By Randy Bruegman
Not too long ago, a 4-year-old girl was shopping with her mother at Big Lots in Anaheim Hills when they ran across a member of Anaheim Hills Fire Station No. 9 handing out flyers for an open house.
“Mommy,” the girl asked with trepidation in her voice about the firefighter. “Why is he here?”
Dina Angelopoulos had a reason to be skittish.
On several occasions over the past two years, members of Station 9 had provided to her grandfather emergency treatment for heart problems. Little Dina had witnessed some of the activity.
For Dina, the sight of a firefighter had become associated with scary images of her beloved “Papou” (in Greek, “grandfather”) needing emergency aid for his ailing heart.
What transpired next, on that day outside Big Lots, illustrates perfectly the importance of firefighters taking advantage of every opportunity to educate and engage members of the community. It’s a philosophy that fits in nicely with Anaheim’s “City of Kindness” initiative, launched this year, and the department’s strategic vision of creating value added service beyond the 911 call.
But first, more about Dina and her grandfather.
Dina’s parents, Cara and Demetri Angelopoulos, have lived in Anaheim Hills for more than 10 years. When Cara married Demetri, she also “married” her family, including his parents, Gus and Patty.
A busy preschool teacher, Cara relied on Gus and Patty to help care for Dina when Cara and Demetri were working.
Gus is a retired contractor/restaurant owner with a history of heart attacks requiring multiple stent and pacemaker surgeries.
Shortly after Dina turned 2, Gus was placed on a heart transplant list.
In the following years, on several occasions, we were called to Gus’ house to render aid. During one call, Gus had to be defibrillated on the family-room couch.
For little Dina, the sounds of sirens, and of seeing first responders in uniforms, caused her anxiety over Papou’s sick heart.
On Aug. 18, just three days before Dina’s fourth birthday, Gus received a new heart. Still, Dina associated firefighters with scary things. That was her state of mind outside Big Lots when she asked her mother about the firefighters.
“He is here to keep us safe,” Cara told her daughter.
The firefighter and his colleagues then showed Dina and her mother their engine. They gave her stickers. They posed for pictures.
When they turned on the siren, this time, Dina smiled.
“Firefighters are nice, Mommy,” she said. “And they helped my Papou get his new heart.”
Stories like this are a heartfelt reminder that a firefighter’s job involves much more than responding to 911 calls, it is taking the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life through the simple interactions that are presented each day to us in this profession.
Randy R. Bruegman is the fire chief of Anaheim.