When multi-generation dairy farmer Sandy Carlson married Rick Boardman over 30 years ago, she not only became the wife of a multi-generation volunteer firefighter, but part of the fire department family for life. Nothing brought that home in more clear terms, sadly, than the untimely death this summer of her beloved husband and devoted father to their three grown children, Sheri, Rene and Ricky.How the circle of community supported the farm family of a dedicated volunteer firefighter #cabotfarmers Click To Tweet
Rick had joined the force as soon as he was 21, the youngest age allowed at the time. “Our family was firefighters,” he said a few years ago in an interview. “Two brothers-in-law were on the force and my friends were, too. It was the brotherhood. It’s in my blood to serve the community and help in whatever way I could.”
When those tones went off,” Sandy recalls, referring to the special pagers volunteer firefighters carry, “no matter what you were doing—celebrating a birthday, Christmas or Thanksgiving—he had to go. It did make me anxious when he was out on a call, but I would listen over the radio and when he was chief for the last eleven years, I would hear him and be comforted by his voice. He accepted me having to work 12 hours a day on the farm and I accepted his firefighting. It was his family, whereas the farm was my family.”
Rick retired after 32 years of service in Sheffield, Massachusetts where he and Sandy lived, just a few miles across the state border from her family’s Carlwood Farm in Canaan, Connecticut. While he worked a full-time job driving for a local log yard, Rick helped out a lot on the farm, too, especially during cropping season. And after Sandy became a partner with her father in the farm and took over evening milking, she says, “he’d have supper ready when I came home from the barn.”
This summer, Rick and Ricky were working together to build a new hay barn. “It was Ricky’s first Farm Credit loan and they were so excited to be building this beautiful barn together,” Sandy says. Tragically, Rick suffered a fatal fall one afternoon when his son left briefly to run an errand. His former firefighter colleagues rushed immediately to the scene and stood vigil for several hours until the medical examiner was able to arrive from Boston.
The family was still in a fog of shock and loss when they woke up the next morning to the sound of local construction crews hard at work finishing up the barn. Sandy guesses well over 100 community members helped complete the roof and walls of the barn over the next few days, not to mention all the people who contributed food and drink.
At the same time, Sandy says, the agricultural students of her daughter, Rene, a teacher at the local regional high school, “basically showed up and ran the farm for the week.”
“It was just totally incredible, the outpouring of support,” Sandy says. “The barn was all done, including grading around the barn in time for Rick’s celebration of life on Saturday.”
A particularly poignant moment came when Ricky mounted a huge brass weathervane of a deer on the new tin roof. It was a surprise gift the three Boardman kids had chipped in on for Father’s Day this year.
Community and the firefighting brotherhood’s support has continued to see the family through, particularly when Sandy’s father, Doug Carlson, passed away unexpectedly just 10 days after Rick. Although Doug was semi-retired and didn’t do much of the physical work on the farm anymore, “he still loved to get on the tractor and run errands in the pick-up truck,” Sandy says. “Naturally, I miss him terribly.”
Shortly after the family’s second loss, a crew of firefighters showed up on a Wednesday night with eight cords of wood and stacked it neatly. They had brought supper with them, too. “A thank you seems too simple for the continued support our family is receiving from the community,” Sandy wrote on Facebook. “We are beyond humbled and wish to thank you all. Rick was certainly smiling down on all of you.”
This week is Fire Prevention Week, time to check the batteries in your fire alarms and make sure your family has a fire exit strategy.
It’s always a good time to thank your firefighters as many Cabot farmers will do, delivering free care packages of delicious cheese to their local fire and rescue forces through Random Acts of Cheddar.
People may not realize that 85 percent of the fire departments in the United States are staffed fully or partially by close to 1 million volunteers. Most of these serve in smaller rural communities across America, which are dependent on their volunteer force for emergency response to everything from car accidents to fires. The tradition is older than the United States; Benjamin Franklin organized the first volunteer fire brigade in Philadelphia in 1736.