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Wrong firemen given credit

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia
 

Kind-hearted bloggers around the world are eagerly copying and praising a heart-warming news story about Brisbane firemen granting a boy's dying wish to be a fireman just like them. It's a real tearjerker -- a two-tissue read.

The story is true... except for two trifling errors unknown to the bloggers:

  1. It describes a drama that occurred not last week, but 28 years ago.
  2. The event took place not in Brisbane, Australia, but on the other side of the globe, in Phoenix, Arizona, USA.

Some unknown and unscrupulous hoaxer has moved the location from Arizona to Australia and changed the boy's pseudonym from Billy to Ben (his real name was Frank “Bopsy” Salazar).

Bopsy's story was first told in 1980, just after the Make-a-Wish Foundation had been set up in Phoenix. Since then, the Foundation has spread to many other countries (including Australia), and has granted the wishes of more than 150,000 children with life-threatening medical conditions, "to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy."

Not surprisingly, the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service knows about the false Brisbane report. "We are aware of this hoax story, and have been for a while," said Gemma Marks, of the QFRS. "We recognise that this story is false, due to the different terminology between American and Australian fire brigades." Not to mention the American Mom being changed to the Aussie Mum.

The Phoenix Fire Department's website quotes former Fire Chief Alan V. Brunacini as having said: "What you read about Billy, the littlest FF [Fire Fighter] is a true story. While it's a great humanitarian story, it's unfortunately a sad ending in that we lost Billy. But yes, this is factual.

"My department has 3 basic rules that we enforce .... survive, prevent harm, be nice. By empowering my fire-fighters to do the right thing all the time, this is only one example, albeit a large one, of the customer service they deliver along with fire service delivery."

Here's the original story, as posted by the Make-a-Wish Foundation:

Frank “Bopsy” Salazar was the Foundation’s first official wish kid... He was a 7-year-old diagnosed with leukemia and revered people in uniform – he wanted to be a firefighter.

The first wish-granting team started with the Phoenix Fire Department, which made him a full uniform, including turnouts and a helmet. He joined Engine 9’s ladder truck; the crew let him blare the horn and douse cars with the 75-pound hose. At the end of the day, the firefighters pinned his official firefighter’s badge on his uniform, making Bopsy the city’s first honorary firefighter.

But there was more to come. Media coverage of Bopsy’s wish made others want to help, and more offers came in from people eager to lift his spirits.

Chris and Bob Pearce, hot-air balloon pilots and owners, then took Bopsy on an unforgettable ride with a bird’s-eye view of Phoenix.

Next, Disneyland created a special day complete with private tours, meals, gifts and more. This marked the beginning of the Make-A-Wish Foundation's magical relationship with Disney. Visiting a Disney park remains the Foundation's most requested wish, and Disney continues to be one of the Foundation's most generous supporters.

Bopsy returned to the hospital after his trip to Disneyland. As he slept in his third-floor room, someone knocked on his window and opened it. Five of his fellow Phoenix firefighters climbed through using the ladder on the truck parked below. Bopsy shared a few laughs with his friends before going back to sleep with a smile on his face. Later that evening, Bopsy passed away – but not before seeing his fondest wishes come true.

Then an anonymous writer embroidered that story and produced this delightful version, which has been posted on hundreds of websites around the world, including that of Primorye.com, (Christianity beyond the borders), in far-off Vladivostok, Russia.

The Littlest Firefighter

The 26-year-old mother stared down at her son who was dying of terminal leukemia. Although her heart was filled with sadness, she also had a strong feeling of determination. Like any parent she wanted her son to grow up and fulfil all his dreams. Now that was no longer possible. The leukemia would see to that. But she still wanted her son's dreams to come true.

She took her son's hand and asked, "Billy, did you ever think about what you wanted to be once you grew up? Did you ever dream and wish what you would do with your life?" "Mommy, I always wanted to be a fireman when I grew up." Mom smiled back and said, "Let's see if we can make your wish come true."

Later that day she went to her local fire department in Phoenix, Arizona, where she met Fireman Bob, who had a heart as big as Phoenix. She explained her son's final wish and asked if it might be possible to give her six year old son a ride around the block on a fire engine. Fireman Bob said, "Look, we can do better than that. If you'll have your son ready at seven o'clock Wednesday morning, we'll make him an honorary fireman for the whole day. He can come down to the fire station, eat with us, go out on all the fire calls, the whole nine yards! And if you'll give us his sizes, we'll get a real fire uniform for him, with a real fire hat -- not a toy one -- with the emblem of the Phoenix Fire Department on it, a yellow slicker like we wear and rubber boots. They're all manufactured right here in Phoenix, so we can get them fast."

Three days later Fireman Bob picked up Billy, dressed him in his fire uniform and escorted him from his hospital bed to the waiting hook and ladder truck. Billy got to sit on the back of the truck and help steer it back to the fire station. He was in heaven.

There were three fire calls in Phoenix that day and Billy got to go out on all three calls. He rode in the different fire engines, the paramedic's van, and even the fire chief's car. He was also videotaped for the local news program. Having his dream come true, with all the love and attention that was lavished upon him, so deeply touched Billy that he lived three months longer than any doctor thought possible.

One night all of his vital signs began to drop dramatically and the head nurse, who believed in the hospice concept that no one should die alone, began to call the family members to the hospital. Then she remembered the day Billy had spent as a fireman, so she called the Fire Chief and asked if it would be possible to send a fireman in uniform to the hospital to be with Billy as he made his transition.

