The parade for Lt. Dennis TeBoekhorst stretched down Lougheed Highway, from the corner of 224th Street almost all the way to the corner of 222nd.
There, at the Maple Ridge Baptist Church, he was brought to life in the memories of his fellow firefighters in a four-hour funeral service on Wednesday morning.
There were approximately 500 visiting firefighters who joined the Maple Ridge Fire Department in its first funeral for a line-of-duty death.
As they marched in a long, navy blue procession from Memorial Peace Park in the downtown to the church, their shoulder patches showed that they came from as far as Calgary, Lethbridge and Naniamo, and there was a large turnout from neighbouring fire halls in Burnaby, Surrey, Coquitlam and the rest of the Lower Mainland.
There was also about 100 more uniformed emergency responders, including paramedics, RCMP officers in red serge and B.C. Corrections officers.
TeBoekhorst’s casket led the procession, laid in the bed of the department’s antique fire truck, followed closely by a fire department colour guard and a pipe band.
TeBoekhorst suffered a massive heart attack on Oct. 21, and died in hospital on Oct. 26.
In 2010, he donated his kidney to save his daughter’s life.
A letter from his daughter Grace was read at the funeral.
“I was lucky enough to have 11 years with him,” it said.
“I remember when I was sick and in the hospital, how he would come and smile and tell me everything would be okay. And that would give me hope.”
The church was full, and folding chairs created more seating in the lobby, where firefighters, friends and family watched the service on monitors.
In a video tribute, he could be seen on a river bank, fishing with his son, saying “you’ve got a steelhead on there.”
And he was helping his little girl learn to ride her bike, and there were photos from his childhood, his teen years, as a Team B.C. speed skater, through his wedding day, to numerous photos of his life as a firefighter.
They talked about his ever-present smile.
Maple Ridge Firefighters President Dave Harcus recalled speaking at former Chief Dane Spence’s retirement, and he started to get emotional.
“My voice started to crack. It was at that point I heard a booming voice at the back of the room go: ‘Here we go.’ As I looked up, all I could see was Dennis with a big smile on his face and a big thumbs up.
“Dennis was passionate about being a firefighter,” said Harcus. “He was very involved in our department recruit program, helping to train new members, passing along tricks of the trade he had learned.
“Dennis loved this department. He gave his heart and soul to it. He would be honoured and humbled by the sea of blue we have hear today.”
Maple Ridge Fire Chief Howard Exner talked about TeBoekhorst’s work ethic, and a career that started when he joined the department in 1999 as a paid on-call volunteer. He became a full-time firefighter in 2006, and was promoted to lieutenant in 2010.
“To say that he was capable was an understatement,” said Exner. “Dennis was a true fire warrior.”
He was one of the department’s highest-attending members, having been to 10,140 calls. He went to 2,600 calls in a three-year period between 2003 and 2005.
Exner looked at his records, and TeBoekhorst’s training evaluation said he needed to try not to be so funny during training.
“His sense of humor was quite possibly as big as he was,” said Exner, recalling when TeBoekhorst taped an ‘L’ to the back of an RCMP cruiser and other anecdotes that got laughs from the crowd.
“Our city has lost a very special member,” said Mayor Nicole Read. “And I am proud that we are honouring his life with a proper ceremony. It is one small way for us to show his children how many lives their father touched, and how much he meant to our city.”
She spoke directly to his children.
“Everyone in this room knows that you meant the world to your dad, and he would move mountains for you. “When I was just a little bit older than you, I lost my dad. It hurt my heart so much. It still does. But through my whole life he’s been with me, like an angel on my shoulder. And even though I can’t see him, he’s moved some pretty big mountains for me. I know that your dad will be with you always, moving mountains.”
The eulogy was given by his best friends, Kelly Moore and Darren Church, who talked about a dedicated firefighter who loved all-you-can-eat sushi, fishing and the reality TV show Timberkings.
Chaplin Dan Ost noted that TeBoekhorst was helping others to the end, and as an organ donor, 11 people benefitted from his donations.
“I can hear Dennis saying: ‘I’d like to see you guys beat that,” said Ost.
“If you knew Dennis, you’ve got a piece of his heart.”
At the end of the presentation, the late firefighter’s helmet and other possessions were presented to his family, and the Canadian flag that adorned his coffin was ceremonially folded, and presented to his wife Melissa.
• Donations are being taken online at fundrazr.com/fordennis for a scholarship fund for his children Grace and Calym. The goal is $30,000, and so far $17,000 has been raised.