Creek Road and Quebec Street, the home of Firehouse 33.  While stopped at the red light and facing the station, I captured a rather unartistic image of the flag.  I could have stopped, selected one of my cameras and composed a photograph with perfect lighting but I didn’t.  This moment in time was captured the way everyone else saw it, at a glance.

Mike Freeman is man I wish I knew better but I’m grateful for the times he and I spent together, most often at a fire scene or training.  The deafening pump panel of a working Engine Company isn’t the most ideal place to talk to someone but it is the place I will keep Mike in my memories.  No matter how task saturated Mike seemed to be, he never let me pass by without a solid handshake (usually with a wet leather glove) and a compliment about my photography.  At a 2nd Alarm house fire during 2012 I captured Mike kicking out a kink as a supply line was being charged.  Moments after this photograph was taken I received one of those strong handshakes from Mike, a gesture I most certainly took for granted.

On the morning of Monday July 17, 2017, 24 hours after Mike left us, the flag at Engine Company 33 was flying at a half-staff.  The emptiness left in all of our hearts was expressed by draping black memorial bunting on the firehouse.  A brief ceremony was carried out that day by grieving firefighters, using Tower 35 (the late Captain John Hager’s company) to attach the bunting.

The next time I saw Freeman’s flag it was peacefully blanketing his casket. Free’s firefighter brothers and sisters kept a close eye on him during a 24/7 Honor Watch.  Out of the wind, away from the passing world, silent and serine yet thoughts of Free were deafening.  As the clock ticked on we drew closer to his full honors funeral.

White gloved hands gently guided Mike into the sanctuary where so many came to say goodbye.  Free’s flag proudly adorned him while the honor guard ensured his protection and words from chief officers, firefighter brothers and family echoed through the sea of blue.  Free’s flag was intricately folded, entrusted to the Operations Chief with a salute and presented to Mike’s grieving family.  It was a salient moment in time made exceptionally difficult to capture with tears filling my viewfinder.

Free’s last ride atop the pumper he so loved to wheel, took him under a Garrison Flag held by dual Tower Ladders, down the streets he responded on to help the community, in front of the firehouses he spent 43 years on duty working in and past the people who lined his procession route to pay their respects.  I will never look at an American Flag flying above a firehouse the same way again, thanks to Free.

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