PINNACLE — Seventeen-year-old Shoals Junior Firefighter Bobby Fulp recently went through his seventh heart surgery. Afterward, he got the surprise of a lifetime from firefighters showed up — on their trucks — to deliver some special mail.
That mail came from firefighters and others from across the United States.
Shoals Lt. Chris Gillett said Fulp is a “remarkable young man” who joined the fire department six months ago despite having heart problems.
The first of March, Fulp’s pacemaker — installed when he was just 10 years old — quit working and he was slated for his seventh heart operation.
Fulp went in for surgery to replace his pacemaker on March 30. Surgeons ended up not replacing the pacemaker, instead removing scar tissue from previous surgeries on his heart, Gillett said.
Gillett said once he posted Fulp’s story on Facebook, it went viral in the first four hours. He said there was interest in the story from North America, Asia, Australia and Europe.
Fulp said he didn’t quite understand what was going on when he saw the fire trucks roll up to his house April 1, just hours after he returned home from the surgery. Once it all came together, he said he was both happy and excited to see them show up.
Firefighters from four departments were on hand to deliver the get well cards.
“That was awesome,” said Fulp.
He received cards from New York City, Tampa and Dallas, Texas and Charleston, S.C. Many departments mailed him T-shirts and more than 40 patches. He also received a granite marker that reads, “Firefighter Bobby Fulp. Thank you for your hard work, dedication and inspiration to be the best we can be. The Brotherhood.”
Gillett said that Fulp’s doctors put him on limited duty with the fire department.
“Bobby is limited in what he can do due to his age, but also because of his health. Bobby was born single ventricle. He has had seven heart surgeries in his lifetime. Four of those were before his fifth birthday. He had a pacemaker put in his chest at the ripe old age of 10,” said Gillett.
“He is motivated and highly dedicated to learning the job. He frequently calls me to meet at the station for extra training. When you need something he is there. He hustles anytime you give him a task,” said Gillett.
He said one day they were talking at the station when Fulp said something that, “absolutely broke my heart into pieces.
“He said, ‘When I was a little kid, I used to see the fire trucks rolling by and I knew that I wanted to be a firefighter. I have always wanted to be a firefighter, but because of my health problems, now I will never be a ‘real’ firefighter.”
Gillett said that’s when Fulp’s story really touched his heart.
“Here I am, one of the guys he looks up to so much — I did my best to choke back the tears as I assured him that it doesn’t matter if you are on the truck or inside the house — every person is equally important and that he is a ‘real’ firefighter.”
Gillett reached out to all of his and Fulp’s brothers in the fire service to send him get well cards.
“This was one of those chances we get to show the next generation what the brotherhood of firefighters is all about,” said Gillett. “This kid is a personal hero of mine and inspiration to me. It has been one of the greatest honors of my fire service career to work with this young man,” said Gillett.
Reach Mondee Tilley at email@example.com or at 719-1930.