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Source: Kokomo Tribune

Pink firetruck delivers love, support

By Cody Neuenschwander
KOKOMO – A pink firetruck went roaring down Washington Street Sunday afternoon, with lights flashing and sirens blaring. It was following three Howard County Emergency Management vehicles, with the overly noticeable convoy starting at Burger King on Espanol Drive and leaving town to the north, venturing into the country.

The convoy stopped at the residence of KPD Capt. Teresa Galloway, where around 20 people were gathered in the driveway.

Galloway was in tears as one by one, the crew from the firetruck – donning pink coats and hats – and the EMA personnel each gave her a hug, several of them saying “Teresa, we love you.”
Teresa Galloway, right, hugs Glenda Myers after the Pink Heals Tour stopped at the Kokomo Fire Station 1 on Sunday, September 10, 2017. Myers signed the pink fire truck in memory of her aunt and grandmother who died of cancer. Before that, the Pink Heals Tour stopped at Galloway’s home. The organization was started in 2007 to help people, particularly women, who are battling cancer. Kelly Lafferty Gerber | Kokomo Tribune
The Pink Heals Tour has been going on for 10 years. Its founder, Dave Graybill, said it’s a program to bring love and support to individuals diagnosed with any type of illness.

“People are sick, there’s no one knocking on their doors anymore. It’s pretty lonely … so when we [put on] light and sirens for them, it puts them front and center,” said Graybill, a retired firefighter and professional baseball player.

“No one brings care back to our people anymore. It’s our people raising money and giving it to institutions, so I created a fire department that brings love and support to a person at a local level,” he added.

The Pink Heals Tour has chapters across the U.S. and representation in three countries total, with a pink firetruck at each. The goal, Graybill said, is to get a chapter to a point where it has sponsorships and gifts from local businesses and funds raised from the community, which they can then deliver directly to the person they visit. That was an element Graybill brought up again and again – taking the care and support directly to the person who needs it. He said he doesn’t want community members and businesses to give to Pink Heals – he wants them to give to people who need it. Pink Heals is just the deliver method, he said.

With each stop of the tour, Graybill hopes a chapter springs up.

Ray Fitzgerald, who retired from the Kokomo Fire Department last winter, said he wants to set up a Kokomo chapter. He joined Graybill for a couple tours, and was inspired to get Kokomo its own pink firetruck – which he explained will be an expensive process.

A crew of several vehicles, consisting of EMA, the firetruck, a pink SUV and a couple civilian vehicles, met at Burger King on Espanol Drive. From there, they made their first stop at Galloway’s residence.

Galloway, who has been battling breast cancer this year, said she worked with the Pink Heals program the last time they were in Kokomo around seven years ago. But even though she knew the truck was coming, it was “awesome” and emotional for it to show up for her.

“And you hear them coming with the sirens, and they’re coming down the street and it’s like ‘this is for me? You guys are doing this for me?’” she said.

“It’s just pretty impressive. They take time out of their day when they can be with their families, and here they are at my house. It’s incredible to show that love and support.”

She ended up joining the party of vehicles for the rest of the day.

The Pink Heals crew sold some T-shirts and merchandise at a couple of their stops. The money goes back into fueling the truck. All the people in the crew were volunteers.

“That was a good one,” said Antonio Gonzales, a retired firefighter from Texas, as he got into the passenger seat of the firetruck. He was joined by Justin Cook, a volunteer firefighter from North Carolina, who was driving for that day of the tour.

They turned the lights and sirens back on, and started heading back into town – back down North Washington Street. Cook laughed and exclaimed “I love it,” as he guided the truck around a corner, blaring the horn. Motorists who had pulled over to the side of the road and pedestrians along the sidewalk craned their necks at the bright pink vehicle passing by.

Each of the day’s stops were organized by Fitzgerald. They were able to fit three into the day’s schedule. The second one was at the Kokomo Fire Department’s location in downtown Kokomo. That’s where they presented flowers to Glenda Myers, a KFD employee who lost her aunt and grandmother to cancer.

Along the way, people at the stop would sign the truck – which was riddled with signatures. A few months ago, said Graybill, it didn’t even have one.

For the final stop, the truck roared down Markland Avenue and headed to Greentown. Just outside of town, they visited Lori Haalck, who has battled cancer this year. Like the first stop, she was joined by family, and greeted each member of a convoy with a hug as they told her they loved and supported her.

For Graybill, it’s all a method to bring care directly to the people who need it.

“I’m not knocking any large corporate charity … but you can create another way that drives funds – eventually – gifts and at the very least acknowledgement of eye contact and love. Through an email and a text message it’s just not real. By driving a pink firetruck to your house with lights and sirens, you know I care about you,” he said.

The firetruck stopped at Hacienda Mexican Restaurant to finish the day. Fitzgerald said it was there for people to see the truck, and hopefully learn a little bit more about what they’re about.

A fundraiser will be held at Hacienda on Sept. 19, he said, to raise money for a local chapter of the Pink Heals Tour.

The Pink Heals Tour is online at www.pinkfiretrucks.org and on Facebook.

Cody Neuenschwander can be reached at 765-454-8570 or by email at cody@kokomotribune.com

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