Hearse on Fire

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Hearse with flowers
Tim and his father operated a reputable funeral home in a small Maine town. Tim, who was also the fire chief, overseeing the town’s volunteer fire department, had a great sense of humor and outlook on life. In those two professions a sense of humor is critical. He is very sensitive to the feelings of others, hard working, quick, a bit of a sketch – but never sketchy.

At a social gathering, I recalled someone ribbing him about a true story that was very serious and not at all funny at the time. As we gathered around the picnic table, and Tim described what happened, we all gained a new perspective on it.

Many years ago (in the early 1980s) Tim was having some mechanical problems with the hearse and took it to the local garage, where the fuel pump was replaced. Later that day, following a funeral service, with the casket in the back of the repaired hearse, Tim’s father slid into the driver’s seat to take Jesse, the deceased, to the cemetery, a few towns away. Family members prepared to trail the hearse.

Tim planned to stay at the funeral home to meet with another customer, so he said good-bye to his father, closed the driver’s side door of the hearse, and turned to walk up the driveway. That’s when he heard an explosion.

He turned to see smoke and flames billowing out of the hood, surrounding the hearse.

“I ran to save my father,” said Tim. “I reasoned, the man, Jesse, in the back of the hearse was already dead, so I should try to save my father who was still alive.”

Tim opened the door and there was another explosion. Among the smoke and noise Tim’s dad yelled, “I’M TRYING TO TURN IT OFF BUT IT WON’T STOP!”

Tim hauled his father out of the hearse, tried to open the hood but the release cable was melted, which may have been a blessing. Feeding more oxygen to a fire doesn’t usually help to quiet the flames. The engine kept exploding every few moments.

Jesse’s family, seeing the smoke, started yelling, “OH MY GOD! JESSE! POOR JESSE!” Tim, his dad, and another volunteer fire fighter who happened to be there yanked the casket from the back of the hearse and flopped it on the lawn. A fire wall separated the driver from the rear of the hearse.

The explosions continued. They grabbed a garden hose, but to no avail.

“WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?” hollered Tim.

“CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT!” yelled his father.

“WE ARE THE FIRE DEPARTMENT!”

Then coming out of his shock, he grabbed his two-way radio and called the fire department, which, of course, had the right tools to extinguish the fire. Later it was discovered the fuel pump was faulty and kept feeding gas to the pump which kept igniting, causing multiple explosions. The hearse was totaled. A friend and yet another volunteer fire fighter was called to help transport Jesse to the cemetery in the back of his truck.

Feeling so embarrassed by the events that day, he tried to avoid Jesse’s family as much as possible. A few months later, when he couldn’t avoid them any longer, he told them again how badly he felt about the hearse interrupting the events that day. They laughed and said not to worry! “Jesse always claimed he was going to go out with a bang!”