“All or nothing.”
That’s how local firefighters remember Richard Eldon, whose name was among those read out at Toronto’s Fallen Firefighter Memorial Service earlier this summer.
Eldon served as a firefighter for 18 years, first in East York, then at Station 226 on Main Street. He was only 46 when he died two years ago of cancer, listed as a line of duty death, leaving a family of three young boys.
“Everything Richard did, he did it all,” said acting Captain Joe Sarta, sitting in the break room at Station 226 where a memorial plaque for Eldon went up this spring.
Eldon was a skilled guitarist – he played lots of Gordon Lightfoot, Blue Rodeo, and Pink Floyd covers, as well as his own songs.
“I remember hearing music playing upstairs here at the station,” said firefighter Mike Maier. “I thought somebody had the radio on.”
Not only did Eldon play guitars, he was building them, too.
“His basement was like a Mr. Chips woodshop – he had the best equipment,” said Sarta.
Born and raised in the Niagara area, Eldon got into combing the old battlefields near Niagara-on-the-Lake with a metal detector, something he would often do with his mom. He ran a website listing everything they found: shells, cannonballs, and horse breastplates, many from the War of 1812.
On the job, Captain Frank Dellapina, his long-time colleague in East York, remembers how Eldon sought out special training, doing a stint at the island airport where he learned to use extinguishers that can pierce airplane bodies.
And when they got called to a major warehouse fire one winter, Dellapina said Eldon was the first one ready with a hose, sitting with it wrapped around him because it was heavy-gauge enough it normally took two firefighters to handle standing.
But when Eldon moved over to Main Street, the first impression he made had nothing to do with firefighting – he was a health nut.
“Greens. I remember when I started on the shift, his big thing was greens in the morning,” Sarta said, smiling. “He’d have spinach and kale in his blender. Everybody had to have a glass, or half a glass.”
Maier said it was the same when Eldon started taking karate.
“You know, when most people go start at a dojo, they go maybe once or twice a week,” Maier said. “He was at the dojo once or twice a day.”
“The karate was like everything else – ‘I’m jumping in, head first, and it’s going to work.’ And it did.”
Along with his young age, Eldon’s colleagues say it was their friend’s healthy lifestyle that made it clear his death from colon cancer was work-related.
“You never would have thought that Richie, of all people, was going to pass away from something like that,” said Sarta.
Firefighters know too well how unhealthy their work can be, particularly in apartment fires where there can be a high concentration of poly-vinyl chlorides from burning furniture.
“We all know about it, for sure,” said Sarta.
“Especially Rich. He made sure every ‘T’ was crossed and ‘I’ was dotted as far as safety goes.”
“Way too young,” said Maier.