HOLLADAY — Four-year-old Gage Thompson shares a special bond with the firefighters from Ladder 104 of the Unified Fire Authority.
The boy has experienced tough times in his young life, and members of Ladder 104 have been there to help him along the way. At 4 years old, he already knows he wants to be like them when he grows up.
Gage and his family live close to the Holladay fire station. They walk by it daily, checking out the trucks, saying hello to the firefighters. Gage even held a superhero birthday party there. But Thanksgiving weekend, after Gage had suffered for years from what doctors thought was torticollis (twisting of muscles of the neck), the visits stopped.
Gage's mother, Gretchen Thompson, said, "He'd be playing and all of a sudden he would be like, ‘Ouch, my head hurts inside, my head.'"
Doctors found a baseball-sized tumor in Gage's brain. Immediately he was rushed into surgery to have part of it removed.
"You don't know what's going to happen when they're digging around in your child's brain. You don't know if your boy is going to be the same person coming back," Gretchen said.
Gage came out of the surgery but was having a hard time recovering. Then Ladder 104 showed up at Primary Children's Medical Center carrying a hat of his very own for Gage.
"He hadn't spoken. He hadn't smiled, and all of a sudden they came in and it was like, ‘There he is. There is our boy,'" Gretchen said.
They treat him like gold and he has become part of our family.
–Capt. Fitzgerald Petersen
Capt. Fitzgerald Petersen said, "Because of that visit to the hospital, his parents were actually able to talk him into cooperating with the doctors and nurses more. If you're able to do this, we'll promise another visit to the station."
Station 104 did more than just keep that promise. On the night Gage returned home from the hospital they were at his house to greet him.
Three months later, Gage returned to the hospital for a second brain surgery. When he came home, his firefighter friends were waiting, ready to make him an honorary firefighter by giving him a real badge.
"He fell in love with the guys here," Capt. Petersen said. "They treat him like gold and he has become part of our family."
Battalion Chief Mike Ulibirri said, "We've tried to get him to understand he is part of our crew. He is part of our battalion."
Gage is now on the road to recovery. It's a long one, but the firefighters at Station 104 are helping him along the way.
"It's not a short term thing for us," Capt. Petersen said. "It wasn't a one time thing, and we're going to go until we retire."
Gretchen said, "They're his heroes, but even more, they became our heroes because they really did give us our boy back. That was the biggest gift anyone could have given us. There are no words that can ever thank them for what they did."