Family, friends and fellow firefighters filled the engine bays and parking lot of West Suffield's fire station No. 2 Sunday to attend the memorial service for fallen firefighter Paul Simison.
“You all take my breath away,” said Cynthia Simison, Paul Simison's sister, to the crowd. “I didn’t know there were so many of you.”
“Each and every one of you is in our hearts for being here today,” said Nancy Simison, Paul Simison's wife.
Simison was a 25-year veteran volunteer for the Suffield Fire Department and a well-liked member of the Suffield community. He died in a two-car accident on March 28 and his death was a shock to the community.
Simison was instrumental in starting the firemen’s association 5K run as well as working each year at the fireman's carnival. An audiologist by profession, he owned the Hearing Improvement Center in West Hartford.
His business partner and friend, Alan Dumaine, told the crowd he refused to focus on the senseless loss and instead chose to “dwell on the happy stuff.”
Dumaine told stories from their graduate days and from working together, always pointing to Simison’s ability to stay calm and find solutions to problems.
"His conviction was unshakeable that family comes first, that it's the most important thing in life," Dumaine said.
Simison’s adult daughters Elizabeth, Erin and Kathryn struggled through tears to express their deep love for their father and the way he was always there when they needed him at home, at school or at lacrosse games. They spoke of his funny emails, daily photo updates of his dog and his heartfelt text messages to say goodnight.
John Gracey, a family friend, described Simison as humble yet holding a zest for life.
“From biking to skydiving to driving for hours for that special burger and beer, even after a quadruple bypass at 40, he would not be cheated from living life the way he wanted,” Gracey said.
Part of the service included a Bible psalm was read in both English and Spanish, a tribute to Simison who had recently learned Spanish. He was supposed to leave for Spain this week to visit one of his daughters. Instead, she flew home this week for his funeral.
Cynthia Simison suggested everyone in the crowd honor her brother by following in his footsteps.
"Tell people you love them," she said. "Help a neighbor. Volunteer. Give blood. And be kind. Because that’s how Paul lived his life."
Nancy Simison thanked the fire department for its help in the previous days.
"It wasn’t an easy week... but they have been a great comfort to us," she said.
The fire department presented Nancy Simison with several posthumous awards, including a pin recognizing Paul Simison's 25 years of service.
And then, as tradition calls for, the names of the firefighters in the department were called one by one and they answered. Lastly, the chief called for Paul Simison three times and was met with silence.
It was announced that Simison had answered his last call as a firefighter. The bells in the fire station chimed to represent the days when the fire bell rang to call firefighters to an alarm and then, again, to signal that the alarm had ended.
The honor guard present at the ceremony proceeded out of the building, signifying the end of the service. Firefighters and police officers formed a path for Simison's family to follow across the street for a reception at Academy Hall.