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May 9, 2009

Far From Home

Iraq, Brazil, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands, Australia . . . just a few of the distant lands where firefighters have been able to share their photos. Unlike some firefighters who assume they don't need a photograph for themselves, these men put their families ahead of their own camera shyness.

As he entered Station 22 in El Paso to began his shift, David Maylone came up to me with a joke. Over the next 6-7 hours, he kept me laughing, that is, until I asked about his family.

I learned a long time ago to make sure I get a smile out of each
firefighter for his or her family. When I see a wedding ring, I'll remind him that his wife will be disappointed if he doesn't smile. It's not always easy but sometimes all I have to do is ask, "Who is this picture for?"

David wanted these photos for his parents - both of whom have been serving in Iraq for the last three years.

David joined the department after his parents were posted to Iraq. "They've never seen me in my gear," he said with disappointment in this voice. They were already over there when he got out of the Academy.

As always, I left the station and immediately returned to my desk to begin the process of preparing the photos for viewing.

I was back at the station a couple of days later and saw David again. He was eager to tell me that as soon as his photos were posted, he emailed his parents and shared the link withe them. "Now they'll believe that I really am a firefighter!"

Jens Pietrzyk, a distinguished member of Littleton Fire Rescue in Colorado, requested many poses, including photos with his battalion chief, crew, lieutenant and others. I found out later that he wanted his mother and family in Germany to see the men and women he worked with and who had become his friends and mentors.

According to Jens, his mother had to ride a bus for nearly two hours to get to a computer with internet access so she could see his photos. She chose a few prints which he lovingly sent to her.

A couple of years later, I was back in Littleton and went to meet with the Chief at headquarters. Above the entrance was a large banner reading, "Welcome Home Jens Pietrzyk."

Jens had been serving for 17 months in Iraq as a combat medic, and was awarded a Bronze Star for his outstanding service. In his honor, LFR arranged to have his rig - Squirt 12 - on the tarmac at the Denver Airport so he could see it from the plane as he landed safely back home.

David McWatters (right) and Elliott Robinson (below) approached the camera with thoughts of their families back home in Australia.

McWatters is assigned to Station 11 in El Paso. When his photos were available for viewing, he notified his parents. In turn, his mother forwarded the link to over 40 of David's relatives in Australia.

I could see how pleased he was that his family back home was proud of him.

Robinson works out of Station 43 in Irvine, California in the Orange County Fire Authority. He's one of the newest members of the C Shift. I doubt he expected the other members were preparing to drop a bucket of water on him.

But I did.