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Top 8 heartwarming firefighter stories of 2020

From firefighters going the extra mile for members of their communities, to civilians paying it forward for their local fire departments, here are the most heartwarming fire service stories from this year


The fire service’s dedication to serving and protecting the public has a way of bringing out the best in both its members and the communities they serve, and this is often the truest in times of adversity and hardship.

Despite the immense challenges this year has brought to fire departments across the country, the following stories show that the spirit of compassion and generosity is as alive as ever, with firefighters going above and beyond for those they serve and community members paying it forward with acts of kindness and generosity toward their local fire departments.

Here are the top eight heartwarming firefighter stories from 2020:

1. Firefighter-paramedic donates part of liver to retired police officer after seeing Facebook post

Suffering from liver failure due to stones in his pancreas, retired Houston Police Officer Bubba Laws, 69, was told he would only have weeks to live without a transplant. Described by his daughter Kim Pendergraft as “very proud” and not wanting to burden anyone, Laws decided he had “already accepted death” after none of his family members turned out to be a match.

However, Pendergraft took to Facebook in search of more potential donors, and eventually found one in Kerrville Firefighter-Paramedic Blair Casey, who turned out to be a match. After a successful transplant surgery, Laws said he was “flimflammed” to find out his daughter had gone out of her way to find him a donor, and grateful that Casey stepped up to give him “a new lease on life.”

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2. Fla. first responders buy groceries for woman struggling to pay medical bills

In February, Hernando County firefighters were called to the house of a woman who had recently been in a car accident, after a Hernando County deputy performed a welfare check and learned that she hadn’t been able to buy food due to her medical bills. After evaluating her, the first responders went the extra mile by driving to a local grocery store to buy her food that fit within her dietary restrictions. Since then, the woman’s home health care provider made arrangements for long-term services to ensure she could get the groceries she needed.

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3. First responders in pink gear surprise girl, 10, diagnosed with leukemia

Emilee Derrer, the daughter of Mt. Carroll (Illinois) Fire Department Capt. Eric Derrer and Savanna EMT Erin Foster, received a special surprise in early March when a pink ambulance and fire truck appeared in front of her house, along with dozens of first responders, some dressed in pink gear, lining up to give her a hug.

A total of 23 emergency vehicles participated in the celebration to show support for the 10-year-old during her battle with leukemia. The event was organized by the Pink Heals Sauk Valley Chapter with the help of Chapter President Brian Tribley, who is also a firefighter.

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4. Fire departments bring birthday joy to kids stuck at home

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many children looking forward to their birthdays had to forego seeing their friends and cancel celebrations as families did their part to flatten the curve. In response, fire departments across the country hosted socially distanced birthday parades so kids wouldn’t have to miss out on their special day.

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5. Anonymous donor leaves boxes of ppe on north Carolina fire engine

In May, High Point firefighters received a heartwarming donation from an anonymous good Samaritan, who left eight packages of N95 respirators on their fire engine while they were inside a store buying groceries for their shift. The eight packages, left without a note, contained a total of 160 respirators that fire officials said would have cost the department at least $500. Although the donor didn’t seek any recognition, the department expressed their gratitude on Facebook, saying “such a wonderful act should not go without thanks.”

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6. Added Force: Baby Yoda a boost on Western wildfire lines

When 5-year-old Carver and his grandmother Sasha Tinning delivered a Baby Yoda toy to a donation center for firefighters, along with a note reading, “Here is a friend for you in case you get lonely,” they probably didn’t expect that their simple gesture would become a viral sensation. But the cute character’s power to spread joy to firefighters across Oregon and beyond made him an unlikely mascot for those on the front lines of this year’s devastating wildfires, with one fire official calling him “the 21st-century Smokey the Bear.” Baby Yoda’s travels from fire camp to fire camp are shared on the Facebook page “Baby Yoda fights fires.”

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7. Firefighters use ladder to reunite mom, daughter at nursing home

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shirl Carmine was unable to visit her mother Shirley Taylor, a resident at Alice B. Tawes Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, for several months. Carmine said she had thought about bringing a tall ladder to the nursing home in order to reach the window of her mother’s second-floor room. However, Carmine and her daughter Jessica came up with a better idea when they happened to pass by a Crisfield Volunteer Fire Department ladder truck filling up at a gas station in July.

Carmine met Assistant Chief Engineer Matt Tomlin’s in the gas station shop and asked if they could use their ladder to bring her up to the window of her mother’s room. After getting approval from Fire Chief Frankie Pruitt, the volunteer crew obliged her request, allowing her to see her mother face-to-face again for the first time in four months.

“To see the smile on these ladies’ faces and see life come back to my Grandma’s eyes, it is absolutely beautiful,” Jessica Carmine wrote on Facebook.

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I can not even begin to put into words how much I appreciate the Crisfield Volunteer Fire Department! They made...

Posted by Jess Carmine on Sunday, July 5, 2020

8. Firefighters help replace kids’ baseball cards destroyed in California’s largest wildfire

CAL FIRE/Fresno County Fire went to bat for kids affected by the Creek Fire by launching a campaign to replace their baseball card collections that were destroyed in the blaze. Through the “Step Up To The Plate” campaign, which began in October, firefighters encouraged supporters to send in their cards to be donated to three youth baseball players who lost their homes, including Reese Osterberg, 9, who the department called “one of the best baseball players in the league.” In November, the department gave an update on Facebook, saying, “Not only have we received many baseball cards but also many heartfelt notes to the kids.”

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Laura French is a former editorial assistant for FireRescue1 and EMS1, responsible for curating breaking news and other stories that impact first responders. In a prior role at Forensic Magazine, French was able to combine her interests in journalism, forensics and criminology. French has a bachelor’s degree in communications/journalism with a minor in criminology from Ramapo College in New Jersey.