By Sarah Wibell
The Morgan County Fire Rescue is hosting a pancake breakfast and motorcycle ride on April 6 to benefit Firefighter Danielle Crist’s baby, Bentley, who will require heart surgery soon after he is born in May. After Crist, a member of the fire department and an Emergency Medical Technician, found out that her son has a defective valve in his heart, she realized she would require a medical leave.
“When Danielle first came to the office and said ‘I need to take a leave because of some things I’ve got going on’, she wasn’t expecting the benefit – she wasn’t expecting this by any means,” stated Cindy Williams, Morgan County Fire Rescue administrative assistant. “We are not related by blood, but we are a family. When one of us needs something, we all step up and help.”
The fire department has organized the all-you-can-eat breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m. at the Morgan County Public Safety Complex at 1380 Monticello Road in Madison. For $7 a plate, you can either eat on site or get a to-go box. Individuals participating in the motorcycle ride will pay $15 or $20 for both the breakfast and ride. Kickstands go up at 10:30 a.m.
According to County Fire Chief Jeff Stone, watching and hearing a large group of motorcycles start up all at once is “a sight if you’ve never been to a benefit ride”. There will even be an escort by the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office. All of the proceeds raised will be used for Bentley’s medical bills.
Stone noted, “I’ve been here about three years. Danielle started with the department shortly after I came – both her and her brother. As a chief of a department … you see new people come in and think they want to do it, try it for a few months, and then they go away … In Danielle’s class there were eight (people who finished training) … they’ve all stuck with it very well and have gone on to excel in the past three years. We try to be as professional as we can, and everyone trains as best they can. She and her group have surpassed that normal expectation.”
All eight class members continued their training for another 9-10 months, which encompassed both practical and clinical time, and attained their EMT certification. Stone explained that these are volunteer firefighters; they receive only a small stipend, not a salary: “You go to Atlanta, Dekalb, or somewhere like that, and they put you on the payroll and you do all that while you’re getting paid to do it. These folks have full time jobs and do all of that … a lot of people think this is just a hobby or a club. No. This is truly a calling – truly a dedication … out of your heart and soul to give back to the community.”
These dedicated firefighters do more than look after the community; they look after each other as well. “The fire service is a second family,” Stone said, “in some cases, it’s people’s first family – but it is truly a family. That’s one thing we preach and live by here: we are a family that is here for each other. Not a lot of people can conceptualize that on the scene when we’re out there fighting a fire. But here, it truly goes beyond that when we’re not working emergency incidents. It’s the day to day. We take care of our own. Then when you get somebody who shows the dedication like Danielle, who not only has gotten her EMT (and works in that field, but also is) part of the fire department, it’s a great benefit to the county.”
Crist admitted that she will miss participating in this year’s Annual Firefighter Games based on her identical due date of May 18. The games are a friendly competition where firefighters demonstrate different skills they have gained through training and experience.
Williams joked with her, “You can thank us. That way you won’t have the whole department up there when the baby’s born.”
“They’re already asking me when I’m going to bring him up to the station after he’s born, and I’m like just let him come home first,” Crist said with a laugh. “From clothes I’ve been given, about 50 percent of them are fire department or EMS related.”
Stone pointed out, “Once Bentley’s home from having a successful surgery, there’s no doubt that if Danielle needs to do something, basically, she’s got a hundred brothers and sisters who can babysit…As a person who has a child in this department, that child has so many people to look after them.”
Crist spoke about Bentley’s condition, “Between three to six months old is when he will have to go in for surgery; he’ll see the cardiologist once a month between birth and when he has the surgery.”
“The good thing about this,” Williams added, “is that, yes, he’s going to have these medical complications, and he’s going to require some surgery, and he’ll always have to see a cardiologist, but hopefully the doctor feels he will be able to have a normal childhood.”
“(The doctors) said after surgery and after everything heals, there’ll be no restrictions, and he can go on to do pretty much anything,” Crist shared. “I actually found out the last time I was at the doctor’s, out of all of the organs, the heart is probably the number one to have different types of complications. This one they see fairly commonly. Their words were, ‘It’s severe but manageable.’ They are 100 percent confident that they know exactly what they’re looking at and know how to handle it once he gets here.”
Rose Acre Farms is donating the eggs for the breakfast. The Angel Ride Organization and Jeepers (Jeep owners) have also expressed interest in supporting the ride.
For information, tickets, or pre-registration for the ride, contact the Morgan County Fire Rescue at (706) 343-6503 or email email@example.com. If you are unable to attend the benefit but want to help, direct donations for Crist and baby Bentley through the Morgan County Fire Rescue.