December 1, 2014

You meet the nicest people at the fire station

     “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” Remember that advertising slogan?
That was before Hondas had four wheels in America.  The commercials always featured happy people scooting around on their motor bikes.
     I’ve never owned a Honda with two or four wheels, but I have discovered some mighty nice people where they park those big red fire trucks.  There’s something about firemen that fascinates kids.  And I’ve never met a firefighter—man or woman—who wouldn’t take time to let a little one explore his or her fire hall and climb up into one of those shiny trucks.  When our younger son, Eric, was barely talking, he’d tell you, “I’m two fire engines old.”  
Thanks to a front-page article in the National Newspaper Association’s publication, Team Carter’s appeal for fire department patches has gone nationwide.  In the photo left, 6-year-old Carter Sanborn shows off the fire helmet and T-shirt sent to him by Pat Shearer, a retired Athens-Clarke County firefighter.  Looking on is Carter’s older brother, Christopher, one of Team Carter’s biggest boosters.
     That’s why I could relate to Carter Sanborn’s love of everything to do with firefighting.  In October, I introduced you to Carter, who lives in Ashburnham, Mass.  While he is growing up in New England, his roots are right here in Georgia.  His great-grandfather, Aubrey Hires, was Wayne County school superintendent in the 1950s.  His great-grandmother, Kathleen Hires, was my 12th-grade homeroom teacher.  And his grandfather, Pete Hires, and I have been buddies since 1952.
     So when Pete mentioned that his special-needs grandson, 6-year-old Carter, was collecting fire department patches, I decided to see whether you—our readers—could help.  We formed Team Carter, and the response has been overwhelming.  Of the 250-plus patches in Carter’s collection, I’ve contributed only a few.  You’ve done the rest.

     My primary role has been as cheerleader, promoting Team Carter.  Rarely a day goes by that I don’t receive one or more patches sent to: Team Carter, POB 792 Athens, GA 30603.  Often the patches arrive with a handwritten note.  Here’s an example from Arnoldsville:
     “My husband is a retired Fairfax County, Virginia, firefighter, but we don’t have any of his patches.  This one was given to us by a firefighter we met at a campground in Venice, Florida.
     “We have your article with us, and as we meet other firefighters, we will share your article.
     ‘‘Very best wishes!  Gary and Peggy Clouser”
     Here’s another example, this one from Pat Shearer.  He called one day and said, “I have some things Carter might like.”  When the retired Athens-Clarke County fireman showed up, he was carrying a stack of prizes for Team Carter.  The centerpiece was Pat’s personal smoke-stained helmet, along with his identification tag.  Just this week, I got a call from Jacksonville Beach, Fla.  A friend is sending another fire helmet for Carter.
     Over in Augusta, Abram and Cookie Serotta have become all-stars on Team Carter.  Abram jokes, “Wherever we go, Cookie won’t let me pass a fire station.”  After making her cheerful request, Cookie always comes out with a handful of memorabilia for Carter.  Several times, she’s told me, “You meet the nicest people at fire stations.” 
     Say what you want, but the world is still full of caring, kindhearted people.  Team Carter is testimony to that.  Over by my desk is a box full of patches, badges, T-shirts and memorabilia, waiting to be mailed—one by one—to Ashburnham.  Pete says that Carter and his mailman have become well- acquainted.  Carter knows the mail truck’s schedule, and the first-grader is waiting by the mailbox Monday through Saturday.
     This week, the National Newspaper Association’s publication features Pete’s grandson on its front page. Our goal is to have all 50 states represented on Team Carter.  So far, patches have arrived from 26 states, plus Japan, Canada and Costa Rica.
     As I’ve said to Pete, “We’re having too much fun to stop now.”  
     Besides, if you want to meet some of the nicest people, visit a fire station.  Tell the firefighters about Carter and his collection.  Join the fun and the team.

    Gooooo, Team Carter!

Use hashtag #teamcarter when posting your patch photos to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook