Lt. Matthew Hertzfeld holds the Smile Basket, which is sent around the country from fire dispatchers who have dealt with line-of-duty deaths. The basket is filled with goodies and messages of support.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
It was a box bigger than most others in the mail pile at the Toledo fire headquarters.
The sender’s address was Prescott, Ariz.
“What’s coming from Prescott?” fire Lt. Matthew Hertzfeld asked himself before opening.
Inside the big box, wrapped in bubble wrap, was another box. One made of baby blue fabric with tan trim. Tucked among the candies, puzzle books, toys, and heart-shaped stress relievers was a large white envelope addressed to the Toledo fire dispatchers.
The box labeled the Traveling Dispatch Care Box, Box of Smiles, was sent to Toledo after two city firefighters died in the line of duty Jan. 26.
Killed were Pvts. Stephen Machcinski, 42, a 15-year department veteran, and James Dickman, 31, who had fewer than six months of service in Toledo.
The fire at 528 Magnolia St. was allegedly set by the building’s owner, Ray Abou-Arab, 61, of Oregon, who was indicted Friday by a Lucas County grand jury on 13 charges, including two counts of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications and eight counts of aggravated arson.
The box of smiles made its way to Prescott in the weeks after 19 firefighters were killed in a wildfire last June.
There, it helped fire dispatchers find smiles and brief distractions from the heartache they shared with the firefighters and the rest of the community, they wrote in a letter to Toledo.
“It’s something to bring a smile to your face,” Lieutenant Hertzfeld said as he looked through the box at the near-downtown dispatch center, 2411 Monroe St. “ … A little stress relief has come from this box.”
It’s easy, sometimes, in the wake of tragedy, to only see the people on the front lines as the ones who are suffering — the fellow firefighters, the grieving families.
The dispatchers, who sent crews to that fire, who navigated the dramatic and gut-wrenching ‘mayday’ call, “are right there with us,” Lieutenant Hertzfeld said.
“They go through the same pain, the same sorrow, just like we do.”
The box will stay in Toledo until tragedy strikes elsewhere and another set of dispatchers needs a lift.
The folks in Toledo will fill the box with more treats and brief distractions and some information and newspaper stories about Private Machcinski and Private Dickman, pack it up, and ship it out.
Hopefully it stays here for awhile, Lieutenant Hertzfeld said.