A Heart-Warming Partnership

What fascinates young children? Fire trucks. Who do they look up to as heroes? Firefighters. What is a long-standing tradition of fire halls? Making meals and eating together. What could be more perfect than a partnership between the City fire department and Ronald McDonald House Northern Alberta, a home away from home for sick children and their families who have to stay in Edmonton for treatment.

Various members of Edmonton Fire Rescue Services were involved in the Home For Dinner program at Ronald McDonald House. But when two of its dispatchers took up the cause, the partnership caught fire. Allison Secord and Caryn Halstead, otherwise known as the Firegirls, are the catalyst for increasing Edmonton Fire Rescue Services’ involvement with Ronald McDonald House.

Allison and Caryn love to bake and were always tempting their colleagues with fattening creations, so their Captain suggested they bake at Ronald McDonald House, where he volunteered with the Home for Dinner program. Since then, they have been baking with the kids every 10 to 14 days. It quickly became a popular activity, as the children are willing helpers and it provides parents with a brief respite. No doubt the aroma of baking that fills the House also helps create a warm and comforting atmosphere.

Mary, a friend of the Firegirls.

Mary, a friend of the Firegirls.

Because they arrived in their uniforms after their night shift, the kids would call out, “The Firegirls are here!” coining their name Firegirlsbaking. Save-on Foods donates basic baking supplies and Allison and Caryn bring in what they need for a particular recipe.

“We still bake for our colleagues,” Caryn says. “We try out our recipes here.”

When one young patient awaiting a kidney transplant mentioned that his wish was to sit in a fire truck, the Firegirls realized there were other ways their department could help out.

“We were fortunate,” Allison says. “Deputy Chief of Operations Barry Lamb was supportive.” A trip for all the kids, including their healthy siblings, was arranged at Station 6, followed by a special day for the one young boy at Station 11. “His family was floored by the kindness shown by a big city fire department,” Allison says.

Since then, there have been other visits to fire halls and visits from firefighters and fire trucks to Ronald McDonald House. “Station 3 is really close, so we call on those guys a lot,” Caryn says.

Given the value firefighters place on having meals together, it seemed only natural to the Firegirls to start getting the stations involved in the Home For Dinner program. There are 32 families living at the House all the time, so community members are encouraged to plan and make meals and share them with the residents. Besides providing a nutritious dinner, the meals allow families to sit down together and talk with each other.

“All it takes is six to eight people to plan and make a meal,” Caryn says. “Once we get people in that first day, they’re hooked. They want to be involved; it’s such a positive and uplifting experience.”

The Firegirls can’t say enough about the support they’ve received from Edmonton Fire Rescue Services senior administration, from their colleagues, and from the union. The union donates funds to reimburse any station that participates in the Home for Dinner program for their meal ingredients.

 Fire dispatchers Caryn Halstead and Allison Secord are known to the families at Ronald McDonald House as the Firegirls

Fire dispatchers Caryn Halstead and Allison Secord are known to the families at Ronald McDonald House as the Firegirls

Both women downplay their participation. They point out that Edmonton Fire Rescue Services put up Christmas lights and shoveled snow at the House before they got involved. However, there is little doubt that the blogging the Firegirls do has raised awareness not only throughout the department, but also the wider audience they reach through social media.

“We just see the need and make the call,” Allison says. “Ronald McDonald House is really supportive. If we have an idea, they’ll figure out how to make it happen.”

“It’s not about us; it’s about the kids and the house,” Caryn stresses. “We just want to provide opportunities for normalcy for the kids and their families.”

“Caryn and I are the facilitators; the firefighters are the show stoppers,” Allison says. “Everyone loves firefighters and their presence has an immediate impact.”

 

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About the Author
Shirley Serviss
Shirley Serviss is the City of Edmonton's first Writer-at-Work. She is a founding member of the Writers' Guild of Alberta and Edmonton Poetry Festival. Her poetry, essays and articles have appeared in numerous anthologies, magazines and textbooks. She currently teaches in Communications for MacEwan University, works part-time as the staff literary artist for the Friends of University Hospitals' Artists on the Wards program and is president of Artists Urban Village.
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