A legendary Surrey smoke eater has gone to that great fire hall in the sky.
J.Don Brucker died of natural causes on Jan. 3 in the company of his family, at age 76. He was the Surrey fire department's first battalion chief, a mentor to many young firefighters and a larger-than-life figure not only on the job but also in his own Whalley community.
"He was the toughest, fiercest smoke eater I've ever met in my life," said Lorne West, himself a storied Surrey firefighter who retired as a battalion chief last year.
"Nothing stopped him - he walked through walls," West said. "Legendary."
Brucker was born in Regina in 1936, the fourth of five children.
When he was 15 he headed west where he would meet his bride, Violet.
She survives him, along with their four children, 12 grandchildren and great granddaughter.
Brucker joined the Surrey fire department, as its 21st professional firefighter, on March 1, 1966, after serving six years as a volunteer.
West, 57, said he became a Surrey firefighter because of Brucker's example.
"He was like a neighbourhood father, you know."
When he wasn't dispensing sound wisdom to young West, he was his barber. Brucker was also a hockey coach, baseball coach, gave more than 100 pints of blood to the Red Cross and received the prestigious Red Powell award. He and Violet also raised 36 foster children.
Surrey Deputy Fire Chief John Caviglia said Brucker will be sorely missed.
"There's a lot of incredible things about him," Caviglia said. "He was known as a no-nonsense type of person. When he gave an order, you knew it and people obeyed."
"He loved the fire service - it was a big part of him," Caviglia said. "He was very well known and respected in the community. He's a part of us. It feels like a part of our department is missing knowing that he's gone."
Brucker retired his badge #21 on Aug. 31, 1996. In his retirement, he went to New York to pay his respects to the fallen firefighters of 9/11.
His memorial service will be held at the Barge Inn, at 7372 144th St. in Newton this Friday, at 1 p.m.
"Everybody seems to be just reeling from this," said his daughter Crystall Brucker. "He was just a real gentle human being."
His family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the Surrey Fire Fighters Charitable Society or the Kinsmen Place Lodge.