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ECFR volunteers build wheelchair ramp for former long-time member
ECFR Volunteers build wheelchair ramp
ECFR volunteers are pictured after building a wheelchair ramp for Lou Dean. (Submitted photo.)

Special to the Herald

SPRINGFIELD – The bonds between current and former Effingham County Fire Rescue (ECFR) members hold firm despite the passage of time.

Lou Dean, 87, an ECFR volunteer from 1996-2013, benefitted from unwavering devotion May 16. Nearly a dozen of his ECFR friends built a wheelchair ramp for him and spruced up his farm.

Brandi Hinely Dillie, Dean’s daughter, was overwhelmed by the generous gesture. The ramp addition is a life changer for him and his family.

“It is absolutely incredible,” she said. “It had become incredibly difficult to get him in and out of the house because of his limited mobility. It is so much easier now.”

Current ECFR volunteer Capt. Jimmy Thompson spearheaded the effort to assist Dean and was happy to do it.

“Lou was a well-liked volunteer who would always help others,” he said. “His family has always been willing to help others, too. They are just really good people.”

Unfortunately, advancing age has made it difficult for the Lou and his wife Betty to care for the farm that has been in their family for more than 100 years.

“Mrs. Betty called and asked if I could help her acquire and/or build a wheelchair ramp,” Thompson said. “Obviously, I told her we would – or I would. That was the extent of it at first.

“I just thought I would help them.”

After Thompson visited the farm to determine the kind and amount of supplies he would need, he received overwhelming support for the project.

“I just started making phone calls and got a couple of approvals for what I wanted to do,” he said. “Then I posted on my private/ECRF group on Facebook what I was going to do and it just blew up. It surprised me how quickly it blew up.”

One of Thompson’s first calls was to Lowe’s in Pooler. It donated supplies for the wheelchair ramp, a much-needed refrigerator and a lawnmower, after Thompson showed store officials a few pictures that depicted some of the Deans’ needs.

Lowe’s also donated a sealant for the tin roof on the Deans’ 83-year-old house and the equipment needed to apply it.

“The roof hasn’t been completed because of rain,” Thompson said. “That was on our hit list but Mother Nature said, ‘Not today.’”

The rest of the project, including the construction of the ramp, was completed in less than five hours despite persistent showers. The group took only one break and the break was forced by lightning.

ECFR Chief Clint Hodges was impressed by how much the firefighters accomplished in a short span.

“I am really proud of them,” he said. “I am proud of how everybody just came together.”

In addition to Hodges and Thompson, Deputy Chief Bryce Nyberg, Capt. Matt Hendrix, Lt. Weston Siddall, Lt. Mark Mathews, Lt. Jennifer Ashdown, Lt. John Trani, Lt. Robert Daniels and a pair of Lowe’s employees did the bulk of the work. They combined to cut grass, trim bushes and trees, and move and/or remove clutter.

Unwanted items were placed in a roll-off Dumpster provided by Atlantic Waste Services.

“We made the property maintainable,” said Thompson, whose family also helped. “We made it so where there wasn’t so much stuff to cut around and ‘weed eat’ around so it would be easier for Mrs. Betty and her family to maintain.

“The roll-off was completely full.”

Thompson mentioned that Firefighter Kham Bell had never met the Deans. He showed up a few days before the ramp was constructed to wash the house.

“He didn’t even know where they lived but he was still there,” Thompson said. “That has to say a lot. There is a familyhood, or brotherhood, that is supposed to come with firefighting and the people who were there were paying respects to someone who came before them.”

Firefighter Tommie Lewis was unable to be on site when the ramp was built, but contributed to the cause financially. Former ECFR firefighter Larry Middleton chipped in an aluminum portion of the ramp.

“I had a couple people give me monetary donations,” Thompson said. “I gave them to the family and they used it to provide breakfast, lunch and such for us.”

Dillie felt cooking a few meals was the least they could do.

“(The firefighters) are such a wonderful bunch of people,” she said. “Daddy was very touched by what they did and they are a very important group to him and Mama. It was very, very moving.

“They are like family members, not coworkers. It is incredible what Lowe’s did, too.”

“All the firefighters are just one big, happy family,” Betty added. “They sure made a big difference for us and we appreciate it so much.”