Over the past six years, when the volunteer firefighters of Essex Fire Department in Vermont responded to a call, they knew a young girl in their community was thinking of them and waiting for their safe return. They can just look at their newest fire engine if they ever need reminding of her presence and support. The truck is named “Addi’s Engine,” but it was Addi’s long before it was officially put into service in late 2020.
Making a Wish Come True
Addi Carroll was born with a mysterious, previously unknown, fatal disease. In 2016, she requested a backyard swimming pool from the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and as a special surprise, the Essex Fire Department showed up to fill the pool from their tanker. That day changed her life. “From the moment she met the members of the Essex Fire Department, she fell in love with the fire service,” Addi’s mom, Tammy Carroll, said.
The feeling was mutual. “As soon as we met her, our entire fire department membership loved Addi and adopted her as one of our own,” said Charlie Cole, fire chief of the Essex Fire Department. “That day, we started inspiring each other.”
Addi often visited the fire station, and the firefighters liked to swing past her house after service calls to flash the engine lights. For Christmas, they gave her a firefighter Mickey Mouse doll. She named it “Chief Charlie” and carried it with her everywhere. The fire department even gave Addi her own call number and radio to listen to calls - Firegirl 15A1. “It’s a bond demonstrating an incredible level of devotion,” Tammy said.
The firefighters organized blood drives in Addi’s honor and posted about her often on their Facebook page. But the biggest sign of the department’s bond with their “firegirl” was yet to come.
In 2020, Essex Fire Department was working with Pierce on a new Arrow XT pumper, its second of that model and the third truck ordered from Pierce. The truck is designed to serve rural areas, with hydraulic all-wheel drive and a large hose bed so it can cover areas without hydrants.
Because of the pandemic, the department couldn’t visit the factory during production, so Pierce sent photos and videos of the progress. “Leaning on our past experience with Pierce and having a strong confidence in the team gave us a huge level of comfort when we were not able to go to the factory,” Chief Cole said.
The department forwarded the photos and videos to Addi’s mom. “She watched them for hours,” Tammy said. “It was delightful to see.” Addi started referring to the engine as “my truck” and shared all the details with her doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital. “All the doctors would have to look at the pictures to learn what was happening with the engine.”
“They kept Addi involved every step of the way throughout the production process,” said Jason Henske, sales representative with Allegiance Fire and Rescue. “The fire department even got on a Zoom call with Addi’s doctors to share details about the engine and their special relationship.”
According to Chief Cole, it was a “no-brainer” to name the truck after Addi. The department designed a logo with firefighter Mickey Mouse and the words “Addi’s Engine.” He said, “Since Addi required weekly build reports and frequent pictures of the production process, we had to get crafty with our camera angles to keep the truck’s name a surprise.”
Addi and her family were at the station when the engine was delivered in November 2020. “She was very excited to see that the fire truck had a logo of her Mickey Mouse doll and her name,” Chief Cole said. “We put her in the front seat and took her for a ride in the truck.”
Henske was honored to attend the reception. “To see her smiling, sitting in the truck with her helmet and her Mickey Mouse doll was so special,” he said. “This experience was a reminder to our team that every day is a blessing.”
Addi tracked the department’s calls more than ever once the truck went into service, her mom said. “She would wonder, ‘Did my engine go out?’” She even wrote a book with the help of her teacher about the experience called, of course, “Addi’s Engine.”
“It’s easy for a child with a life-threatening disease to become defined by that disease and to live an isolated life,” said Tammy. But thanks to the Essex Fire Department, Addi defined herself as a firefighter. “She was a member of their team,” Tammy continued. “It was amazing to see that she has this identity.”
Addi continued inspiring her family, the fire department and the community every day. “She would have hundreds of appointments out of state, away from the comforts of our home, and yet she was clearly a child that was determined to live a big and beautiful life,” Tammy said.
A Symbol of Resilience and Determination
Tammy feels the fire engine is a visible symbol of her resilience and determination. “That fire engine will take care of Addi’s fire family for many years to come, and that means a lot. The truck is a representation that she is always watching over her fire brothers and sisters until they are safely back to the station.”
On Friday, June 10, 2022, at the age of 12, Addi Carroll passed away peacefully in her parents' arms at Boston Children’s Hospital. In the last months of her life, she was surrounded by the love of her two sisters, Sam and Izzy, grandparents, best friends, Brynn and Max and the Essex Fire Department.
“Addi left us with the honor and responsibility to share her powerful story and remind others to live a big beautiful life, don’t hesitate to bring people together and help each other,” said Tammy. “She never recognized a single unusual thing about her life, and she lived more fully than most adults I’ve met. Her amazing medical team helped give her that life, and her Essex Fire Department family helped her live it with unparalleled passion and purpose.”
Addi’s Celebration of Life, Final Call, and Last Bell
Addi’s celebration of life took place at Essex Alliance Church and included many of her favorites, including dance party music, disco lights, and a reading of the book about Addi’s Engine. It was also full of firefighter traditions. Chief Cole delivered a beautiful eulogy sharing memories of the incredible relationship between the Essex Fire Department members and Addi, and reminded everyone of her rare gift of making family out of everyone she met. He referenced a poem by Linda Ellis called “The Dash,” and the meaning between the time we are born and the time we die - the dash representing events that sum up our life.
Essex Fire Department Chaplain, Jason Ziter, spoke about how sometimes we reflect upon this timeline and take a magnifying glass to expand that dash. He commented, “When we look closely at Miss Addi’s dash, we see a lot of memorable moments.”
Following Addi’s celebration of life, the Essex Fire Department held a final call and last bell ceremony for their firegirl 15A1. The funeral procession with a traditional bagpipe accompaniment, final alarm bell, and last call on the radio, was followed by a reception with all family and friends at the Essex fire station. Her fire brothers and sisters held a moment of silence and reflection that lasted fifteen minutes.
“Until we meet again... we think about you always, we talk about you still. You have never been forgotten, and you never will. We hold you close within our hearts and there you will remain, to walk and guide us through our lives until we meet again.”
- Essex Fire Department
Memorial donations may be made to the Essex Fire Association, or to support the Carroll family in their pursuit to honor Addi’s life in meaningful ways.