Hundreds of firefighters, first responders, and members of the community he served for almost 40 years came together on Saturday, Oct. 1 to honor Bremen Fire Chief Donald “Donnie” Leeman, who died unexpectedly Sept. 17 at the age of 55.
Retired Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. said Donnie Leeman’s passion for furthering his own education and abilities expanded to a passion for teaching others. Paul Leeman said the Bremen chief aspired to be a fire service trainer; he enjoyed sharing firefighting protocols and methods with new recruits and he loved introducing kids to fire safety and the importance of first responders in their communities.
The procession to the memorial service consisted of Bremen’s fleet of trucks rolling through Bremen, Damariscotta, and Newcastle on its way to the 11 a.m. service at Lincoln Academy.
At Colby & Gale Inc. on Biscay Road the Bremen fire trucks passed a pair of ladder trucks from Waldoboro and Damariscotta that held an American flag aloft in honor of the Bremen chief and Gulf War veteran. Donnie Leeman worked at the company as a propane delivery technician for the last decade.
The service featured a number of deeply held firefighter traditions, including a ceremonial color guard, a reading of the Firefighter’s Prayer, and a presentation of the chief’s helmet to Donnie Leeman’s wife, Liz Leeman, and son, Ben Leeman.
The Rev. Rick Newell, pastor of the Bremen Union Church, opened the service by speaking of Leeman’s humility.
“He would be absolutely astounded that you have all taken these moments out of your lives to be here to honor him,” he said. “He didn’t see himself as a remarkable person.”
Two separate eulogies by Bremen Fire Department Chaplain Char Corbett and Paul Leeman Jr. provided an idea of how important Donnie Leeman actually was to his family, to his department, to the town of Bremen, to Lincoln County and to the wider community of firefighters.
Corbett spoke directly to Donnie Leeman’s family on behalf of the Bremen department’s members.
“We … only hope that our grief and sorrow convey to you how very loved and admired Chief Leeman was to all of us in the town’s fire and first responder services,” she said.
Corbett credited Donnie Leeman with her position in the department not just as chaplain but as a firefighter as well, a position she called well beyond her comfort zone.
“In his usual friendly and very talkative manner Donnie pointed out what we had in common,” she said. “A desire to give back to our town of Bremen and the deep care we have for the surrounding communities.”
Paul Leeman shared memories, several of them eliciting gentle laughter from the crowd. He recalled working together at the Central Lincoln County YMCA’s Emergency Responder Camp and how during water competitions Donnie Leeman “always came out the wettest, having as much fun as the children and possibly more.”
He talked about how a photo of his fellow chief and friend on a child’s spring-powered pony “grinning from ear to ear” brought him comfort.
“He taught us … to never be afraid to laugh at ourselves,” Paul Leeman said.
Corbett said Donnie Leeman spent untold hours planning, training, responding, and seeing to all the many details that fall on the shoulders of a fire chief.
“He did it all with heart,” she said.
Corbett said Donnie Leeman recruited and retained 11 new members during his tenure with the department. He encouraged two members to seek additional EMT training.
“Many of us newbies would tell you we simply couldn’t say no to Donnie,” she said. “He saw in us what we could not imagine in ourselves.”
One final legacy Donnie Leeman left his department and community was a new pumper/tanker slated for delivery in October. According to Corbett, knowing Donnie Leeman will not be there to take delivery of the truck he lobbied so strongly for is a hard blow to Bremen’s firefighters. However, at the direction of the department’s trustees and interim Chief Bruce Poland, the truck will be dedicated to Donnie Leeman.
Corbett’s eulogy ended with recognition of the roles Donnie Leeman filled in his community and a prayer for the future.
“Chief Leeman, you were our chief, our mentor, our friend, and our hero. We miss you very much,” she said. “We will look to God and to one another for help … as your final shift ends may you have the peace of a job well done. May you rest easy with the confidence that you did all you could to serve and protect … God willing, we’ve got it from here.”