Four Pekin firefighters will be honored Monday at the Pekin City Council meeting for providing gifts to a 5-year-old boy who lost his Christmas presents in a house fire on Christmas Eve, but one firefighter says the focus should be on a little boy who saved his life and that of two others.
Pekin Mayor John McCabe will proclaim Monday “Firefighter Appreciation Day” in Pekin. The proclamation states that “(Capt.) Jim (Blessman), (Capt.) Matt (Martin), (Engineer) Todd (Carroll) and (Firefighter) Cody (White) made Christmas more meaningful for a small child and his family. In doing so, they displayed their dedication to the fire department and the city by making a difference in the lives of members of the community.”
Blessman said the firefighters are not the ones who saved the day, it was the boy.
“All of the focus has been put on these Christmas gifts, but really it belongs with the 5-year-old boy whose actions saved himself and the people in the apartment,” said Blessman.
White said Friday, “It just seemed like the right thing to do” and declined further comment about the good deed. He said that while he and Martin remained on scene at the fire, Blessman and Carroll took cash they had pooled and went to the store to shop for gifts. When Blessman and Carroll got to the store they ran into the boy’s neighbor, Kaleigh Magee. She was also there shopping for gifts for the young hero. She posted a picture of the firefighters that she took without their knowledge on Facebook and did not seek any recognition for herself.
The other firefighters could not be reached for comment.
Fire Chief Kurt Nelson said firefighters are always quick to act when there are people in need.
“I think they’re probably actually feeling that they don’t deserve (the recognition), they just did what they thought was right at the time,” said Nelson. “Personally, at the time, they just said everybody deserves to open up something on Christmas.
“Unfortunately on that day, all of the presents had burnt up. They pooled some money together and ran to the only store open that we knew about and picked him up some stuff.”
Tom Veatch, president of Pekin Firefighters Local 524, said in a Facebook comment that, “A family lost their belongings to a fire on Christmas Eve. The absolute worst possible time to have a bad situation happen. ... These guys cleared the fire and went right to the only store that was still open. They took money out of their own pockets and bought toys for a 5-year-old boy to try to make his Christmas not so horrible. I know that any single firefighter would do this and I am so proud to call these guys brothers. This is the kind of service you get from your local fire department — caring, sincere members who will go above and beyond at a moment’s notice no matter the situation. The guys who made his Christmas, you guys did a great thing Christmas Eve. Thank you for showing the world what a firefighter is. You all truly set the bar.”
The fire was attributed to faulty electrical wiring. The three occupants, including the boy, escaped unharmed. The boy alerted his mother and a male at the house when the fire broke out.
The family lost all of their belongings in the fire. The family did not return a call for comment by press time.
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin