“Well I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms …”
Thousands of eyes stared intently ahead as the sound of a Mumford & Sons video sang out from the stage in front.
A stage adorned with bouquet after bouquet of flowers, framed pictures, medals and a fallen firefighter’s helmet.
“And I will wait
I will wait for you
And I will wait
I will wait for you …”
Scenes from the song’s video flashed from two large screens, interchanged with pictures of life – Skyler Blackie’s life – as a boy; at the beach; with his dog, his buddies, his family; as an adult in various stages of firefighter activities. Scenes from his wedding to beloved wife Erin, scenes of playing, laughing, loving.
Firefighters from as far away as Calgary and Boston and throughout Atlantic Canada alongside police officers, both local and from away, members of the military and emergency first responders, family, friends and dignitaries - men and women alike - joined together as a solid brotherhood in a sea of uniforms and civilian attire inside the Colchester Legion Stadium on Saturday to say goodbye to a man loved and respected by all who knew him.
Skyler Lee Blackie, 28, a career firefighter of five years with the Truro Fire Service, died March 20 in a Halifax hospital from injuries suffered during a routine training exercise on March 9 at the Nova Scotia Firefighters School in Waverley.
Approximately 3,000 firefighters and other first responders, family, friends and supporters packed the Truro stadium to express their love, respect and gratitude for his services.
“On this tragic and very, sad, sad day we gather here as a fire service, as emergency first responders and we gather as a community to honour and pay tribute to our fallen brother, Skyler,” said Dave Burry on behalf of the International Association of Firefighters.
He also offered assurance to Skyler’s wife and extended family of “our continued and unconditional support for your loss.”
Included among the speakers during the service was Deputy Premier Karen Casey, who spoke about a special honour paid to Skyler earlier in the week inside Province House.
The tribute, in the form of a resolution read by Premier Stephen McNeil and passed unanimously by the legislature, was an offering of condolence to Skyler’s family and friends in appreciation of his services “as a great firefighter” and well-liked team member who often gave his time in charitable and community deeds.
“It becomes a permanent part of the history books in the province of Nova Scotia,” Casey said.
Fellow firefighter Craig Matthews described “Duke”, as he called him, as a best friend who will be greatly missed.
“I spent the past 21 days trying to decide what to say today if I had the chance,” Matthews said. “I’m not sure how to speak about my friend. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say. Should I curse and swear? Is this a speech about jokes and silly stories or how I met Skyler and what he meant to me? I’m not sure where to start.”
The first time he met “Duke”, Matthews said, was when they were both trying out for a job at the fire service, where one of the tasks involved pulling a 200-lb. sled.
“I didn’t even weigh one sixty. I couldn’t budge this thing. I looked up and who was the first guy cheering me on? None other than a young guy named Skyler Blackie,” he said.
“And guess what? I moved the sled, I got the job. It was the only time I’ve ever beaten Duke at anything. I then became best friends with a guy 14 years younger than me. We had so much in common.”
Matthews concluded by thanking the greater Truro community for its support in helping the firefighters get through “this terrible time” along with one last moving statement.
“To quote a firefighter and a brother that Skyler looked up to,” he said, “‘Gladiators are heroes. They cry, they love, they’re strong, they lead and they show us the path forward.’
“Skyler was a gladiator.”
Skyler’s younger brother Errison also spoke in glowing terms of someone he had grown up knowing as both a special friend, brother and protector.
“We would stay up as late as we could and we’d talk about how we were going to grow up, we were gonna be firefighters, we’d work out of the same firehouse, which we did,” Blackie said.
“I’ve been asked many times over these past few days: ‘Errison, why aren’t you crying more? Errison, how come you’re not sad?’
“And, here’s my answer. There’s simply no room for sadness today or for the rest of my life. Because I’m filled with too much pride for my brother that I will spend the rest of my days celebrating his life.”
The regimental service also included the participation from a variety of pipes and drums bands along with the presentation to Skyler’s wife Erin of his helmet.
A shadow box containing a Canadian flag, Truro Fire Service shoulder patch and Skyler’s badge were presented to his mother, Cheryl Ann.
“I can assure you that Skyler will live on in our hearts and in our minds,” Burry had said, in his earlier tribute. “Skyler my friend, my brother, rest in peace. We will take it from here.”