A legacy of service, courage and good humor was celebrated Wednesday when the Fort Dodge community paid its final respects to firefighter Tom Peart.
''He was a special breed - he was a firefighter,'' Mark Woolbright, the second district vice president of the International Association of Firefighters, said during Peart's funeral in Sacred Heart Church, 211 S. 13th St.
About 800 people, including firefighters from as far away as Burlington and Sioux City, filled the church to mourn Peart, who died unexpectedly on March 14. The veteran firefighter, 48, was exercising at home prior to starting his shift at the firehouse when he collapsed.
Fort Dodge Fire Department Capt. Paul Neeson, center, salutes during the graveside services for fellow firefighter Tom Peart Wednesday afternoon at Corpus Christi Cemetery. At left, former Fort Dodge firefighter Jon Bittner salutes while Tom Pille, at right, holds Peart’s helmet. Peart died unexpectedly March 14. He was a 22-year veteran of the department.
Fort Dodge firefighter Matt Brown struggles to hold back tears Wednesday afternoon during graveside services for fellow firefighter Tom Peart.
The lives he saved during 22 years of Fire Department service are an important part of Peart's legacy, according to Woolbright.
''Thanks to his service, many others live today,'' he said.
Monsignor Kevin McCoy, who officiated at the Mass of Christian Burial, described Peart as ''a just man now at rest.''
Peart had a reputation for a good sense of humor, a trait that both McCoy and Woolbright recalled.
''Tom was simply a great guy possessed of a wonderful sense of humor,'' McCoy said. ''Who can ever forget his wit and his ready smile?''
Woolbright added that around the firehouse, the firefighters could count on Peart to make them laugh and to avoid any food that had a hint of onions in it.
But Peart had a serious side as well, he added.
''He never backed down in the face of danger,'' Woolbright said. ''His fellow firefighters could always depend on him to have their backs.''
Peart was the president of International Association of Firefighters Local 622. Woolbright said he had a ''special talent for creating healthy labor relations.''
McCoy recounted Peart's life away from the Fire Department. He said the day he met his wife, Kelsey, he told a friend that he had met the woman he would marry. Tom and Kelsey Peart had two sons, Keaton and Kade.
According to McCoy, Peart had a ''spirit of civil service'' that prompted him to join the United States Marine Corps, the Iowa National Guard and the Fire Department.
Peart's window washing and chimney cleaning businesses were an extension of that spirit, McCoy added. He said that while many would consider washing windows or cleaning chimneys to be a form of penance, Peart viewed it as a service to others.
His funeral was laden with Fire Department tradition. Rows of firefighters in dress blue uniforms saluted and a bagpipe wailed as a team of Peart's colleagues carried his flag draped casket from the church and lifted it onto the back of a pumper truck that served as a hearse. When that truck and a caravan of other emergency vehicles arrived at Corpus Christi Cemetery on North 15th Street, the firefighters slowly carried Peart's casket to his final resting place.
At the cemetery, a firefighter rang a bell in a gesture reminiscent of the days before radios when bells rang in every firehouse to transmit information. The bell at the cemetery rang nine times three sets of three rings in the traditional signal meaning that a firefighter has ended his duty and is returning to quarters.
Because he was a veteran, Peart also received military honors from a Marine Corps honor guard and a rifle salute from the color guard of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1856.
Near the end of the graveside ceremony, the quiet was broken by the sound of an alarm tone coming from a firefighter's radio. A Webster County 911 dispatcher solemnly announced over the radio that she was transmitting the last call for Peart.
''His presence in quarters will always be remembered,'' she said. ''May he rest in peace.''