Comrades honor former fire chief
Firefighters rang a bell to represent the end of the former fire chief's duties.
By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
STRUTHERS -- In the early days, the sound of a bell summoned firefighters to duty. Though whistles and sirens are more prevalent now, it was the mournful toll of the bell that solemnly announced the final calling for Donald James Cooper, a former fire chief.
Cooper's funeral Tuesday ended with a procession of fire and rescue vehicles that traveled past Struthers High School, where he'd gone to school, the main fire station and city hall.
Before his coffin was lifted onto a 1943 Mack fire engine, which led the procession, U.S. Marines ceremonially folded the flag that had covered Cooper's coffin while Joe Pavlov of Boardman, a self-described "old-time bugler," played taps.
After the Marines presented the neatly folded flag to Cooper's wife, Peg, his fellow firefighters, standing at attention along each side of his coffin, saluted their former leader and rang a bell on the old engine in what Fire Chief Harold L. Milligan Jr. called "a special signal of five rings, three times each," to represent the end of their comrade's duties.
A handful of firefighters accompanied Cooper on his final ride aboard the engine that had been in service the duration of his firefighting career.
History on department
Cooper joined the Struthers Fire Department in 1954. He was promoted to chief in 1971 and retired in 1980. He died Friday at age 75.
The fire engine was the second motorized truck in Struthers' fleet and wasn't retired until 1980, the same year Cooper retired, said volunteer firefighter Mike Patrick.
Patrick bought the engine last year from another firefighter who had restored it.
Under Cooper's command, the Struthers Fire Department made tremendous strides in firefighter continuing education and modernization, recalled Milligan.
"He was a good guy," agreed funeral director Dan Becker, who served as a volunteer firefighter under Cooper.
"That was before mandatory firefighter training, we didn't even wear respirators," Becker said. But Cooper always encouraged his firefighters to obtain as much formal training as possible and actively supported their continuing education and the acquisition of the latest safety equipment, Becker said.
When Milligan first became a firefighter, saving lives and then property was the firefighter's sole mission, he said. "We hadn't even heard of hazardous waste, blood-born pathogens and terrorism." But as the mission of firefighters expanded to include protecting the public and environment from a wide array of hazards, not just fires, Cooper's mission and desire to keep his firefighters as updated as possible, grew as well, Milligan said.
"To he who has selflessly given his service for the good of his fellow man, his tasks completed, his duty well done, to Chief Cooper, his last alarm. He is going home," Milligan said, saluting his former chief along with his comrades.