VERO BEACH — Several hundred people jammed into St. Helen Catholic Church on a blazing hot Saturday morning to pay tribute to Indian River County Assistant Fire Chief Brian Nolan, who died Tuesday at the age of 55 following a heart attack.
Chief Nolan was remembered during his funeral as a father, a prankster and a man of great love, honor and service. He strove to protect the safety and well-being of Indian River County residents for 31 years, 27 of those with the Town of Indian River Shores.
Most recently, Nolan wore three hats with Indian River County Fire Rescue serving as Fire Marshal, director of the Emergency Operations Center and also as the Public Information Officer dealing with the media.
Rev. Rodney Titus in his homily praised Nolan for being a man who took the time not only to help people, but just to spend time with them in a display of “great love.” Rev. Titus addressed Nolan’s two sons and daughter directly with his words from the pulpit.
“Your father was not just your father, but in a sense he was a father to us all who live in Indian River County,” he said. “We feel protected because of the great efforts of the firefighters and paramedics and police and the Sheriff’s Office. So when one of you goes home, we feel for a brief moment maybe a little less protected.”
Fire departments from around the state sent emissaries to pay their respects to Nolan, with Broward County, Palm Beach County, St. Lucie County and the Florida Department of Forestry.
Vero Beach Police Department and the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office provided logistical support and escort for the fire engine from Station 1 which transported the flag-draped casket from Strunk Funeral Home.
Bagpiper Michael Hyde played throught the funeral procession, accompanied by a kilt-clad drummer who set the pace for the march of the pall bearers and Indian River County Fire Rescue Honor Guard. A large American flag was suspended from an aerial platform truck in St. Helen’s parking lot.
The scene was fit for the hero that Nolan proved to be in his life and in his profession.
Though Nolan devoted decades to firefighting and had many talents and hobbies about which he was passionate, those who showed up to pay homage said they will remember most who Nolan was as a person.
“You could know Brian for a year and you felt like you had known him a lifetime,” said Indian River Shores Public Safety Chief Bill Schauman, who eulogized Nolan and reflected upon working and living with him for 20 years in the fire station barracks.
“He was a friend to all 8 to 80, Brian lived life large,” Schauman said. “He put 110 years into his 55 years. He really did live life large.”
Attendees arrive dressed in everything from T-shirts to leather biker garb to formal firefighter ceremonial regalia and cocktail dresses with high heels. All knew a different facet of Nolan’s life and personality. All had a funny story or a moment when Nolan spread a little sunshine into their lives.
“What I will remember most is his smile, he always had that amazing smile,” said South Beach resident Jackie Solari at the reception held at the Riverside Cafe after the service.
Solari attended on behalf of Commissioner Bob Solari, who could not be present at the funeral. Several other county officials were on hand, including County Administrator Joe Baird, County Attorney Alan Polackwich, Deputy County Attorney Bill DeBraal and Fire Chief John King. Shores Town Manager Richard Jefferson and Town Clerk Laura Aldrich joined many of the Shores Public Safety in showing their support for Nolan’s family.
King, who hired Nolan after he retired from the Indian River Shores Public Safety Department, said the process of trying to fill Nolan’s position at the department would begin next week.
“All the staff has rallied to fill in in the interim. We’re dividing out the responsibilities among the other senior staff,” King said. “Brian was a remarkable guy and will be deeply missed.”
Wiith the county coming upon the height of hurricane season and Nolan’s office at the EOC now vacant, the community will feel the loss of his years of knowledge and experience and his ability to bring people together and get through a crisis with their good humor intact.
“Brian was the person who made work fun,” Schauman said. “In the worst situations he could make anyone laugh.”
There was no graveside ceremony, as Nolan will be cremated. He reportedly wished to have his ashes scattered at a location in the Town of Indian River Shores where he worked for 27 years and where his father was once the mayor in the 1980s.
Nolan’s motorcycle comrades are organizing a memorial poker run sometime in the coming weeks to raise funds for charity, perhaps to fund scholarships for children of firefighters.Click here to read Chief Nolan’s obituary.