‘Ultimate sacrifice’: 9/11 firefighter turned Wiscasset resident Rich Kubler remembered

Mon, 08/03/2020 - 8:45am

    Alna Volunteer Fire Department President and longtime First Congregational Church of Wiscasset member Beth Whitney hoped she would not cry while singing the hymn “The Eternal Father” solo in Rich Kubler’s memorial service Saturday. She did not, but she said she and others did at the service’s close, when a dispatcher announced Kubler had answered his last alarm.

    According to Hackensack (New Jersey) Fire Department, Kubler, 53, of Wiscasset, died July 25 from cancer linked to his recovery work at the World Trade Center after 9/11.

    Firefighters from New Jersey and from Edgecomb, Woolwich, West Bath, Topsham and elsewhere in Maine turned out Saturday. Bath and Brunswick fire trucks’ ladders together held an American flag high above Route 1 for a procession that included Kubler’s casket on a 1941 Bath pumper. As the truck passed under again post-ceremony, Hampden firefighter Oliver Bianchi saluted alongside Brunswick EMS Director Claire Dufort and Brunswick firefighter Alan Boucher.

    “It means a lot. The efforts at 9/11 were one of the greatest rescue missions of all time,” including finding people’s remains years later, Bianchi said as motorcyclists and other drivers peeped horns and waved at the responders in dress uniform. “So to be here to give honor to someone who made the ultimate sacrifice being in the rescue efforts down there, it’s what they deserve.”

    Dufort said she and Boucher came “to honor our brother.”

    Whitney knew Kubler as a church member along with his wife Susan. “I’m honored to have been asked to take part, because Rich was just a genuinely nice guy,” Whitney said in an interview. “We were really looking forward to getting to know him better, but that got cut short” by the illness.

    In the service, Pastor Josh Fitterling said Kubler was a hero at work, home and church. “We were so blessed by his presence in our midst (and) by his positivity, which radiated from him ... He did so many extraordinary, admirable, honorable things throughout his life of service and of love, earning him that title of hero ...”

    Fitterling told Kubler’s family and the family’s invited guests, the service might seem different due to masks, shields, gathering limits and distance “when we so crave closeness, (yet) in the midst of it all, we persevere. As Rich would say, it is what it is.” Live audio of the service played on the town common; and the service was livestreamed on the church’s and Hackensack Fire Department’s Facebook pages. Find it there or on the church’s YouTube channel, where Wiscasset Newspaper viewed it.

    Wiscasset Fire Chief Rob Bickford and other responders watched via livestream in his office. He said every firefighter’s funeral service is special. “But I think this one is a little more, because of what he did and what he sacrificed for his cause.” The turnout of Maine and New Jersey departments, and Bath’s and Brunswick’s flying of the flag throughout, were amazing, Bickford said. 

    Hackensack firefighters described a proud, hardworking fireman who never said no, gave tips and training, repeatedly hinted at what he would like to cook everyone for lunch to see if they would want that also, pranked a new fire firefighter with an alarm, never spoke negatively about a firefighter or department, and loved fire service.
     
    Saturday’s service was the first in-person service since mid-March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Everyone was very respectful of the mask requirement and keeping distance when possible,” Fitterling told Wiscasset Newspaper in text replies. “The Hackensack FD very kindly disinfected the sanctuary afterwards as well.”
     
    Fitterling and other speakers removed their face masks only when addressing the sanctuary behind a plexiglass shield. And Whitney said she would be singing the hymns into a microphone in a side hallway.
     
    “Overall, we were doing our best to keep one another as safe as possible while honoring a hero among us,” Fitterling said.