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Former Noel firefighter honours memory of fallen comrades who died 25 years ago

Darrel MacDonald was a 23-year-old when he was involved in a tragic fire truck crash in Noel 25 years ago.
Darrel MacDonald was a 23-year-old when he was involved in a tragic fire truck crash in Noel 25 years ago.

HANTS COUNTY, N.S. — Every year on Sept. 15, Darrel MacDonald makes the commute to the intersection of Highway 215 and Highway 354 and bows his head.

The site bears no crosses, no candles. For many, it's just an intersection. But for MacDonald, it's a place to pay tribute to two firefighters who gave their lives in the service of the community.

“Because of my paralysis, I can't visit their grave sites so I go out every year to the closest (spot) to the actual accident scene as I can. Just go there for a moment of pause,” said MacDonald in a phone interview mere hours after his memorial visit.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the accident that killed two firefighters and sent MacDonald to the hospital.

MacDonald was just 23 years old when he was involved in the fire truck crash. He still remembers travelling in the '77 International tanker truck alongside 65-year-old firefighter Myron (Marney) Fernon Harvey and 24-year-old Murray Christopher (Chris) Huntley.

Darrel MacDonald served with the Noel Volunteer Fire Department from July 1988 until the fall of 1994.

The trio were not responding to a fire, rather, they were getting ready to help inspect and clean out chimneys in an effort to prevent winter fire calls. They left the station about 8:30 a.m.

“We had some unrelated mechanical issues earlier,” said MacDonald.

“We were out in the Finley Road area when we realized (something was amiss) and we turned around and came back. When we hit the top of Noel hill, that's when we realized we had a brake line gone. It was just like a rollercoaster from there,” he said.

It was a little past 9 a.m. They were barreling down the hill, out of control. He remembers the accident vividly.

“I was sitting in the centre and I literally torpedoed out through the front window,” said MacDonald, who now calls Clayton Park home.

MacDonald, who served with the Noel Fire Department from July 1988 until the fall of 1994, spent about a week and a half recuperating in the hospital. His firefighting brothers, who he was “sitting shoulder to shoulder” with, died at the scene.

“I had a lot of bumps and bruises and a broken collarbone and lost a piece of a finger. I was picking glass shards out of my face for at least a week and a half after,” he said.

According to old newspaper reports, more than 100 firefighters lined the roadway in full dress uniform at the funeral to pay tribute to the men who lost their lives.

MacDonald said he suffered from critical incident stress (what he says would now be considered as post traumatic stress disorder) following the accident. He left the fire service to attend college and served as a security guard before joining the Canadian military in 1997. He served from 1997-2000 as an infantry reserved soldier. He suffered spinal cord injuries Aug. 29, 1998 at Aldershot that resulted in his paralysis.

Darrel MacDonald, as pictured earlier this month, is reflecting on the 25th anniversary of an accident that claimed the life of two friends in the fire service and sent him to the hospital with injuries.

“Any time I hear of a fire truck accident of any sort I take pause,” he said.

When a fire truck in Gore crashed Sept. 10, MacDonald said he had goosebumps.

“It gave me a case of the chills,” said MacDonald, noting Jeff Ettinger, the fire chief driving the rig, is an acquaintance from the 1990s.

MacDonald said Ettinger was lucky to have walked away from the wreck with just a concussion and bruises.

Although MacDonald posts about the accident every year on Facebook, this is his first time telling his story to the newspaper. To read his public post marking the 25th anniversary of the accident, visit: https://www.facebook.com/darrelmac/posts/10159262875225263.

Darrel MacDonald, who was an infantry reserved soldier, was in Ottawa in 2016 for the Remembrance Day service. Pictured with him are, from left, Sgt. Norm Drake, Sgt. Dave Hutchings, and Master Corporal Blair Skinner.

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