FAIRFIELD, CT — A ladder truck from the Fairfield Fire Department held up a giant American flag in front of First Church Congregational on Beach Street Tuesday morning. Ambulances from several towns, along with police vehicles, lined Old Post Road to honor the service of the late first responder Donald Edwin Smith III, who succumbed to cancer this summer after a courageous battle.
Smith, 60, a retired deputy chief of the Fairfield Police Department, served on the force for 31 years. He was currently a member of the Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service, serving as its chief for the past 12 years.
Smith’s three grown children — sons Michael and Shawn, and daughter, Samantha — share the pride in his public service, but cherish the memories of him as a father and as a husband to their mother, Amy, most of all.
During the funeral service at First Church Congregational, Michael shared a message Smith prepared for him after being diagnosed with cancer years ago, telling his son to never feel alone and that he could only fail at something if he stops trying.
Michael said he can still recall when he and his siblings were children, running down the stairs to hug their father when he came home from work, adding he’ll never forget the sound of Smith’s police boots stomping down.
“When he got home, he would ask us about our day,” Michael said.
He also remembers when his father asked them to help with projects, building anything from tables to benches and bookcases.
His brother, Shawn, said there were inevitable roadblocks and several trips to Home Depot, but their father never gave up until the job was done.
Michael said Smith never wanted to let them down, attending everything from awards ceremonies to baseball games. They also enjoyed playing volleyball, Wii bowling and mini golf with him.
“When we played Monopoly all bets were off,” Shawn said. “Before you knew it, he had hotels on every property. He never told us his secret.”
Shawn recalled getting his revenge one game, but added with a chuckle how his father never seemed to remember his losses.
As much as Smith strove to train and build up the confidence of his fellow EMS volunteers, Monroe EMS Capt. Rachel Murphy fondly recalls the smirky smile he had while kicking their butts in sports and other competitions.
Michael remembers his father as “a smart, kind, ambitious, selfless, loving man.”
“He always supported us,” Michael said. “He was always there to back us up. He taught us to never give up and to respect others, regardless of whether they respected us in return. The greatest honor of my life is being Don’s son. I will do the best I can to put my best foot forward to make him proud from above.”
Shawn said his father was a great role model.
“His proudest achievement was being invited to the FBI National Academy and completing the training,” he said.
Shawn said he was proud to be able to pin his father’s badge on him — with help from his brother Michael — during the ceremony when Smith was promoted to police captain in Fairfield.
Smith was a member of the EMS for 38 years and always encouraged Shawn to join. When he told Smith he was thinking of taking an EMT course, his father had already signed him up.
Shawn remembers going on medical calls with his father and marveled at how police, fire and EMS members are all one big family.
He said his father encouraged him, his brother and sister to always be the best they could be.
Samantha Smith chose a poem for Molly Roe to read and Monroe EMS Deputy Chief Craig Rosenberg, Murphy and Fairfield Police Chief Robert Kalamaras all shared words of remembrance.
Remembering a friend
Kalamaras said Smith had an unwavering commitment to the Fairfield Police Department and his law enforcement career, recounting how he trained thousands of officers in his town and the region.
Smith displayed dedication, leadership and an unyielding commitment to the safety of his fellow officers, according to Kalamaras, who praised his compassion and kindness.
In his sermon, The Rev. Dr. Dean Lindsey spoke of the importance of relationships in building a neighborhood and how Smith always strove to help his neighbors.
Of Smith, Kalamaras said, “he made our police department and our community a better place.”
The Smith family received the presentation of a citation and a Last Call Medal from the town of Fairfield.
The service had a strong presence from members of the Monroe EMS, who joined police, firefighters, fellow EMS volunteers and local dignitaries in celebrating Smith’s life.
Rosenberg said Smith came up with the slogan “neighbors caring for neighbors” as part of the Monroe EMS’s recruiting efforts for new volunteers.
“He was there to lead the EMS and support us and the community,” Rosenberg said.
He said many of the volunteers who trained with Smith are now members of law enforcement, the EMS and fire departments.
“Don was a mentor to me,’ Rosenberg said. “He was someone I deeply respected.”
He said Smith guided the Monroe EMS through the dark times of the COVID-19 pandemic, staying on top of the latest health guidelines while working to ensure members stayed safe.
Smith helped organized the first tactical response exercise in Monroe and made a list of everything the MVEMS needed to sustainable for future decades. Rosenberg recalled the long hours Smith dedicated to the EMS building project.
“I’m so thankful he got to see that vision, walk the halls and serve some shifts there,” Rosenberg said of the recent renovation and addition to the EMS headquarters on Jockey Hollow Road. ”
“Don said, ‘I’m deputy chief of police and an EMT’, but at his core he was a loving husband, father and friend. Rest in peace chief. Rest in peace friend and I will miss you.”
“The ambulance cab holds more secrets than a church confessional,” Murphy said of the honesty of EMS volunteers sharing a shift.
She said close knit relationships are forged and she feels lucky to consider Don and Amy Smith as family. “Now I’m happy to be serving with Shawn,” she said of their son.
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