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"TAH" 2007 Obituary


TAHMIZIAN o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2007-11-16 published
Calm, deliberate Toronto fire captain won citation for rescue operations
Amid the noise and chaos of battling a blaze, his was the steady voice other firefighters heard through the black and blinding smoke. In the end, his career likely cost him his life
By Matthew TREVISAN, Special to The Globe and Mail, Page S8
By the time they found the woman unconscious on a couch, the apartment fire had already ventilated itself, shooting flames out a back room and into the summer night. Firefighter John CHAPPELLE calmly scooped her into his arms and carried her out of the building. For the captain of Toronto Fire Station 443, it was just another day on the job.
For 27 years, he attended fires, medical emergencies and hazardous-material accidents in the same evenhanded and methodical manner. Above the cacophony of fire alarms and smashing glass, his was always the steady voice other firefighters heard while crawling on their hands and knees through black, blinding smoke.
"Some people's voices would have been up two or three octaves," said John Getty, who joined Mr. CHAPPELLE's platoon in 2000. "His never did. His never went up and never went down… He wasn't upset, he wasn't frustrated. He was just doing what we do."
Like the time in September, 2003, when he directed the rescue of a truck driver on Highway 27 in the Toronto area. The driver had been at the wheel of a 16-metre trailer truck when a car ahead of him spun in slippery conditions. He swerved to avoid the smaller vehicle and crashed over a concrete wall. The truck plunged 20 metres onto railway tracks north of Pearson International Airport, trapping the driver in the crumpled wreckage.
Victim Survived
Mr. CHAPPELLE and his crew were in one of several emergency vehicles called to extricate the man. Using a rope line, they ferried equipment from the highway down to the wreck. The smell of diesel fuel filled the air as they trudged though thick mud, dense shrub and broken glass, yet he and his squad never wavered. The man survived, and Mr. CHAPPELLE's platoon later received a citation from the Toronto Fire Services.
John CHAPPELLE grew up in Toronto on Balliol Street, near the Davisville subway station. His father, Art, worked for the Ontario government designing the layout of many provincial parks, including Sibbald Point near Jackson's Point on the shores of Lake Simcoe. His mother Alice (NELSON) stayed home to look after John, the oldest, his sister Diane and his brother Ken.
"All of his life, he was a protector," said his sister, Diane TAHMIZIAN. " Right from the start, I remember I was in kindergarten and there were always bullies in the neighbourhood. He always made sure I wasn't bothered."
With only two years separating them, Mr. CHAPPELLE and his sister shared childhood summers at a cottage in the Bobcaygeon area, northeast of the city, where they canoed and launched bullfrogs into the water with their paddles. They stayed up late reading comics and, when they were old enough, went to the Canadian National Exhibition.
Mr. CHAPPELLE attended Northern Secondary School on Mount Pleasant Road, where he played football, rugby and basketball while nursing a passion for the arts. He played bass guitar, acted in a school musical and sang in the choir. For pocket money, he moonlighted as a disc jockey.
"At the end of Grade 9, I wanted to try out for cheerleading for Grade 10. And the only thing that was holding me back was I just couldn't nail a cartwheel," Diane said. "And so John was asking me, 'What's the problem? Why are you so upset about the tryouts? You'll do great. You'll be fine. I'm sure you're going to make the team.' "
With that, her brother the jock cartwheeled gracefully in front of her. Over the next few weeks, he continued to motivate her and, sure enough, she made the team.
Restaurant Manager
Mr. CHAPPELLE married young, right out of high school, and lived next door to his parents with his wife, Marian CUNNINGHAM, and their daughter Alyson. Throughout the 1970s, he worked a variety of jobs from meat-shop manager to a McDonald's restaurant manager.
Toward the end of the decade, he was still unclear about what he wanted to do for a career - except that he wanted it to be stable. When a family friend convinced him to apply to be a firefighter, he agreed to give it a shot, never one to turn down an opportunity for something new.
In 1980, he was hired by the Etobicoke Fire Department and started at a quiet station on Renforth Drive. In the early days, he was an eager rookie who felt frustrated that he rarely had a chance to fight a serious blaze. He eventually got many chances to demonstrate his willingness and professionalism.
In April, 1997, ammonia pipes burst at a refrigeration plant on Shorncliffe Avenue, causing one of the largest chemical fires in Etobicoke's history. For more than six hours, firefighters from several Etobicoke stations fought the blaze. From a point high above the fire, he fought the flames with a high-volume nozzle directed downward from an extendable ladder and platform. The drains became clogged by debris, and there was so much water that the firefighters worked in a knee-deep flood, Mr. Getty said.
In 1998, the Etobicoke Fire Department was amalgamated to become part of the Toronto Fire Services, and he applied for a position as a captain. By then, his first marriage had ended and he was happily remarried to Jayne WOODS, an art restorer he had met at a Toronto curling club. They had eloped to Jamaica in 1991 after finding a surprising amount in common: She was intrigued that a brawny firefighter with a mustache and bushy eyebrows would have an interest in art history. By that time, he had racked up 11 credits in four years studying part-time at York University.
After serving as an acting captain at the East Mall Station, Mr. CHAPPELLE was made captain at Station 443 on Islington Avenue. In July, 2002, he was called to an apartment fire on Dixon Road. Using a side door, he and firefighter Jim LAMONT entered the building, a two-story complex containing four units. The fire raged in a rear apartment, blasting out windows and enveloping the building in thick smoke.
After searching the first floor, they went upstairs and entered one of the apartments. There, they found a middle-aged woman unconscious and lying on a couch. She was carried out and taken to the hospital, still unconscious, and that was the last they saw of her. Like many people rescued by firefighters, no one in Mr. CHAPPELLE's crew ever learned what became of her.
Curling Champ
Outside of work, Mr. CHAPPELLE enjoyed the outdoors. There were canoe expeditions, golf games, ski trips to Europe - and curling. In 2005, he was a member of a rink that won the Ontario Firefighters Curling Championship.
In late August, 2006, he suddenly complained that he was unable see stop signs when driving. He was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an inoperable brain cancer considered by Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Act to be a work-related disease.
John Arthur CHAPPELLE was born in Toronto on February 3, 1954. He died of brain cancer in Orangeville, Ontario, on September 5, 2007. He was 53. He is survived by his wife, Jayne WOODS, and Alyson, his daughter from his previous marriage. He is also survived by father Art, sister Diane and brother Ken. He is predeceased by his mother, Alice, who died in 2005. About 350 uniformed firefighters from across Ontario attended his funeral.

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