Family, first responders remember beloved McAllen Fire Department chaplain

Bagpipes and fire engine sirens emanated from St. Paul Lutheran Church Monday morning as three calls made to the fire department’s chaplain went unanswered, ceremoniously signifying that William Bruce Covey, a beloved figure in the agency and community, had answered his last call.

Such was the emotional scene inside the McAllen church, where sunlight filtered through the stained glass, and Fire Chief Rafael Balderas handed an American flag to Covey’s wife, Oleen Teer Covey.

Covey, 75, was a former volunteer firefighter, the chaplain for the McAllen Fire Department, a member and former president of the McAllen Noon Lions Club and an insurance salesman. He died June 3 of a heart at-tack.

“He wanted everyone to know their story was important,” said Rev. James Fickenscher, who led Covey’s memorial service Monday. “Every person is a story and every story mattered to him.”

Covey joined the department in 1978 and briefly fought fires before injuring his leg. He continued volunteering, and when he became the Rio Grande Valley’s district chaplain, he often led memorials for fallen first responders. When he died, fire departments from Rio Grande City to South Padre Island called to offer condolences.

As a tribute to their longtime friend, the department performed fire service honors. This included the folding of the flag, which was given to his son Robert Covey; the tradition of the bell, which rang three times to signal Covey “going home;” and the last alarm, his final call “to heaven until we meet again.”

“He is the last honorary volunteer for the McAllen Fire Department,” Balderas said. “I’m hoping we honored him the way he would honor anybody else.”

Richard Drewry, a volunteer and former employee of the Edinburg and McAllen fire departments, said Covey was “the epitome of what firemen stand for.”

“I retired in 2011, but Bruce wasn’t going to retire until this day came,” Drewry said.

Covey’s sons remember seeing their dad constantly wearing a fire department pager that rang at all hours of the day. Robert, now a firefighter in Waco, and his brother Chad also recall their father’s kindness. The siblings said he “never met a stranger.”

“He would lend our car to neighbors that just needed cars,” Chad Covey said. “Once at his insurance office, a man came in and said hello. I asked who he was and my dad said, ‘I buy lunch for him once a week because he has no money.’”

According to family, Covey’s giving spirit was evident in everything he did, including his 50 years selling insurance. Tina Salinas, his friend and fellow insurance salesperson, said his mentorship helped her feel less alone when she was new to the industry.

“He talked about how important it was to always be there for the clients, to help family members when they needed you most,” Salinas said. “His clients eventually all became his friends.”

Even in his later years, Covey’s compassion never wavered, apparent in his McAllen Noon Lions Club membership, serving the local chapter of an international organization dedicated to community service.

Eddie Williams, the current president and a friend since the 1970s, said Covey lived a life devoted to others.

“In the Lions Club, our motto is, ‘We serve,’” Williams said. “And he did. He fulfilled that to the max.”