The Road to Hope – November 2019

THE ROAD TO HOPE Trip to Farmington, Maine

Gwen Cook, President, Hearts of Hope Stratford, CTNovember, 2019On the evening of September 16th, I was watching the ABC Nightly News, when a story ca me on about a pro pane explosion that leveled a building, destroyed 11 homes, and sent 6 firefighters and one maintenance worker to the hospital with severe injuries. It had also reported that one firefighter had been killed. They showed photos and video from a place called Farmington, Maine, and it looked like a bomb had gone off… and I am sure at that moment, most of America felt horrified about the devastation that had occurred in that small community somewhere in rural Maine.

Then David Muir went on to another story, and much of America was on to that next story with him. But I couldn’t stop thinking about that small community of Farmington, Maine. 

My stepdad was a firefighter in Stratford, CT, the town where I was raised. As a kid, I spent time in the firehouse and knew a lot of the firemen. It was a place I knew I could go and always feel safe and always be welcome. The firemen and their families came to our house, sometimes we went to theirs. There were picnics, holiday parties, dinners, and there were even vacations together… there was always fun to be had. 

My stepdad was only a firefighter for 14 years, as he was injured on the job and had to retire due to that job-related injury, but his connection with the fire department and those men never ended, even when his job did. That’s the thing about the fire department and men and women who work there, it’s not a job, it’s a family. 

My stepdad continued his relationship with the fire department and those men and women there right up until the day he died. He would always drop down to the station to visit. In his final years, you could find him riding his electric wheelchair down Main Street over to the Fire Department to chat with “the guys”. If he fell out of his chair or off the bed and needed an assist lift to get back up, he would think nothing of calling them. And when the call was done, if they didn’t have another call, they would stick around and chat. When he passed away last September, they lined the fire trucks up in the parking lot and attended his Celebration of Life to pay their respects…because they were his family. 

So, when I heard about what was happening to his family in Maine, I knew I had to do something. I got on our Facebook page and explained what had happened in Farmington, Maine. I put the call out for volunteers to meet me at Sterling House to paint hearts for those fire fighters. Well, it’s kind of like the movie Field of Dreams here in Stratford, “If you call them, they will come”.  Volunteer painters showed up that day to paint, and then several other people and groups contacted me about having small painting parties for Farmington. We had school children who wanted to paint.

The women I meet with every Tuesday for ceramics, stopped whatever project they were working on, and for 4 weeks straight, focused only on Hearts for Farmington, and they even took a few home to work on during the week. 

As luck would have it, Patti Ptak, Newtown’s Chapter President, has a friend named Crystal Guerrette who lives in Maine, who knows someone who lives in the Farmington area that was involved with the fire department. Crystal gave Patti that information, and the next thing you know…we were going to Farmington! Now thank goodness, Patti did all the phone calling and made the contact and the connection. She offered to let me do it, but ummm, those of you who know me know I am great with kids, but when it comes to anyone over 11 years old… let’s just say I was happy to let Patti make the call. 

Patti did an amazing job making all the arrangements with an equally amazing gentleman named Gerry Pineau. This, what I thought would be a small delivery of hearts to a fire department, turned into a delivery of over 300 hearts to an entire community, and we couldn’t be happier with the way it all turned out! We would be delivering hearts to not only the firefighters, but also to the police department, dispatchers, emergency department, ambulance service, LEAP employees, and community members affected by the explosion. 

It is a five-and-a-half-hour drive to Farmington, Maine if you don’t stop or get caught in traffic. It was agreed that we would head up on Saturday, so we could take our time getting there, and when we arrived, we could get the lay of the land. We would stay overnight, and be bright eyed and bushy tailed for Sunday, the day of the actual event. Patti picked up Janet and Erica and then came for me. As you can see, packing the car with all the hearts, supplies, and our overnight bags was quite a feat, but somehow Patti and Erica made it all work.

I have gained so much by coming to Farmington, Maine. I return home feeling more blessed than when I began my journey. Lessons Learned: Your community is those who surround you who care about you. It can be as small as your neighborhood or as large as the entire country. It all depends on who you let in during those times of crisis and disaster. And it can be hard to let outsiders in, but the people of Farmington, especially the firefighters of Farmington, are led by the example of their chief, Terry Bell, who long before this nightmare began, held the policy, “Our house is always open”. We were told stories of how he would have the front doors of the fire station open and the trucks on the outside pad so people could always wander in and stay for a visit. And after the explosion, that didn’t change. Before the explosion there had been Sunday dinners at the fire house for their community with the help of other community groups like the American Legion. These dinners are still going on and will continue. Thank you, Farmington, for welcoming us into your community. Thank you for welcoming us into your house with open arms. We are now forever family. If you ever need us, we are only a phone call away.

Thank you, for showing us what it means to be Farmington Strong!

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