FORTVILLE — Mourners pass by fire engines, draped in black, on their way into the funeral. Solemn firefighters stand guard silently next to the flag-draped casket. An honor guard with ceremonial axes salutes the casket, and just behind it, Richard Rehm’s photograph.
More than 300 firefighters, family members and friends filled the chairs in the Mt. Vernon High School gymnasium Tuesday to pay their respects to Rehm, a longtime McCordsville Fire Department volunteer firefighter who died after his car was struck by a train Christmas Eve morning while he was responding to an emergency call.
His was the first line-of-duty death of a local firefighter in more than 20 years.
Numerous fellow firefighters, in their sharply pressed dress uniforms adorned with badges and cords, filed into their seats with stoic faces, but several wiped tears away throughout the funeral, their resolve breaking as family members stood to talk about the life their colleague lived.
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There was much talk of honor and duty, of the sacrifices public servants make for the communities they love.
Rehm became a volunteer firefighter at 18, a role family members said brought him great pride. Rehm served the McCordsville Volunteer Fire Department for the past 16 years and had been awarded his 25-year pin by the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters’ Association.
That legacy of selflessness came as no surprise to those who knew him best. Rehm’s compassionate nature was evident from the time he was a young boy, his brother, Rob Rehm, said. He always looked up to his older brother. He told the crowd about a time they were playing together as kids; they had a BB gun, and he dared Rehm to aim at a nearby sparrow and fire.
When that bird hit the ground, Rehm began to cry.
He never wanted to see others hurting, his brother said.
He treated everyone with kindness and patience — no one knew that better than a little brother, always tagging along, he told the crowd.
“He was the greatest man I’ve ever known, and he taught me how to be a man,” he said. “I was always nipping at his heels; he never told me to get lost.”
Ernie Rehm, Richard Rehm’s younger brother, thanked the firefighters who had supported him and his family since his brother’s death. Their grief, he knew, was shared by those who served alongside his brother.
His voice shook a little as he admitted it was difficult to understand why his brother died that early Saturday morning, just a day before Christmas. Understanding might never come, he admitted; still, more important is taking the time to laugh, cry and remember Rehm.
He reminisced about his brother’s love of family, remembering how he always stepped up to take care of his mother and his siblings.
He became the man of the family at 15 when their father died, he told the crowd.
“Richie was always there for us,” he said. “He said, ‘Mom, don’t worry, we’re gonna make it.’”
Tuesday, he turned to their mother, Bonnie, and offered those same words of reassurance: “Mom, don’t worry, we’re gonna make it.”
The last time Richard and Ernie Rehm spoke, the McCordsville man was telling his brother about spending the day with the youngest of his four children, Baily. Rehm was thrilled to share the entire day with his daughter, no interruptions, just spending quality time together.
It didn’t take much to make Richard Rehm happy — spending time with family, hearing a good rock ‘n’ roll song come over the radio.
Friend Kyle Engle performed Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man,” with that in mind at his buddy’s funeral.
“Take your time, don’t live too fast; troubles will come and they will pass,” he sang.
Nathan Allen of Detroit, Rehm’s cousin, ended the funeral ceremony just as he began it — with prayers for acceptance and healing. He thanked the many firefighters and organizations combining their efforts to provide a fitting farewell for the man who had served as a volunteer firefighter for at least 25 of his 55 years.
Richard Rehm’s brothers thanked again and again the legions of firefighters who stepped up to serve the Rehm family the way Rehm had served so many people before.
“Richie was on a run that night, serving his community,” Ernie Rehm said. “That’s what he did; that’s who he was.”