Those that read my “Open Letter to Mesa Fire Department, Ladder 209 B-Shift” post a few days ago know I’ve been on a little quest to find, and meet, the first responders that helped save my life last year when I had a heart attack.
Thanks to the power of social media, lots of great friends, and a very helpful Public Information Officer with the Mesa Fire Department, huge progress has been made!
I now have all the names of the firemen and EMTs that responded to my 911 call that day.
Unfortunately, in the year since the heart attack that crew has dispersed across various stations and shifts, maybe even out of town. But that’s OK. I’m persistent when there is something I want, and I want to meet these guys.
(Please note, I use the terms “guys” for any small group of friendly people. It’s not a male / female thing, though in this case all of the crew happened to be male. So don’t go all PC on me, m’kay?)
Last Thursday morning, I received an email from the Mesa FD PIO, telling me that one of the firefighters that answered my 911 call was currently on shift and still with Ladder 209, not far from my house in Mesa, where I happened to be staying while on a short business trip. She said, “stop by any time, he’s expecting you.”
I was about to meet my hero.
I read the email from the PIO, turned to Francy and said, “Ready to go meet this guy?”
“Of course!” was her immediate response.
My immediate thought was, “What am I going to say?” How do you thank someone for saving your life? Francy and I got in the car, scooted over to the store to buy a gift card and headed to the fire station.
I sat in the car, pen in hand, staring at this blank thank-you card. I had no idea what to write.
Words don’t seem sufficient. If it weren’t for you and the crew, I wouldn’t be alive today. Thank you for everything you did for me, and for everything else you do.
I stuffed the gift card to Outback Steakhouse in the envelop and sealed it.
Turning to Francy I said, “This isn’t enough. This guy saved my life and I’m buying him dinner? Doesn’t seem like a very equitable trade.”
“It’ll be fine.”
“What if I break down and weep like a baby?”
“So what if you do?” Francy replied.
Yeah, so what. While no guy wants to break down into an emotional puddle of goo in front of the manly fireman, the simple fact was this was rapidly spooling up into a very emotional event. I felt like a teenager headed over to my prom date. I was excited, nervous and filled with anticipation.
Francy and I parked at the station and walked up to the door. I looked at Francy, she looked at me with that look of love and support only she has and said, “It’s ok,” pointing at the doorbell.
I rang it.
A young fireman opened the door.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“I’m looking for Ken.”
“Yeah, come on in, he’s right here.”
We stepped inside the station and Ken walked up.
I said, “Ken, you don’t know me. My name is Jay Thompson, and you responded to my 911 call just over a year ago.”
“Yeah, sure! I read your letter, thanks for that.”
“You’re welcome. I really don’t have much to say, I just wanted to say thank you, and shake your hand.”
Ken extended his hand, and I was finally able to shake my hero’s hand.
I gave Ken the card, and he opened it. He read it, with a little smile. Then he turned over the gift card and said, “Wow, thanks! I love taking my kids to Outback. But you didn’t have to do this.”
And he shook my hand again. I think I mumbled, “It’s the least I could do” or something equally unprofound.
“Can I get a picture with you?” I asked Ken.
“Absolutely! Let’s go in back by the truck.”
Fire trucks are bad ass.
The young fireman that answered the door, Dan (who Francy would later point out was remarkably hot…) moved a few hoses and things around while Ken, Francy and I chatted. We talked about that day, what happend after the fire and EMT crew dropped me off at the hospital, and my subsequent recovery. Ken was genuinely interested in my lifestyle changes that resulted in a 60 pound weight loss. Ken’s my age, has the same family history I have with heart disease and has had some heart problems himself.
We talked about the other guys that were with Ken that day. He told me a little about each of them.
It was emotional as hell. Ken was remarkably humble, and just a super nice guy. He said that he really appreciated us stopping by, that they know everyone appreciates what they do, but that it meant a lot to them as they don’t hear actual “thank you’s” from very many people.
I looked over at Francy, who was misting up. I had to look away.
We talked a few more minutes, and Dan took some pictures of us:
We met the station chief, and headed back toward the front of the station.
“The Cub Scouts are here!” someone at the fire station announced.
A whole pack of Cub Scouts came into the station, all excited, and bearing cookies. These young kids were about to get a tour of the station. “Y’all are welcome to tag along,” Ken said, but we had to get going. Ken jumped into community service mode, and started talking to the Cubbies.
Francy and I said goodbye to Dan and headed to the car.
Just as we are getting in, Ken popped outside and yelled, “Thanks so much for stopping by Jay, great meeting you!”
“You too, Ken. And thanks again. Be safe out there.”
I’d held myself together the entire time. Not a whisper of a tear.
I sat in the car and Francy pulled away from the station.
As I looked back at the station, I thought about something Ken said when I’d told him I owed him my life.
“I’m not a hero, I was just doing my job.”
Yes, you were doing your job sir. Your job entails rushing to people’s houses, not knowing what to expect, and helping them. Your job entails going to the scenes of horrific accidents, and helping people. Your job entails building community, and talking to Cub Scouts. And your job entails running into burning buildings.
Don’t tell me you aren’t a hero, Ken.
You are my hero, and a hero to many others.
As the station receded in the background, the last 20 minutes rushed into my head. I had just spent about the same amount of time with Ken as I did the first time we “met”.
Only this time I wasn’t terrified and thinking I was going to die. This time, I was happy and full of life — a life that Ken and his fellow first responders helped save.
And THAT is when I lost it, and wept like a baby.
UPDATE: On Sunday I got to meet two more of my heroes. Steve and John. This was the first time they had worked with each other for about a year (they wondered out loud if the last time they worked together was the day of my heart attack. Weird!)
Again, both were super nice guys. gracious and humble. “Just doing our jobs.” Steve is the head of a charity, EVFC – East Valley Firefighters Charity. They do great work. Please Like them on Facebook!
Thanks Steve and John, for everything!