Everybody has a story: Kindly firefighters inspire station volunteer

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By now, most of us have heard of New York police Officer Larry DePrimo and how he gave a homeless man living in Times Square a new pair of leather boots. This touching story reminded me of experiences I have had with firefighters from two different departments.

I was assisting the Vancouver Fire Department last summer as an event coordinator and was privileged to drive up the street to get some grub with a company in one of our engines. I adore driving in fire engines, because you get to see so much more of the world, and we are usually on our way to help a sick person. In this case, I was astounded to be included in their daily routine.

We grabbed our dinner to go, and I had a lovely time with the fellas. Heading back to the station house, we were stopped at a signal, and there was a homeless man standing with a sign: "Need help, have a good day!" He looked over at us and smiled and then turned away. That's when our engineer leaned out the window and asked him how his day was going, and we all started chatting. Those of us in the rig had shifted our headsets to the side of our ears and were practically yelling so the man could hear us.

As the captain and engineer were talking with this chap, the fire medic sitting next to me reached into his backpack and handed me a pair of new white socks. He said, "Faren, lean out the window and hand these to that guy."

So I unbuckled, leaned out the huge engine window and hollered to the man. He came to me and I handed him the socks. His eyes lit up like fireworks and he said, "Thank you so much! God bless you all!"

We drove off, but I was tingling all over. Wow, it was such an honor to give to the needy in that way -- hanging out of a fire engine window! Even though the socks weren't expensive leather boots, it still meant the world to this chap. I found out later that this firefighter carries new socks, food and extra necessities in his backpack so that he can give freely to the needy he comes across while on duty.

I have been forever changed by that moment. These firefighters not only gave me a gift by letting me ride along, but also by letting me help someone in need.

Something similar happened in August while on a ride-along with Clark County Fire District 6. We were driving back to the station from a call and the engineer saw a young man standing on a doorstep with a homeowner. The engineer stopped our rig, jumped out and ran to the boy with such excitement that the rest of us were wondering if we hadn't missed an emergency.

At first, the homeowner had a puzzled look on his face, but when the boy turned around, we realized that all was well. The boy was as excited as could be as he dashed to his car and grabbed something. He ran to the firefighter and handed him a slip of paper, and the firefighter handed him some cash.

As the engineer returned, we pounced: "What happened?"

He smiled and said, "That kid is fundraising for Columbia River High School, and I thought it would be nice to support him. I like to support the county." As we drove away, I saw the homeowner and the youth both smiling. The fact that this firefighter stopped his life to buy something to help this kid was heartwarming to all involved.

These men treat every person they see as loved ones. I believe that all first responders have this trait. I am honored to have these men serving my community. I hope we can all take a lesson from their handbook. Give to those in need, if even in little measures.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Email is the best way to send materials so we don't have to retype your words or borrow original photos. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver Wa., 98666. Call Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.