JBER — Eric Edwards, 6, has a few obsessions — Christmas trees, the U.S. flag and fire trucks, to name a few.
But lately, his focus is fire trucks and related things like smoke alarms, sprinklers and fire hydrants.
So after spending the summer enduring major surgery and then recovering in a body cast, his mom Judy Edwards said she wanted to do something really special for her son’s Halloween costume. She had an idea to decorate his wheelchair as a fire truck, but she needed help to make it happen.
That’s when firefighters with the 673rd Civil Engineer Squadron at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson stepped up and created Engine No. 7, a brother to the department’s six full-sized trucks. The red fire engine fashioned to fit around Eric’s wheelchair mesmerized children and had adults pulling out cellphones for photos Friday at the JBER hospital’s trick-or-treat event.
“Let’s go chase kids with your sirens,” MSgt. Josh Wilson said, grabbing the handles on Eric’s chair and steering the new fire truck toward the doors.
It took some time for Eric to understand what had happened Friday when two firefighters scooped him from his mother’s arms and placed him in his costumed wheelchair. Around the chair, the firefighters built a wooden box and detailed it as “Engine 7” in the JBER Emergency Services fleet. Eric’s new fire engine even includes headlights, red flashing lights and a speaker that plays a variety of sirens controlled by an app on his mom’s iPhone.
“I can’t believe it,” Judy said. “I had no idea it was going to be like this.”
Part of the family
Eric became part of the Edwards family at 8 months old. He came home as a foster child, but the smiling boy was soon adopted as Forrest and Judy Edwards’ seventh child.
At first doctors thought the baby’s uncharacteristic behaviors were due to the cocaine found in his blood at birth. It would be months before Eric was diagnosed with dystonia and severe cerebral palsy.
“It’s a wonder he even made it out alive,” said Michelle McGraw, Eric’s care provider who works through Mat-Su Activity and Respite Center.
Forrest served in the Air Force in Vietnam and retired after 21 years of service, but continued working on base for another 21 years in civil service. He was 63 when he died of colon cancer Feb. 13, 2013.
He was part of the JBER family, said David Donan, chief of the base Fire and Emergency Services. The two men worked together for five years, but total, Forrest worked at JBER for more than 20 years, Judy said.
“Forrest took care of us for a lot of years,” Donan said. “He did a lot of stuff he didn’t have to do. “This was an opportunity to do something that we think Forest would have liked.”
Building custom costumes that wrap around kids’ wheelchairs is well outside a normal day’s work for Wilson, Donan and the rest of the volunteers.
“Josh lost some sleep over this,” said Donan, a retired chief master sergeant. “He was really concerned it wasn’t going to come together.”
MSgt. Wilson said the project had a lot of support from the CE structure teams, “especially Bruce.”
“I don’t have any words,” Judy said, hugging the chief.
“None needed,” he replied.