How do you write about a man you knew, but you did not really know? A man of complexity, a warrior, a man with dead emotions who felt the pain of those he worked to save. You just write.
I wish I could tell you the story of when I first met John Charles Piercy, but I can't. I think it was in the summer of 2010 while I was taking photos in Gore Park, but I'm not sure. Maybe it was at a Tweet-Up, those were a big thing at the time. Maybe it was one of the Hamilton Flickr Group meetups he organized?
I don't know when, because John was not a man to seek the limelight, he didn't draw attention to himself, even leading, he was another member of the team. The first conversation I can recall with him for sure was a lengthy discussion about photography and building real-world communities around online interactions.
It was a weekend brunch photography meet-up at Williams Coffee Pub on Pier 8 (which I'm pretty sure he organized).
He knew everyone, and everyone knew him. It was interesting to see him quietly talk with people, he wasn't working the room, he wasn't networking for to expand his own personal network, he just genuinely loved building community - he organized Hamilton's first Geek Breakfast.
I don't recall when he first told me about his profession, that being a Hamilton Fire Fighter, but I do remember the pride he took as a member of Ladder 10. He especially loved the proximity to McMaster of the Main West Station, he told me stories about cleaning the truck out on the driveway and enjoying meeting students who stop to converse about the truck. (He especially liked that Station 10 had a gym where he worked out off duty, and that this brought his friends from Station 23 and 24 to Main West)
During 2012 to 2014, John "missed" many of the big fires. Henry Watson, the union president, and I had fun with John about his being good luck for his Platoon - except when he was on vacation, big fires happened when he was away.
There were times that John trusted me sharing his story, his life. It was often uneasy, he's experienced his share of deep pain, deep tragedy, and the demons which resulted. There were times where I saw John suffering from those deep pains, as he struggled to find peace.
I only listened, I did not ask for him to share more, or questions about what he shared. The pain he shared was deep. There were stories about the fires he fought, but they always stopped when someone mentioned Plastimet.
John was there, fighting that inferno. He once wrote in 2005, as a caption to a photo of him fighting the fire, "That's me at the 'infamous' Plastimet fire, that lasted about a week, worst 4 nights of my 25 year career as a firefighter ,,,, ". John shared this link with his caption: https://web.archive.org/web/20170416000013/https://www.chemistry.mcmaster.ca/extracts/extracts98/plastimet_fire/plastimet_fire.htm
My sense was that he felt both lucky, and guilty, for surviving over 21 years past the fire. He deeply felt each fire fighters death that resulted from that fire, and when anyone he knew was diagnosed with cancer - he was there to help, he felt obligated to help, he became attached to helping, he had to help.
It was the same with helping fire victims. He lead the efforts to help the 32 people made homeless in the February 2014 fire at 27 Bold Street. This fire was tough on him. John and I had long discussions about how the pains of his past were motivating him to help the fire victims of present.
John's friends, those closest to him, encouraged him to retire. They told him it was time, retire and spend more time in Florida, to find the tranquility that had alluded him for so long.
He retired on May 1, 2014. It was a difficult transition for him, going to work had given him purpose, especially as his personal life continued to have scars of years past.
He increasingly took more time in Florida. He always came back refreshed, happy, and renewed. He found happiness in retirement, he increased his photography, and mastered iPhone photography.
In retirement, every time I saw him, he was a main who had found the peace his friends knew retirement would bring. He valued the time he had in retirement with those he loved, and loved him.
Each day, I looked forward to scrolling my Instagram feed and seeing John's photos. One recent photo was extremely moving.
At the end of June, he posted a photo of him and his younger brother together, and together as children. John has a plastic fire fighters helmet on!
I'll miss most the brunches with John, and the random encounters in Gore Park. John never tired of taking photos in Gore Park, and always found new interesting angles.
Upon learning of his death, I looked at his Twitter account. Thursday night, he retweeted a photo of the sunrise in Fort Lauderdale.
Seeing this photo brought me peace, John often told me of how much he loved the sunrises and sets in Florida. He said I needed to see them, and one day I will, thinking of John as I do.
Thank you John, we'll miss you.
(John died suddenly, funeral details are pending, follow the Hamilton Professional Fire Fighters Association for updates)