Yet again the kindness of a small town shines bright. Pine-Strawberry Fire Department (PSFD) Firefighter/EMT Bill Potter recently entered a video in the virtual fundraiser “Cook Like a Firefighter” to raise funds for the Arizona Burn Foundation (ABF). Potter placed second, raising $3,600.
The ABF is dear to Potter and his wife Dawn. Last year their son Brandon Ashford was involved in an accident where more than 95% of his body was burned. ABF supported the family on their heart wrenching journey.
“He was in the Arizona Burn Center for 11 months before he passed away,” said Dawn.
19-year-old Brandon was at a birthday party in Coolidge when the accident occurred. A friend had asked him to add gas to a dying bonfire. The fire lit the fumes, traveled back into the gas can and it exploded in Brandon’s hand.
A 2 a.m. phone call on a February night in 2019 sent the couple rushing to their son’s side. The first days were dark and full of worry. Initially they were not sure he would survive, but he continued to fight.
“He had surgeries every single day,” said Dawn. “He fought every single day.”
During those long months, hope filled moments gained momentum and ABF Client Care Service Manager Kelsey John made her presence known. She slowly became a rock for the Potters.
“The focus is on the patient, as it should be,” said John. “But the family needs support as well. I’m there to say — ‘the doctor’s have this right now, how are you?’”
When offered support, Potter, ever the stoic firefighter dad, would say ‘no thanks’ or ‘we are good.’
“Families will say ‘no we got this’ and ‘we are OK’,” said John. “They are focused on their loved one and forget or ignore that they need support too.”
ABF offers things as simple as a food voucher so a family member can get a meal at the cafeteria so they don’t have to leave the hospital. They also provide hotel rooms for families, and they will help with rent and mortgage payments as the long-term recovery of burn patients takes its toll.
“I care that you have a house to go home too,” said John.
But the most valuable of all has no dollar value.
“I’m building a relationship and getting to know them,” she said. “I ask, ‘Have you had any water today, have you seen the sunshine?’”
The emotional support became a lifeline for the Potters, said Dawn. Having John check in on them regularly gave them stability.
The hope was contagious as the hospital staff rallied around Brandon. One doctor told them their son was Superman after a particularly harrowing procedure. From that BrandonStrong was born. The couple has matching tattoos of a “B” in the traditional Superman logo.
Brandon’s 20th birthday was Jan. 20, 2020 and a big event was planned with the approval of doctors, said Dawn.
On Jan. 13, just a week before his birthday, during a routine procedure, Brandon’s heart stopped. All attempts to revive him failed. Doctors believe a blood clot traveled to and stopped his heart.
“He died knowing that we loved him more than anything in this world,” she added.
That love has survived, as despite the tears, the couple is still smiling and carrying their love for their son by giving to others.
In early October a letter from ABF came to PSFD Chief Gary Morris asking his department to take part in a virtual fundraiser for the ABF. Morris forwarded it to Potter.
“I’m going to do this,” said Potter. The regular breakfast cook on his PSFD shift, he enlisted Capt. Joel Brandt to be the cameraman and chose his popular bacon biscuits and gravy for his offering to the ‘Cook Like a Firefighter’ contest.
“He was so nervous,” chuckled Dawn as she told me about his preparations.
The video went viral and PSFD made a name for itself competing against 18 other departments around the state, including Tempe, Scottsdale, Phoenix and Glendale. Chandler did place first, but PSFD raised the most money, $3,600, said ABF Programs Manager Krysten Bridges, who presented Potter his trophy and check.
“He was the cook in the video and the real star is the community that rallied behind you,” said Bridges.
“It’s because we are a little tiny town,” said Dawn. Bandits hosted a fundraiser and Uncle Tom’s Kwik Stop set up a donation gas fund, she said. “This community is amazing.”
When the time came, they knew the right thing to do was to give back.
On Tuesday, John and Bridges brought Potter his ABF prize, a $300 grocery gift card for second place, meant to buy food for the firehouse. Potter happily, and with PSFD’s support, passed it along to the Pine-Strawberry Food Bank, knowing that with the holidays coming the need was great.
“This will go a long way in helping,” said Chuck Ackerman of the P-S Food Bank. The Food Bank feeds a little more than 200 people each month. For Thanksgiving and Christmas, the food bank provides holiday meals to 100-plus families.
The money raised for ABF by Potter and PSFD will go toward helping families of burn victims and four Camp Courage events. The summer camps are hosted by ABF for families.
Brandon was loved and will be remembered. Bill is already planning next year’s video for “Cook Like a Firefighter – Round 2.”
If you would like to see Potter’s video, visit https://e.givesmart.com/events/ibI/c/:i1jbvsYkbRl.
Truck or Treat is
Halloween nightOn Saturday, Oct. 31 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Pine Fire Station on Hardscrabble Road, kids of all ages are welcome to attend Trunk or Treat.
Bring a truck, canopy or trunk — decorate away and have a good time.
Spots are still available. To sign up, text Stacy Figueroa PSFD at 928-970-1863.
Election Day is
Tuesday, Nov. 3Pine-Strawberry’s polling location is at the First Baptist Church of Pine, 4039 N. Highway 87. They will be open at 6 a.m. until 7 p.m.