The chief replied, "We can do better than that. We'll be there in five minutes. Will you please do me a favor? When you hear the sirens screaming and see the lights flashing, will you announce over the PA system that there is not a fire? It's just the fire department coming to see one of its finest members one more time. And will you open the window to his room?" About five minutes later a hook and ladder truck arrived at the hospital, extended its ladder up to Billy's third floor open window and 16 firefighters climbed up the ladder into Billy's room.

With his mother's permission, they hugged him and held him and told him how much they loved him. With his dying breath, Billy looked up at the fire chief and said, "Chief, am I really a fireman now?"

"Billy, you are," the chief said. With those words, Billy smiled and closed his eyes one last time.

And here's a copy of the "revised" Brisbane version posted by an Australian blogger unaware that he/she was wrongly crediting the Brisbane firemen, instead of paying tribute to the probably now-retired Phoenix firefighters:

I got this email forwarded to me it had me in tears just reading it i think it is a beautiful story and shows how brave kids who r dying can be and also how many people in this world still have a heart of gold!!! i hope u find this as inspiring as i did... Bring out the tissues folks....This is a beauty!

In Queensland, Australia, a 26-year-old mother stared down at her 6 year old son, who was dying of terminal leukaemia. Although her heart was filled with sadness, she also had a strong feeling of determination.

Like any parent, she wanted her son to grow up & fulfil all his dreams. Now that was no longer possible. The leukaemia would see to that. But she still wanted her son's dream to come true.

She took her son's hand and asked, "Ben, did you ever think about what you wanted to be once you grew up? Did you ever dream and wish what you would do with your life?"

"Mummy, I always wanted to be a fireman when I grew up."

Mum smiled back and said, "Let's see if we can make your wish come true".

Later that day she went to her local fire Station in Brisbane, Australia where she met Fireman Bob, who had a heart as big as Queensland.

She explained her son's final wish and asked if it might possible to give her 6 year old son a ride around the block on a fire engine.

Fireman Bob said, "Look, we can do better than that. If you'll have your son ready at seven o'clock Wednesday morning, we'll make him an honorary fireman for the whole day.

"He can come down to the fire station, eat with us, go out on all the fire calls, the full Monty! And if you'll give us his sizes, we'll get a real fire uniform fo him, with a real fire hat - not a toy - one with the emblem of the Queensland Fire & Rescue Department on it, a yellow slicker like we wear and rubber boots. They're all manufactured right here in Brisbane, so we can get them fast."

Three days later Fireman Bob picked up Ben, dressed him in his uniform and escorted him from his hospital bed to the waiting truck. Ben got to sit on the back of the truck and help steer it back to the fire station. He was in heaven. There were three fire calls in Brisbane that day and Ben got to go out on all three calls. He rode in the different fire engines that day. He was also videotaped for the local news program.

Having his dream come true, with all the Love and attention that was lavished upon him, so deeply touched Ben, that he lived three months longer than any doctor thought possible.

One night all of his vital signs began to drop dramatically and the head nurse, who believed in the hospice concept - that no one should die alone - began to call the family members to the hospital.

Then she remembered the day Ben had spent as a fireman, so she called the Fire Station and asked if it would be possible to send a fireman in uniform to the hospital to be with Ben as he made his transition.

The Officer in charge replied, "We can do better than that. We'll be there in five minutes. Will you please do me a favour? When you hear the sirens screaming and see the lights flashing, will you announce over the PA system that there is not a fire? It's the department coming to see one of its finest members one more time. And will you open the window to his room?"

About five minutes later a hook and ladder truck arrived at the hospital and extended its ladder up to Ben's third floor open window--16 fire-fighters climbed up the ladder into Ben's room.

With his mother's permission, they hugged him and held him and told him how much they LOVED him.

With his dying breath, Ben looked up at the fire chief and said, "Chief, am I really a fireman now?" "Ben, you are, and the Head Chief, Jesus, is holding your hand," the O.I.C said. With those words, Ben smiled and said, "I know. He's been holding my hand all day, and the angels have been singing.." He closed his eyes one last time.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation traces its beginning to one boy’s wish. In 1980, 7-year-old Chris Greicius was being treated for leukemia. Every day, he dreamed of becoming a police officer.

U.S. Customs Officer Tommy Austin had befriended Chris and his mother, Linda Bergendahl-Pauling. He also promised Chris a ride in a police helicopter. When Chris’ health worsened, Austin contacted Ron Cox, an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer, and planned a day that would lift Chris’ spirits.

On April 29, 1980, Austin and a caring group of DPS personnel started Chris’ day with a tour of the city in a department helicopter, which also flew him to headquarters. Three cruisers and a motorcycle officer greeted him before his meeting with the DPS command staff. There, Chris was sworn in as the first honorary DPS patrolman in state history.

But his experience didn’t stop there. Cox contacted John’s Uniforms, which agreed to make a custom-tailored DPS uniform for Chris. The store owner and two seamstresses worked through the night to finish it. The officers presented the official uniform to Chris on May 1 and arranged a motorcycle proficiency test so he could earn wings to pin on his uniform. Needless to say, Chris passed the test with flying colors on his battery-operated motorcycle.

On May 2, Chris was back in the hospital. He asked to arrange the room so he could always see his uniform, his motorcycle helmet and his “Smokey Bear”-style campaign hat. DPS motor officer Frank Shankwitz presented Chris with his motorcycle wings. He accepted them with a smile that lit up the room.

The following day, Chris passed away, but not before seeing his dream come true and experiencing the hope, strength and joy that came from receiving his wish.
-- From The Make-a-Wish Foundation website
 

 

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Story first posted July 2007

Copyright © 2007

Eric Shackle

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