“I HAVE A NEW-FOUND appreciation for what you guys do,” Ted Leon of Owatonna told members of the Faribault Professional Fire Fighters Local 665 Tuesday evening.
It’s the type of comment I’ve come to expect from Ted, who five months earlier stopped on a Saturday afternoon to extinguish a deck fire at my neighbor’s house. He’s not one to call attention to himself or his actions.
But on Valentine’s Day evening, the spotlight centered on Ted as he received a Certificate of Recognition from the City of Faribault in a formal presentation before a City Council meeting and then afterward an Emergency Action Award from the firefighters during a casual gathering at the fire hall.
It was there in the fire station, surrounded by his family, my neighbors and members of the fire department, that Ted expressed his gratitude to firefighters, recognizing the difficulty of their work. He shared, for the first time, how his heart was racing at the scene of the September 10, 2011, deck fire and for hours afterward.
That admission from Ted surprised me given his calm demeanor while fighting the flames. He spotted the blaze while driving on Willow Street, pulled over, instructed his wife, Kathryn, to call 911 and stay in the van with their three sons, and then ran toward the fire.
Kathryn told me Tuesday that the emergency call was actually made by a young man who also stopped. She locked eyes with him and he indicated he had contacted emergency personnel. The fire department arrived within minutes.
Alerted to the blaze by my teenage son, I grabbed my camera and raced barefoot across the street, reaching Kevin and Kristin Klocek’s home just as Ted was pulling a garden hose toward the burning deck.
He remembers focusing on putting out the fire. I remember screaming for my neighbors to get out of their house. Ted and I didn’t communicate. But if we had, I would have learned that he had already leapt through heat and flames to bang on the front door, alerting Kristin and her young daughter, Kayleigh, of the fire.
The City of Faribault, in the Certificate of Recognition, thanked this citizen firefighter, in part, with these words: “Your quick actions ensured the occupants of the home got out safely and the damage to the home remained minimal.”
I, too, thanked Ted Leon—again—Tuesday evening.
When I first thanked him, at the scene of the fire, I knew him only as “Ted from Owatonna.” He didn’t give me his last name that day, when I questioned his identity as he was about to drive away. But he was found anyway, round-about via a blog post I published on the fire. Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio picked up the story in his online NewsCut column. Then The Owatonna People’s Press and The Faribault Daily News published front page stories and photos I had taken, which led to the discovery of Ted Leon.
Ted told me Tuesday he’s not one to draw attention to himself, explaining why he didn’t give me his last name on that day we first met, the day of the fire. He was in a hurry, too, on that September afternoon to get to services at Divine Mercy Catholic Church about a mile away.
He wasn’t in any particular hurry Tuesday evening, posing for photos, but also taking time to thank the firefighters. That’s typical Ted, deflecting the spotlight away from himself..
When an alarm sounded at the fire hall as we were visiting on Tuesday, I advised Ted, “You better get going.” He didn’t miss a beat.
“I’m retired,” he quipped.
Kathryn, who earlier said everything happened so quickly at the September fire that she didn’t have time to worry about Ted, simply rolled her eyes and laughed.
TO READ MY September 10, 2011, blog post about the fire, click here.
To read yet another post about the day Ted was found, click here.
© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling