Austin's heroes on his Myspace page were "God, and anyone who would run into a burning building to save someone else." He was my hero, still is.
I guess it is normal for a child to want to grow up "just like Dad" but Austin had a true heart for the fire department. He had an intense desire to help others - it wasn't just about cool fire trucks, lights, and sirens for him. Joining the department as a junior, he didn't get to experience all of that anyway. He was lowest on the pole and only had classroom trainings and a few hands-on classes to look forward to. If hoses needed rolling or the bathroom needed cleaning, he was among the first to be asked, because of his ranking. Yet, he never minded. He just enjoyed being at the station and he soaked in every moment.
His uniform of choice became any fire t-shirt he could find and a pair of jeans. I joked with him about not ever needing to go school shopping, because that was his favorite thing to wear. He was proud to wear his fire t-shirts because he was proud to be a fireman. I have heard from his friends since that it was also about the only thing he wanted to talk about! He could not wait for the day to make his first run. His father was so proud to see him following in his footsteps and I know he would have been an excellent firefighter.
I will never forget the line of firefighters that attended Austin's funeral. When I turned to sit down, it was all I could do to hold back the tears, seeing them fill the walls and lined up outside the room. They stood the entire service and I can only imagine the surprised smile on Austin's face, looking down, to see such support.
For anyone to get a true "Firefighter's Funeral" is an honor and is usually only bestowed on someone with many years of service to the department. We were so touched to see them come out full force to honor our son.
I tried so hard to keep it together at the service, mostly for Noah, but also for the rest of my family. I knew they were looking to me for guidance and strength and by staying strong, I helped us all get through it. However, seeing our fellow firefighters, lined up with heads bowed and helmet in hands, was almost more than I could bear. When they sent out the tones and the last call was announced, I broke. It hurt so much to know that he would never be able to respond as "Unit 210" again - that he never really got to at all - and now I was hearing his last call. His number would then be retired, never to be used again. To see those big, strong service men, with tears falling, made me crumble inside. It was why I left so soon after and made my way for the car.
As hard as it was, it was our proudest moment as parents for Austin. For a child of his age to be honored in this way, is just unimaginable. We knew then he wasn't just our hero, he was a hero to so many more. In the end, I guess it doesn't really matter how many years of service, how many calls, how many lives you saved - what matters is that you had the heart. Given the chance, I know Austin would have saved and helped so many. And I guess in his own way, he did - and still is.