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Firefighters perform a birthday party rescue

Sarah Herr was just about ready to give up. She had invited kids to her son Adam’s birthday party. She’d even changed the date and time in hopes of making it work. But as the day of the party approached, nobody outside of some family was going to show up.

Adam, who turned 14 this month, is autistic. He’s not always the easiest kid to get along with. But still, Herr had hoped he would have at least a few friends there to celebrate with him. When she found out nobody was coming, she wanted to quit. She wanted to cancel the whole thing. And she really, really wanted to vent.

“This was supposed to be a really fun thing, because tomorrow we go back to the hospital,” Herr said last week. “He’s been in his room, not coming out.”

When it didn’t look like things would work out, Herr went to a Facebook group she frequents for mothers of autistic children. She told her sad, maddening story. And that’s when things started to turn around.

A Texas woman on the group suggested Herr call the Farmington Fire Department. Firefighters like to help, she said. So, Herr called. So did the woman who made the suggestion. And Farmington Fire Chief Jim Larsen responded.

Larsen sent out an email to his firefighters. He asked anyone who was available to show up for the party.

The party was on a Sunday. Herr called Larsen on the Thursday or Friday before. And still, about 20 firefighters took time out of their Sunday schedule to show up with their own families. The fire department also brought cake and gifts. Several of their kids got to know Adam and connected with him on Facebook.

The department also brought three fire trucks. Herr said when she looked out her window on the day of the party she figured one of her neighbors must have had a fire. When the firefighters started showing up at her door, she couldn’t quite believe it.

“I bawled,” she said. “I was so humbled by it — the outpouring of care and love for my family.”

The turnout was less surprising to Larsen.

“I know the caliber of our people, and they are the finest firefighters I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” he said. “These guys do so much in our community and they’re really pillars of the community. They step up time and time and time again.”

Larsen isn’t going to make a habit of turning up at birthday parties — he was reluctant even to talk about this visit, because he didn’t do it for the recognition, and he didn’t want people to think they could call out firefighters like they were hiring a DJ for their party — but there was something about what he heard in Herr’s voice that made him realize it was important.

“Our motto is, ‘Serving those in need,’” Larsen said. “We can’t have that on the side of the truck if we’re not willing to do that.”

The visit made a difference, too. After her post on that Facebook group, Adam got birthday gifts from people around the country. But it was the firefighters who made the biggest impact.

“He smiled for the first time,” Herr said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile without a fake smile. He loved it. It was very overwhelming.

“Never in my life have I experienced anything so kind.”

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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