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'Angel' Firefighters Help Out Valentine


Article from the Lincoln Journal Star
February 17, 2006

'Angel' firefighters help out valentine
By ERIN ANDERSEN / Lincoln Journal Star

Sometimes heaven can’t wait. That’s why Lincoln firefighters braved sleet and 21 mph winds that made 18 degrees feel more like 1 degree, all to retrieve a valentine from atop a T Street tree and send it back on its way to Maria Enriquez in heaven.

Maria Enriquez died in October after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Seven-year-old Joel Enriquez didn’t want his mother to miss Valentine’s Day, so while attending Charlie Brown’s Kids grief support group last week, he made her a valentine — a pink heart with purple heart-shaped stickers and his hand-written message to his mom: “I miss you.”

On Valentine’s Day, he brought it to Sacred Heart School, where he is in first grade and his brother Julio, 13, is an eighth-grader.

Joel and his classmates took the valentine attached to two balloons — one a pink heart, the other a red heart with a yellow smiley face adorned with lipstick kisses — and went onto the playground.

The students formed a heart.

“And we singed the Valentine’s Day song,” Joel said. “Then I let go of the balloons.”

The balloons sailed up, up, up into the sky, when suddenly the red, white and pink curly ribbon snagged on the upper-most branches of a tree. The wind blew. But instead of releasing the balloons, the ribbons became more entangled.

Joel was devastated.

He sobbed. Why wouldn’t God let his valentine go to his mom?

That’s when Mary Rowan, school librarian and Joel’s English language teacher, decided she had to do something. But what?

“I thought I’d just ask the fire department,” she said.

She walked into Fire Station No. 7 about 5:30 p.m. Valentine’s Day. Tearfully, she told Capt. Joe Millard the story.

So Thursday, despite bone-chilling winds and stinging icy snow, “Angel Joe” Millard and his aerial ladder truck crew pulled up outside the playground.

Firefighter Matt Roberts extended the 75-foot ladder to the tree. And Capt. Arnold Jensen made the climb 40 feet into the air. But the balloons were out of his reach.

So Jensen climbed down. The truck moved forward a few feet, and Jensen climbed up to the top again. Jensen motioned to Roberts to re-angle the ladder a few feet to the left.

Jensen grasped the balloons, cut the ribbons and carried the valentine down to the shivering cheers of the first- and eighth-grade classes.

The pink balloon heart was torn and deflated. The smiley heart had lost its flying power.

So Angel Joe opened the door to his truck and pulled out three red balloons, courtesy of Champions Fun Center. A bag of candy hung from the bottom.

Millard cut off the candy and handed it to Joel. Together, they reattached the smudged but still legible valentine.

Millard led Joel away from the trees.

Joel’s icy hands unclenched the ribbons.

The balloons rose. Then dipped. Then drifted toward a tree.

And then they lifted straight up, bouncing, bobbing and ultimately disappearing into the clouds.

Joel beamed, ice flakes flocking his long brown lashes.

Rowan put a loving arm across his shoulders.

“I think she got your valentine.”

But why didn’t they go up Tuesday?

“I guess God wanted kids to learn about firefighters,” she said.

Angel firefighters.

Lincoln Fire & Rescue Department

'Angel' Firefigher