What began as a heartfelt letter to Norwich Township Fire Department Chief Jeff Warren has resulted in the creation of a new extended family for a 12-year-old Hilliard boy.
Aidan White, a seventh-grader at Hilliard Weaver Middle School, now joins in chores and banter at Norwich Township’s Station 81 in Hilliard as if he always has been there.
Several times a month, White spends a few hours at the station, detailing the station’s bright yellow fire trucks, replenishing medical supplies in the medic units and helping clean up in the station’s kitchen, all the while discussing “guy things.” The conversation tilts from fishing to hunting to video games, and Aidan said he doesn’t tell his mother every nuance.
Aidan’s mother, Katja, said Aidan, an only child who is on the autism spectrum, relishes the social interaction at the fire station.
“I want to help the guys who are here to help me when I need them,” said Aidan, who visited the fire station in April as part of the Hilliard Division of Police’s fourth annual Autism Awareness Open House. The police station and Station 81 are both at the Joint Safety Services Building at at 5181 Northwest Parkway.
The police open house provides an opportunity for autistic children to become accustomed – in a controlled environment – to the lights and sounds of emergency vehicles, which can be traumatic for them.
Katja White said in the past, Aidan has been startled enough to run into traffic when he heard sirens.
But the open house has helped, she said.
“We are still on a journey, though,” Katja White said about Aidan and the accompanying effects of autism, with her husband and Aidan’s father, Craig.
It was at the open house in April that Aidan delivered his letter to Warren through firefighter Justin Waples.
The letter thanked the firefighters and offered his services to help at the station.
“I thought it was a really cool thing that he wrote a letter to us,” Waples said.
Warren reached out to Aidan and his family to arrange the visits that have continued since April.
Aidan has had the opportunity to meet every firefighter because he has visited on each of the station’s three shifts. Firefighters work 24 hours on and 48 hours off, so every third day the same unit is on duty.
“(Aidan) shadows us every shift, and he’s done great here. ... He has an official (Norwich Township fire) shirt and hat, just like the rest of us,” firefighter Ray DiLisi said.
Besides helping at the station, Aidan asked to learn how to administer CPR.
Waples recently provided one-on-one instruction for Aidan before he spent the remainder of his time joining the other firefighters for continuing professional education and instruction from a medical expert.
Battalion Chief Chris Grile said he sees the interaction with Aidan as a way for the department to pay it forward to the community it serves.
“I see it as our responsibility to give back and provide good experiences,” Grile said.
The firefighters have banded together in another way to help Aidan.
The International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1723, which includes Norwich Township’s personnel, voted to donate $500 toward the purchase of a service dog for Aidan.
The department also is assisting in the fundraising efforts of local businesses, such as Nasty’s Sports Bar & Restaurant and Texas Roadhouse, to help raise proceeds.
“(Doctors) said a service dog would help Aidan’s anxiety,” Katja White said.
The family is working with 4 Paws For Ability Inc. of Xenia to find Aidan a service dog.
Through an agreement, the family would receive a service dog by paying 30%, or $17,000, of the cost, Katja White said. The family thus far has accrued about $4,000. Donations for Aidan’s service dog may be made at 4pawsforability.org.
There is a waiting period of two years or more to receive a dog, Katja White said.
But the benefits of Aidan’s companionship at the fire station have been immediate.
“Being around the station has helped him with his confidence, (and) he has a big extended family now,” Katja White said.