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Best presents don’t have to cost a thing
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Dylan Campbell is all smiles as he takes a tour of Lathrop Manteca Fire District Station 31 on Wednesday morning.

“Look daddy – it’s a fire truck.”

I hear this phrase literally every single time I drive somewhere with my 2-year-old son – who somehow has the magic ability to spot fire engines and trucks out of traffic like it’s his superhero strength.

Ever since he saw an episode of Blippi – the wonderful children’s YouTube star – that featured a tour of a Washington State fire house, every time he sees something pertaining to the fire service, he makes sure that everybody around him knows what he discovered.

It happened this last weekend when my wife and I took him to the mall and inside of Carter’s there was a t-shirt with a fire engine on it. Yes, we bought it – but that’s only because he practically crawled out of the cart to get to it, and there was no way that we were going to be able to leave the store without that thing in a bag. 

So, when I got back to the Central Valley on Wednesday after taking my wife and other two children to the San Jose Airport for separate vacations, I figured I would give the little man something of his own that he could hold on to. 

I called Lathrop Manteca Fire District Battalion Chief Larry Madoski to see if it would be possible to stop by a firehouse in Lathrop and let him see a fire engine up close and personal, and while he wasn’t in the office on Wednesday, he called A Shift Battalion Chief Josh Capper, who met us at the front door of Station 31. 

“Look daddy – it’s a fire truck.”

For 30 minutes, my little guy got the run of the station as Capper and Probationary Firefighter Leonard Flick showed him some of the newest pieces of equipment. With multiple engines – including the engine for the yet-to-be-completed Station 35 – sitting there waiting to be inspected, and the district’s new truck catching his attention, he was in heaven as he got up close to the big red shiny machines he has a knack for spotting on surface streets and freeways. 

And it didn’t cost a dime. 

The look on his face when he got to sit behind the wheel of the massive machine as I pulled the headset over his ears to take a picture of him was absolutely priceless. His brain couldn’t keep up with the plethora of knobs, levers, buttons and toggles in the futuristic cockpit, and multiple times I had to stop him from trying to make sense of it all by toggling them. 

Turns out that the tractor driving simulator that my mother got him for Christmas was more realistic than I realized, because the first button he put his finger on was the engine start – despite not being tall enough to reach the end of the seat, he was ready to drive the thing away. 

It was a fast but furious stop, and Capper made sure to show him both the rescue boat that the district maintains – he loved turning the wheel of that one as well – and the dive unit vehicle that he aptly pointed out was an ambulance.

It might have seemed like a small thing to the firefighters who took a brief window out of their day to show a small boy a glimpse into their world, but for the rest of the day the only thing that he talked about was the “fire engine” – when he talked to his sister who had arrived in North Carolina, he beamed about it. He spent five minutes telling my father all about it on the phone as we drove home, and even made up a song that used the word “fire” no less than 47 times and included a bunch of other lyrics that apparently flowed together but were unintelligible. 

That didn’t matter. He got the important part across – we all knew what he was referring to.

Consider that this is a kid that can work a cell phone and change the channels – and seems to think that any oblong device is either a camera of a remote that can be talked into – it was wonderful to share a moment with him where youthful wonder ran amok, and his eyes and his brain were moving faster than his little mouth could process. 

So, to the Lathrop Manteca Fire District – to Chief Gene Neely and Madoski and Capper and a very kind and patient Flick – I offer a thank-you from the bottom of my heart. Dylan didn’t get any special treatment on Wednesday – the stations are open for public tours when firefighters aren’t out on a call – but he sure felt like he was the king of the world while he was there and seeing his picture on the district Facebook’s page made his mother’s face light up when she landed finally landed overseas Wednesday night. 

It may be a small gesture to you all, but it meant to the world to that little boy – and by extension, his father – and I’m just grateful that we have public servants in this world that will go out of their way in such a fashion. 

Well done, Gentlemen. 

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.