The life of former Anson Fire Chief Daniel Caldwell was celebrated Sunday with one distraction: a house fire.

About 30 firefighters responded at 11:30 a.m. to a fire that gutted a home in Embden — just hours before the funeral of their former chief, who died Oct. 23.

“I’ll tell you, it was a hectic day,” current Anson Fire Chief Alan Walker said Monday.

Although they arrived later than planned, the firefighters did make the end of visiting hours and were on time for the memorial service, which filled the Madison Area Memorial High School gym with more than 500 people, including about 60 firefighters.

There, family, friends and residents recalled Caldwell as a giving person with a big smile. And firefighters rang the fire bell and broadcast the Anson Fire Department’s radio tone to mark the last call to service.

Caldwell, 61, of Madison, who died of cancer of the esophagus, was a member of the Anson Fire Department for 35 years, with five years as chief in the early 1990s. He was also an Anson selectman in the early 1990s, and a board member for School Administrative District 74.

Caldwell, who lived most of his life in Anson, had been employed by Madison Paper Industries for the past 28 years.

His brother, Rick Caldwell, 49, of Anson, is an Anson Fire Department lieutenant and a Skowhegan Fire Departmen captain. He described Daniel Caldwell as a community figure who touched many lives and as a brother who “was always there, no matter what you needed.”

Thirty-eight days passed from the day Daniel Caldwell was diagnosed with cancer and the day he died. In that time, “Regardless of what he was told by doctors, he said he was in a win-win situation ‘with God as my co-pilot,’” Rick Caldwell said.

After going in and out of the hospital for several weeks, he died at home, surrounded by family.

“We knew it was inevitable. We obviously didn’t want to let go of him,” Rick Caldwell said. But “there was a sense of relief knowing his body wasn’t in the state of physical pain anymore. His spirit and soul – you could see when it left him.”

What does he remember most? His brother’s “big smile and zest for life,” he said.

Anson firefighter Terry Petley, who was chief for six years after Caldwell stepped down, said he considered Caldwell and his family as his own. “He was just like a brother to me,” he said.

Starks Fire Chief Julie Costigan said Caldwell was her “mentor” and the reason she became a firefighter.

After Caldwell encouraged her, she took training courses with his daughter, Melinda, who now serves with the Bangor Fire Department. There were only three women in the class of 32.

“He constantly would be at me, ‘When are you going to go on to training? I know you can do it,’” she said, describing him as “just a wonderfully delightful, giving, caring man.”