Fire Chief presents heartfelt thank you
Published in Herald & Tribune Feb. 18, 2015 issue
Jonesborough Fire Chief Phil Fritts believes two simple, yet powerful words — “thank you” — are all that is left to be shared after the community rallied behind one of Jonesborough’s sergeants who lost his battle to cancer last month.
“I knew that this community was special and the people were good, kind people,” Fritts said. “They are good honest, decent hardworking people. I really didn’t realize the extent of their compassion and kindness, I guess you can say.”
Fritts was referring to the outpouring of community support that flooded in after word went out that Sgt. Nathan Luke Story had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“I remember when we first learned that Luke was suffering from pancreatic cancer and the word started spreading through the community,” Fritts said. “It was almost immediate. We started getting phone calls and we started having people pop up and come in.”
Assistance and money, as well as food the day of the funeral, was offered from countless community residents.
Although the support was endless, there are two instances that left a strong impact on Fritts.
The first occurred while he was at a restaurant. He said a couple that lives in the community called him over to their table and asked him to tell them about the young man who has pancreatic cancer.
“I sat down and told them,” Fritts said.
The gentleman looked at Fritts and his wife and said, “Will Luke need treatment?”
“It was at the time when we were looking at maybe going outside of the area for treatment,” Fritts said.
The gesture that came next astounded him.
“He looks at me and says ‘Would $5,000 help?” Fritts said. “I said $5,000 would be marvelous. He wrote me a check for $5,000 right there.”
Another act of kindness happened at the station. Fritts said he arrived at work one warm day when a lady walked into the open bay doors. After the woman shared who she was and that she heard about Story, she handed him a few dollar bills.
Fritts said the woman told him that was all she had and all she could afford, but felt she needed to offer some money.
“That is very touching,” he said.
The outpouring of support continued with T-shirt sales, benefits and donations from other fire departments around the area.
“It just amazed me at the kindness that people have,” Fritts said. “They really didn’t have any other reason to do that other than it was the right thing to do.”
The saying “we are a family” that administrative staff, employees and town board share at every Christmas dinner is a feeling that Fritts understands fully.
“They proved that we are a family. That means a lot. You can hear the words, but actions will speak a lot better than words,” he said, adding that Town Administrator Bob Browning and Operations Manager Craig Ford were just fantastic. “They were generally concerned and they wanted to help.”
Story attended the December Christmas party where he sat and ate with everyone else. Fritts said that night Story received the Employee of the Year.
“Right up to a couple weeks before he passed away he was up walking around and then all at once . . .,” Fritts said. “It was easy to get into (the idea) that he’s got time.”
On Jan. 24, at 3:45 p.m. Story passed away at Johnson City Medical Center.
The support from area fire departments and the Jonesborough Police Department instantly began after the news was heard.
And when funeral plans were announced, Fritts said he began receiving phone calls from area fire departments asking what they needed.
The Limestone Volunteer Fire Department, EMS and Johnson City Fire Department all provided honor guards. Fritts said the fire chief from Greeneville offered to man their station during the procession and funeral.
“I don’t have anything really to say, but thank you. We felt like we did need to say something to people and let them know we saw you and we thank you,” Fritts said. “I want the community to know that we always do strive to do the best and we go the extra mile to help you and this department will continue to help them.”