Recently, I arranged for my 2 1/2 year old nephew to get a tour of a local fire station. I wanted to do something for him that would make him happy. He’s your typical little boy: he loves planes, trains, tractors, trucks, diggers, and motorcycles. Anything that moves and is motorized, he’s into it. There was another reason for the tour as well: for a year now, he’s been coming to Children’s Hospital in St. Louis to get tested for a blood dyscrasia. He has low blood platelets, and he bruises easily. His doctors are still trying to figure out what is causing this problem, and he’s had two bone marrow draws already, and numerous blood draws and a few platelet transfusions as well. I live 15 minutes away from the city, and it broke my heart to realize he began to associate going to my house with going to the doctors’ office. I’ve been trying to think of creative ways to get him excited about coming to visit ever since (though, my dog is enough for him. They’re best of buddies.)
Upon entering the fire station, he was in awe. The secretaries greeted him, and they arranged for the fire chief to come out to greet him as well. The Chief took us to his office and let Ben look at his model fire engine, and gave him a Junior Firefighter sticker badge. Next, another chief, Battalion Chief Tom took us down the long corridor and out to the garage where we saw one of the big fire engines. Ben, who is normally talkative, had nothing to say. He simply stared. When he started to walk down the steps, he grabbed Chief Tom’s hand, and the chief tenderly looked down at him and smiled, and wrapped his big hand over Ben and slowly walked down with him, quietly telling him what he was about to see and do.
My sister, my Dad and I followed behind them, and we smiled. I knew this was going to be a special tour. Out came Fireman Michelle and Fireman Doug (the rookie) and they walked with us to the second fire engine parked outside. Ben got to see the masks, sit in the chairs and the driver’s seat, pull out the climbing rope, look at the axe, pick up the rubber mallet and pound it on the ground. They asked him if he wanted to see what firemen wear, and he simply nodded his head. Speechless. Around to the other side we went, and Fireman Doug began to put on his gear. Every little boy has dreamed about being a fireman I’m sure. To be in shape, wearing cool gear, and saving lives. There’s a sense of strength and an overall tenderness that is special to a fireman, too. To know that a fireman is there by your side and will risk his life to save yours is nothing short of heroic.
Doug put on all the gear, and let Ben step on his special steel boots. Then, he climbed the engine’s 75 foot ladder to impress us all. It worked. Ben stood there, arms crossed, eyes focused on the ladder, jaw jutting forward, and a serious look on his face. He wasn’t upset. He was assessing everything. He looked like an old man in an young person’s body. Doug leaned over and waved at us from way up on his perch. We were impressed even more so when we learned it was Doug’s 3rd time on the ladder and that he was afraid of heights. There’s something special about a man that would put away his own fears to put a smile on a little boy’s face.
After I took Ben’s picture with the three fireman, Doug picked Ben up and swung him and stood him gently on the ground. Ben walked towards us with a big smile on his face. The moment couldn’t have been more perfect, and I think the firemen were happy that they could show off what they do. It’s such an admirable job, but one that could be boring at times, sitting around waiting to get a phone call that someone needs your help. I think they liked the break in their day. The tour ended with us getting to see the bedrooms, kitchen, and the Battalion Chief’s office as well. Finally, we had to say goodbye. Ben knuckle-bumped all the guys’ hands and hugged the two women. He got to eat his Laffy Taffy and we got to hear him tell us all about the tour again on the ride home. I’m glad I got a chance to set up this tour for him, but it was the firemen of Station 4 that made it a special moment for us all. Oh, and Fireman Doug, I noticed you didn’t have a wedding ring…