Despite the inherent risks firefighters face every day, there are many heroes among us who are called to work or volunteer in this noble profession. No one understands the rewards of working in the fire service like a firefighter does, but it doesn’t come without courage, dedication and many hours of training to handle a diverse range of emergency scenarios. What many outside of the fire service don’t realize, is that firefighters are more likely to be presented with the opportunity to save lives while responding to auto accidents, rather than emergency scenes involving a fire. The first few minutes of any complex motor vehicle collision are critical and require quick, proficient action – particularly when children are involved.
Answering the Call
Spartan Fire and Emergency Apparatus sales representative, Alan Axson, was a member of the Columbia, South Carolina Fire Department for 28 years and retired as Special Operations Battalion Chief in 2008. One of Alan’s most memorable calls as a firefighter and one that would later have a profound impact on his life occurred November 8, 1996. “It seemed like a typical motor vehicle accident call until we arrived on the scene,” said Alan. “In our team’s immediate assessment of the situation, we were struck with the realization that it wasn’t likely anyone involved in the accident would survive.”
Like many firefighters who are first on a scene, Alan and the other Columbia Fire Department members were composed in their actions and put training and instinct into motion. It was discovered that a nine-month-old baby girl, Tara, and her mother, Melody, were trapped in a vehicle that had been struck by a drunk driver. Alan and his team worked quickly to get Melody out of the vehicle, and baby Tara’s car seat had to be cut out of the vehicle as her airway was closed, and the extent of her injuries unclear.
Going Beyond the Call of Duty
Miraculously, Alan and his fellow team members were able to help save Melody and Tara’s life, and just two days after the accident, they visited Tara in the hospital, who was recovering from a hairline skull fracture. Both mother and daughter were on the road to a full recovery.
“While we were in the hospital, a nurse came into Tara’s room and told me our group of rescuers were there to check on us,” said Melody. “I thought this was really nice and definitely above and beyond their call of duty. I was so grateful to the group of men, and I invited them to Tara’s first birthday party.”
Reflecting on the experience, Alan stated, “As firefighters / EMS, we show up and do our job, but we don’t always get to see the outcome of a call. Visiting Tara in the hospital gave us the opportunity to see the significance of our efforts, which was amazing.”
Just three months after the accident, the rescuers attended Tara’s first birthday party, but went on to lose touch over the years. However, Melody and Tara never forgot the heroes that were there for them, and Alan and his team certainly did not forget that grim evening in 1996. In fact, just this past summer while preparing their home for a move, Alan’s wife found photos of the accident that were taken with a disposable camera. As fate would have it, just several days later while attending the Fire Rescue International (FRI) Conference in Dallas, TX, Alan received an email from a former colleague with a forwarded note and an attached photo from Melody.
“I had to step out from dinner with clients to a private area because the tears were starting to flow,” said Alan. “I read the letter from Tara’s mother, Melody, and looked at the attached photo which showed me and my colleagues holding Tara in the hospital as she recovered. Melody wanted to invite us to Tara’s upcoming wedding.”
When her daughter got engaged, Melody thought it would be the perfect time to reconnect with Alan and the other first responders to see if they could somehow be a part of Tara’s special day. “A friend of mine works in EMS so I sent her a message asking for help finding the group of rescuers,” Melody explained. “She gave me the email address of a current Lexington County, South Carolina EMS representative, and within a matter of hours, I was connected with Alan Axson.”
Giving Back to the Fire Service Community
On November 10th, 2018, 22 years following the accident, Alan attended Tara’s wedding to celebrate the life she has lived, and will go on to live with her husband, Mitchell. Melody wanted to surprise her daughter on her wedding day, and the only other person that knew about her plan was Mitchell. “I asked Alan to wear street clothes to the wedding and his blues for the reception,” said Melody. “He was introduced during the reception and reflected on how first responders don’t usually get to see the impact they make on people’s lives or their work come full circle. Tara was amazed we were able to pull off the surprise and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.”
At the wedding, Alan and Tara realized they have something in common. Alan was born nearly fifty percent deaf and Tara has a passion for sign language. As a resident of Morgantown, West Virginia with a degree in American Sign Language, Tara Plumer is committed to giving back by sharing her skills to teach sign language to the fire service community and emergency medical specialists.
Melody and Tara will be forever grateful for Alan and his past team members and give thanks for the impact they have made in their lives. According to Melody, the group plans to stay in touch in the years ahead with the help of social media. “I feel such joy that this incredible team of first responders will be able to see our major life events, and because they helped us through a disastrous situation, we will go on to thrive.”
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