Firefighters stand in for hurt colleague at son's graduation
School officials reserved a row of seats for the firefighters so they could stand in for Lt. Dan Kauppi, who is currently in the hospital after a vehicle crash
By Warren Kulo
Alabama Media Group
GAUTIER, Miss. — Joey Kauppi already knew his Dad wouldn't be able to attend his graduation from George County High School last Friday night.
What he didn't know was who would.
Gautier firefighter Lt. Dan Kauppi was seriously injured in an accident a little over a month ago. On his way to work, Kauppi's truck left the roadway on Gautier-Vancleave Road and overturned, ejected Kauppi from the vehicle.
The accident left him with a badly damaged knee and head injuries, including bleeding in his brain. After being taken to Singing River Hospital, he was transported to the University of South Alabama Medical Center in Mobile and is now at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which specializes in spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation.
"It's going to be a long road to a full recovery," said Gautier Fire Chief Robert Jones. "The leg damage was pretty much a career-ender, based on what they're telling me. It's unlikely he'll be able to lift what we have to life and be as mobile as we have to be."
This is Kauppi second stint with the Gautier Fire Department, Jones said. He's been with the department this time since April 2008.
Jones said the "biggest trouble" has been the brain bleeds and cranial pressure. Kauppi has been partially conscious during the last 2-3 weeks and seems to recognize people he knows when they come in the room, but is still unable to communicate well.
But Jones said his department remains optimistic the Shepherd Center will be able to help Kauppi battle back.
"They're supposed to be pretty good at what they do, so we're hopeful they can help him," he said.
With their comrade still recovering, Gautier firefighters learned his son, Joey, would be graduating from George County High School.
"We knew Dan wasn't going to be able to make it," Jones said. "Some of the guys had the idea to call the school and see if they would mind if we came."
School officials fully embraced the idea and even reserved an entire row of seats on the field at the football stadium for the Gautier firefighters in the dignitary section normally reserved for local politicians and school board members.
"They just thought it would be a nice gesture to up there and be there for Dan's son, since he couldn't be there," Jones said.
From where Joey was sitting with his fellow graduates, he couldn't see his father's fellow firefighters. It wasn't until he crossed the stage and accepted his diploma he got his first look at the 10 uniformed firefighters.
"He could see all the guys sitting there and he was clearly excited about it," said Jones, who was one of the 10 to attend. "Of course, he had to go sit back down after he got his diploma, but once they dismissed the graduates, he came straight over to the guys."
Joey Kauppi has departed for a post-graduation cruise with some classmates and was unavailable for comment.
Jones said Joey initially asked where his mother, Laurie Kauppi, was, but when the firefighters said they were unsure, he remained with them.
"He knew his mom would find him," Jones said. "She knew he'd be with us."
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