Sunday, July 20, 2014

A firefighter takes a leap

What is it about Fern Forest Treehouse that inspires romance? Fireman Tom and his girlfriend Jessica have been together for four years. Tom’s mother has been bugging him about popping the question. He thought a treehouse in Vermont provided a good opportunity.
Saturday morning they were both up at 6:30 a.m. Oh dear, I thought. The bacon wasn’t even fried yet. But Tom said, “We’re going to climb a mountain before breakfast.”
A mountain? Before breakfast? Okay, I guess there was no hurry to cook the eggs.
As it turned out, it was a small mountain, and they were back by nine o’clock. H and I served them in the dining room, and from the kitchen we heard them giggling. Later I noticed a huge diamond ring on Jessica’s finger.
“What’s this?” I asked. She grinned. They had hiked to the top of Deerleap and sat on a ledge overlooking Lake Champlain. That’s where Tom took the leap.
Jessica works at a nursing home in Massachusetts. She loves the residents with dementia because they have no filters and she’s always amused by what they say. “It’s so refreshing to be able to say whatever you’re thinking,” she says. I can take a guess about what she’s thinking today with that glittering rock on her finger.
Tom is a full-time firefighter and part-time plumber. The firefighting bug bit him at an early age. He was a senior in high school when he became a cadet with the Civil Air Patrol, a squadron trained for emergency services. He got a call late on March 3, 2003, to assist in a rescue. A small aircraft had crashed in Beartown State Forest. He phoned his partners, two other high school boys ages sixteen and seventeen and told them, “Get up. We have an actual.”
It was the middle of the night when the boys started up the mountain with temperatures hovering around zero. At eighteen years old, Tom took the leadership role. In the dark the boys waded through thick woods with snow up to their waists, trudging slowly up the 1,700-foot Mt. Wilcox. By noon when they finally reached the wreck, they found a blue and white Cherokee Six torn apart, its fuselage resting on its side just above the creek bed. Birch and ash trees had clipped off the plane’s wings, but snow had cushioned the impact.
Running shoes were scattered around the site, and goose down feathered the plane’s cabin. Inside they counted the pilot, his wife and four of their five sons. The wife and two of the boys were killed on impact, and the others were suffering from hypothermia.
Tom radioed the search helicopter and looked around the wreckage. Something caught his eye 40 feet from the demolished plane. He walked toward it. Nestled in cold slush near a stream was a baby with no shoes or hat, a boy about two years old. Acting on instinct, Tom grabbed up the child, put him inside his bulky jacket and breathed warm air on him until help arrived.
            The family had been returning from a Florida vacation when the plane’s wings iced up. Three of the boys were in critical condition but were the only survivors of the crash. They never had a chance to thank Tom and his partners. Tom never saw the boys again, but he thinks of them often. Mostly, he feels privileged to have been able to help. Helping is his passion.
            Tom likes to skydive and once Jessica took the dive with him. She prefers to lace up her skates for an invigorating game of pond hockey. Tom can barely skate. These two give each other challenges, but they also balance each other. From our perspective, it’s a perfect match.

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