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Ill. FFs save 7-year-old’s birthday party after just 1 guest shows up

The boy’s sister said she’s not sure who called department, but that a group of about 10 firefighters arrived to celebrate

Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas
Chicago Tribune

There was no fire at GymQuest in Plainfield Saturday. But men and women trained to answer the call and save the day did just that: Firefighters rescued a 7-year-old’s birthday party when only one of 20 invited guests showed up.

And like any time of distress that works out in the end, it’s a day first-grader Dominic Giatras will never forget.

“It turned from nothing to something every kid would dream of,” said Dominic’s older sister, Alexandria Giatras, 24.

Giatras attended the party because her mother is sick with pneumonia and is battling other ailments that have had her in and out of the hospital lately, the 24-year-old said. Dominic is not her biological brother, but she has been his big sister since the family agreed to temporary custody when he was two weeks old. His biological mother, who Giatras said battled drug addiction, died when he was about two months old and the family legally adopted him in 2015.

“He’s had kind of a tough life, and to top it all off no one came to his birthday party. It’s the kind of thing that - it almost changes his life. It made such a big impact. The way he jumped up and down when he saw (the firefighters), I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Plainfield Fire Chief Jon Stratton said the firefighters involved were almost as inspired by the turn of events as was Dominic. He said his team understands the opportunity and responsibility they have as firefighters.

“They were in awe about it,” he said of the firefighters. “You see when you do something small like this, how big it can get. We’re about doing things that can make a real impact, taking a bad day and making it one of their better days in life.”

Giatras recalled Tuesday the events leading up to the shock that even though her mother, Elizabeth Giatras, received plenty of RSVPs for Dominic’s 3:45 p.m. party Saturday, only one other child showed. She isn’t sure if it was a gym employee who decided to call in the fire department or if a firefighter’s wife - who overheard Alex telling the employee everyone bailed on her brother - called the Plainfield Fire Protection District.

Since Dominic regularly attends gymnastics classes at the gym, one employee he knows decided to give him special attention and play with him one-on-one when the party should’ve been in high gear. Giatras said she wasn’t sure at first how to handle the situation or manage her brother’s expectations.

“At first he was like, ‘Well, where is everyone?’ And it’s hard for me to be like, ‘No one showed up to your party,’ so I kind of just winged it,” she said.

But right before enough pizzas to feed 20 first-graders arrived, a group of 10 or 12 firefighters joined Dominic for his celebration, playing “Nerf gun wars” with him, one firefighter said, amid the facility’s many foam pits and gymnastics equipment.

“I was right next to the lieutenant that took the call,” said firefighter Chad Krnac who became fast friends with Dominic. “We were back from other calls, it was perfect timing, and we’re right down the street. There were no questions asked, we were going to go down there.”

When the firefighters filed into the gym, Dominic was playing alone in a large foam pit, Krnac said.

“He was literally jumping around and it melted all our hearts, we all have kids ourselves ... it really hit home for us,” Krnac said.

Dominic met with some firefighters again Tuesday and Stratton arranged for a Plainfield police officer in the K-9 unit to do a demonstration at Dominic’s school, with Dominic as the star of the show.

“It’s a plan to make him the cool kid,” Stratton said.

Stratton said he heard that a radio station in Alabama gave Plainfield Fire a shout-out on the station after Dominic’s story started to circulate on social media.

“We don’t do that for the recognition, we do it to help the kid out,” Stratton said.

Speaking from Fire Station 1 Tuesday, Krnac, whose father also was a firefighter, said he could see GymQuest out the window. He’s been on calls there before, for things such as broken ankles, he said. But Saturday’s emergency call was different.

“I grew up around firefighters and I know how it felt to even have one of my dad’s friends say ‘Hi’ to me, so I definitely go out of my way, and so do all the guys I work with. They know, too, how kids are affected by us. You can put a smile on their face,” Krnac said. “And who knows, maybe jump into the foam pit with them.”

Giatras said she already designed a thank you card and plans to buy pies from Baker’s Square and deliver them to the firefighters.

Krnac had a different thank-you idea in mind, and he shared it with his new friend when he saw him Tuesday.

“I told him he better invite me to his next birthday.”


©2019 the Chicago Tribune

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