‘He was in a league of his own’: Cumberland, North Yarmouth mourn young firefighter

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CUMBERLAND — A young firefighter known for his virtue, kindness and courage was mourned Tuesday by about 500 people who packed the Cumberland Congregational Church.

Brandon Thibeau died Feb. 1 after a two-year battle with advanced neuroendocrine cancer. The 22-year-old Cumberland resident served with the Cumberland and North Yarmouth fire departments, and was recently named Cumberland’s firefighter of the year.

In the final weeks of his life Thibeau found the fortitude to complete a fire science program at Southern Maine Community College – just a few years after he’d achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.

Thibeau was a son, a brother, a fiance, and a friend to people of all ages and walks of life, as evidenced by those who braved Tuesday’s wintry conditions to honor and remember him.

Jim Thomas was the scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 58 when he met then-11-year-old Brandon Thibeau, who enthusiastically announced his goal of earning 25 merit badges and becoming an Eagle Scout. In time, he accomplished both.

“Brandon had unbound potential, and was taken from us far too early,” Thomas said. “These last two years, Brandon approached this terrible thing in the way he approached everything – it was an obstacle to overcome. He was going to kick its ass. Brandon never, never quit.”

Robert Field, who served in the Scouts with Thibeau, said the young man was considered by all his peers to be the most reliable, hardest-working person in the troop, a young man fueled in his endeavors by grit and trust.

“Even though he was younger than me, I looked up to him,” Field said. “He was in a league of his own.”

A man of his word, the consummate doer, Thibeau could well have numbered among those Tom Brokaw hailed in his book, “The Greatest Generation,” Field added.

“He represents everything admirable about being an American,” he said. “He is the American spirit.”

Speaking together, Ryan Pynchon and Megan Morgan recalled their time with Thibeau as Cumberland firefighters and students at Greely High School. A person with an “ear-to-ear grin” and “infectious laugh,” Morgan said.

Pynchon recalled Thibeau once completed CPR on a person suffering from cardiac arrest until an ambulance could arrive.

“Because of (Thibeau’s) actions that day, the patient survived, when all odds were against him,” Pynchon said.

Steve Willis, chairman of the Fire Science Department at Southern Maine Community College, said that in his 35 years of teaching, “Brandon was the most courageous student I’ve ever had, one of the most effective teachers we have had.”

Thibeau’s courage was deep and profound in the wake of his diagnosis and prognosis, Willis recalled: “He never once that I know of used his illness as a crutch.”

In an interview with The Forecaster two months ago to generate awareness about his rare form of cancer, Thibeau spoke about the tumors he had in his brain, chest, liver and stomach. He talked of undergoing six rounds of chemotherapy immediately after the diagnosis, which reduced the cancer by 40 percent, and trying an oral pill and immunotherapy afterward.

“There are a couple days when I’m like, ‘the chemo’s kicking me today,'” Thibeau said. “But you’ve got to keep going.”

It was a message of hope and perseverance typical of Thibeau, which could be aptly imparted to those many loved ones grieving his loss.

“He packed a lot of life into his 22 years; he lived his life to the fullest,” Thomas said. “Brandon showed us how to live.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Pallbearers carry the casket of Brandon Thibeau into Cumberland Congregational Church on Tuesday. The 22-year-old Cumberland resident died Feb. 1, after a two-year battle with cancer. Thibeau’s father, Rick Thibeau, far right, joined firefighters from the Cumberland and North Yarmouth departments.

Brandon Thibeau and his fiancee, Lindsay Nunley. Thibeau’s funeral drew hundreds of people Tuesday in Cumberland.

A procession of firefighters from Cumberland’s Central Fire Station to the Cumberland Congregational Church Tuesday in honor of Brandon Thibeau.

Brandon Thibeau, second from right, helped spread awareness about his unique form of cancer in December 2016.

A color guard with members of the Cumberland and North Yarmouth fire departments line up outside the Cumberland Congregational Church Tuesday to honor Brandon Thibeau.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.