The wail of a single bagpipe cut the quiet. Its shrill music, its long notes capturing the sadness of the moment.
And as the flag-draped casket of firefighter Scott Compton was carried out of the church in front of them, as the bagpipe played and a crowd of onlookers watched silently, the sea of men and women in matching blue dress uniforms raised their hands to their foreheads in one, final salute to a man who gave the job his all.
Hundreds of first-responders, local leaders and community members gathered in Greenfield on Friday morning to the pay their respects to Compton, 55, who died last week after helping fight a three-alarm blaze that destroyed several local businesses.
They remembered a man who always ran late but arrived with a smile, who was happiest out in nature – in the woods or on the water – if not on the back of his motorcycle.
He was a “firefighter’s firefighter,” his chief said – rugged, resilient, but gentle when the time came to console.
Perhaps those characteristics brought him to a career in firefighting, brought him to the corner of Apple and Main streets Nov. 10.
So many of them had seen it that afternoon, the black smoke billowing ominously toward the evening sky as four business owners watch their livelihoods burn. Compton was among the firefighters who flocked to that scene and battled the blaze for some seven hours to save whatever they could for their neighbors.
It wasn’t until it was all over, the trucks pulled away and the community left to rebuild, that his heart gave out.
Compton, who gave 17 years to Greenfield’s fire department, suffered a heart attack at his home the next day, Nov. 11. Because his death occurred within 48 hours of fighting a fire, Compton’s is considered a line-of-duty death — the first in the Greenfield Fire Territory’s history.
His fellow firefighters and EMTs, the men and women who served beside him every day, learned their friend had died in the harshest way, Fire Chief James Roberts told the crowd gathered at Compton’s funeral.
They took the medical call that afternoon just as they would any other, Roberts said. When the call came over the radio — a report of cardiac arrest, the patient might already be gone –- they jumped on the engine, into the ambulance and headed out to help.
But their worst fear was realized the second they arrived on the scene: the man they’d come to help, the patient there was no saving, was Compton, their friend and longtime colleague.
A man who just hours before had been on the scene with them, tirelessly battling back flames.
“Little did we know that would be last time we saw him,” Roberts said to the crowd of hundreds gathered at the funeral, recalling the night of the fire. His voice broke slightly as he spoke.
Compton joined the fire department later in life; he had spent years working in insurance before he found this second family.
And it was a perfect fit, his friends say. Comptom came to them both tough but calm and compassionate — exactly the characteristics any good firefighter has.
First-responders from across Central Indiana came to Brandywine Community Church in Greenfield Friday to honor Compton and his service, filing into the sanctuary in a long line that snaked its way around the many rows of seats.
They shuffled by his casket solemnly, nodding respectfully to the Compton’s family and whispering to them words of condolence.
It didn’t matter that some among them had never met Compton, they said. The kinship first-responders feel comes from the understanding of the unique challenges of their work, the sacrifices made by their families as they risk their own safety to protect others and the things they hold dear.
Compton leaves behind a fiancée, Anna Davis-Wickliff of Greenfield, and two grown daughters. He had three grandchildren in life; a fourth was born earlier this week.
Brittany Rutledge, Compton’s oldest daughter, spoke to the crowd briefly Friday with her sister, Kelcey Engling, at her side. Together, they thanked the community for the outpouring of support and love they’d been shown in the days since Compton’s death and recognized the firefighters who had come from near and far to be with them as they laid him to rest.
But accepting what happened hasn’t come easy, Rutledge admitted.
“It just doesn’t seem real, what we’re doing here today,” she said through tears.
Compton was a strong force within their family. He carried himself with an air of kindness none of them will soon forget.
“My dad had a heart of gold,” Rutledge told the crowd. “I never questioned that I was loved and accepted by him.”
Those bonds Compton formed — with family, with friends — endured years, said high school classmate Jim Pruett.
They grew up together, becoming close during high school at Madison-Grant and went on to become boating buddies.
Not that Compton ever showed up on time to head out on those trips, of course, he joked.
Looking down at the casket, the red, white and blue fabric draped across it, just didn’t seem right.
“This was one of those occasions Scott was way too early for,” he said.
Following the service, Compton’s casket was set atop a Greenfield fire engine and driven to Park Cemetery. As the procession of dozens of trucks, ambulances and police cars made its way through the city, residents lined the streets to watch, to say goodbye to the community’s fallen hero.
The bagpipes played again as the funeral procession reached the cemetery, covering the rustling sounds of the leaves on the trees that dot the property. A solemn hush fellow over the hundreds of mourners as Compton’s ceremony final call of service boomed out over the radio.
“May God hold you in the palm of his hand,” the dispatcher called out. “Thank you for your service.”