Firefighters' kindness is treasured gift for sick child
Look out, Northumberland County. Several municipalities have a new fire chief, and he hasn't even had his second birthday yet.
During an eight-hour Coal Region Firehouse Tour Saturday for 17-month-old Bryce Bigler, a boy with a rare fatal disorder was elected honorary chief of Elysburg Fire Department, Atlas Fire Company and Kulpmont Fire Department, and was provided with other mementos and memberships by 20 other fire departments across Northumberland County.
The kindness of strangers was an emotional gift for Bryce's mother, Cortney Showalter, 25, and her boyfriend, Jonathon Stanford, 24, both of Elizabethville.
During a brief ceremony where Bryce was recognized as honorary chief and paramedic at the Elysburg Fire Department, Stanford accepted the plaque on behalf of the child and became emotional during his speech.
"I thought we'd just see a couple firehouses today and hang out and
that was it. This is more than we ever imagined," he said through a wavering voice. "Thank you."
Organized by Kulpmont Fire Department firefighter Matt Siko, the couple and Bryce were chauffeured by King Coal Tours to 13 different firehouse stops in Northumberland County.
Born with Niemann-Pick Disease Type A, the rarest type of the ailment with only 1,500 reported cases worldwide, Bryce probably won't live past age three.
Also called Acid Sphingomyelinas Deficiency (ASMD), the disease is caused by the lack of an enzyme. When the enzymes cannot be broken down or not function properly, they begin to accumulate within the cell, eventually causing cell death and malfunction of major organ systems.
Bryce's muscles are weak, and his liver and kidney are enlarged.
He won't ever walk, he won't ever talk, and his mental capacity will always be a few months behind, Showalter said.
"It's definitely a day-by-day thing to figure out what's going to happen. We don't really know," she said.
Every day with Bryce is a gift, his mother said.
Nevertheless, Bryce is a happy child with a strong, independent will.
"He's fearless. Nothing scares him," Showalter said. "As much as he can't do, he wants to do everything by himself."
While he was all smiles and laughter during the first three hours of the tour that started at 9 a.m. at West End Fire Company in Kulpmont, Bryce was sleepy and cranky by the time they stopped for lunch at the Elysburg Fire Department.
Bryce's love for fire trucks spawned from Stanford's involvement with the Rheems Fire Department in Elizabethtown and the experience of Bryce's father. Matt Bigler, as a firefighter.
Stanford and Showalter said they were amazed that people who don't even know them in a county two hours from home would be willing to do something like this.
"The fire service teaches brotherhood and everyone's a family. When you see stuff like this, it really brings it home," Stanford said.
Siko, who has known Stanford for at least seven years, said the "tremendous support" from the fire companies caused a lot of smiles on Bryce's face Saturday.
"Some people throw out words like brotherhood and tradition off the cuff, but this is deeper," Siko said.
Twenty fire companies were represented Saturday: West End Fire Company and East End Fire Company in Kulpmont; Northumberland Fire Company, Northumberland Hook and Ladder and Tuckahoe Fire Company in Northumberland; Friendship Fire Company, East End Fire Company, Americus Fire Company and Upper Augusta Fire Company in Sunbury; Elysburg Fire Company and Overlook Fire Company in Ralpho Township; Stonington Fire Company; Maine Fire Company in Coal Township; Rescue Fire Company and Liberty Fire Company in Shamokin; Anthracite Steam Fire Company, American Hose and Chemical Fire Company and Clover Hose Fire Company in Mount Carmel, and Atlas Fire Company in Mount Carmel Township.
Mount Carmel Rescue Squad and the borough police department were also represented.
Dinner was provided at West End Fire Company in Kulpmont at approximately 5 p.m.
Additionally, Siko thanked all participating friends and families of the fire companies and agencies, King Coal Tours of Kulpmont, Dave's Auto Body Clinic of Kulpmont and the Northumberland County Department of Public Safety.
On the Web: www.facebook.com/adventurebryce.