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A Little Boy Named Christian – Fire Prevention

July 16, 2012

The call came into dispatch early one Sunday evening. It was a young mother, frantic because her young son had set a fire in his bedroom. Dispatch called me because fire crews were out on other emergencies. And the need wasn’t to extinguish the fire – mom had already done that – it was to do something with the boy.

The mother met me curbside in front of her small home as the sun was setting. She explained that her husband was incarcerated, she had two young sons, and the older one – Christian – had recently grown fascinated with cigarette lighters. Today’s fire was his second.

She went right to the point of her call and asked, “What can you do?”

I politely told the mother this was a problem more suitable for somebody in mental health, not a fire chief. She explained that Christian had already talked to one of those folks and it hadn’t helped. I could feel the helplessness from the crackle of her voice and the watery look in her eyes.

I told the mother I would visit with Christian as long as she called the mental health professionals too. I gave Christian as stern a talking to as I ever have a young child. I raised my voice to just under a shout, berating him for thinking so little of his younger brother and mother. Finally, I told him I was through for now, but I wasn’t through – I was coming back tomorrow.

I then turned to the mother and told her to search every single inch of the house for lighters and that I would come back the next day.

As I drove towards home, I thought about what to do, knowing fear seldom invokes long term change. The answer came to me like a message from above. I would call on the young boy’s sense of responsibility, his manhood.

The next day I purchased a gift card with a fire department theme and placed inside a St. Florian medallion – The Patron Saint of Firefighters. I explained with my writing the significance of the medallion, what it means to firefighters, and the responsibility Christian would have as a carrier – to remember me and the agreements we had.

Christian and his mother were standing in the yard when I arrived the next day. Lying on the ground was close to forty novelty lighters, stolen from neighborhood stores. I locked eyes with Christian and could sense his fear. I directed him to come with me to the fire car. He started to get in the back seat and I redirected him to the front.

I again locked eyes with Christian, but fear was no longer my motive. I talked to Christian not as a boy, but as a young man. I explained to Christian that I could tell that he was intelligent and had so much potential in his life. But, I also explained that he needed to be the man of the home. I told him that I hoped someday he would consider becoming a firefighter. Afterwards, we got out of the car, shook hands, and we parted. I thought that would probably be the last I would hear of Christian. It wasn’t.

Several months later a friend of Christian’s family stopped me at the courthouse, asked if I was Chief Moody, and handed me an envelope. Inside was a letter with two medals taped to it and a message from Christian.

Dear Mr. Cheif,
Hi Fire Cheif Steve,
How have you bean sence the last time you seen me. Thank you for the meatle you sent me and thank you for the card. I’ve been good and I haven’t bean lighting fires and hiding lighters and knifes. Thank you for your time and the card I truley appreciate everything you have done you are an awesome guy. I love you fore your help and the charm – here’s one fore you as well. {Medallion taped here} Please take care of it and remember me every time you look at it. I have potential to do the right thaing. I will start to do for others as I want to be treated. You went out of your way for me. I hope that we can count on you when I have a problem.
Thanks, again for evrething please call me any time and I will call you as well.
You are a hero my hero. {Medallion taped here}

Here’s my last one fore extra luck.
Your friend Christian.

I have never forgotten you Christian – and have always cherished both your letter, and the medallions.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    July 16, 2012 1:19 am

    Wonder where and what that young man is doing now. You took time with him. That is usually all kids need, some more than others, some when times are hard as they were for this young boy. Thank you Steve for caring!

    • July 16, 2012 1:34 am

      Funny how the most memorable stories in my career are those of prevention. I believe it’s probably because it’s always a better approach. To truly be the best firefighter one can be is to prevent the fire from ever starting. Christian later came to volunteer as a helper at the Leavenworth Halloween Fire Safety House event.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    July 16, 2012 11:50 pm

    Steve I really enjoyed this story. When I was around five my three younger sisters started a small fire in our bedroom during fire prevention week no less! Their pictures were all over the front page of the newspaper the next day! I do remember the fire Chief having quite a discussion with all of us after the fire was contained. As far as I can remember there were no more ‘self set’ fires at our house after that! People who take the time to talk to children and explain things in a way they can understand are amazing! Thank you for being one of those people! 🙂

    • July 17, 2012 2:04 am

      Yours is a great story too! Fire Prevention week to set a fire! Another fantastic example that I will share with others. Thank You.

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