Pearl firefighters get family a new dog
By THERESE APEL
PEARL, Miss. (AP) — When Mississippi State Fire Academy instructor Rob Fisher’s black Labrador, Max, was killed in a farming accident, it was heartbreaking for him and his family.
Fisher, who has three children, didn’t even really want to talk about it with his coworkers when he got back to work from the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I really didn’t even want to tell them what happened, it being a farming accident, because really he’s a member of our family,” he said Dec. 1. “But I told them, and that was Monday, then all this went down in a day in a half.”
What “went down” was that Fisher’s coworkers, torn up by the story and spearheaded by instructor Clarence Parks, got together with recruit class 165 to offer their condolences.
“It just so happened that same day in our group message we found out there was another firefighter from Richland who had a litter of Labs,” Parks said. “I just came up with this bright idea, maybe all of us pitching in together and getting Rob a dog.”
The group knew there was no way to replace Fisher’s beloved Max, but they could help fill a void. On Nov. 30 , they presented Fisher with a framed certificate honoring Max and telling him he and his family could go pick out their new Lab puppy that evening. They also gave him a collar with a tag that says, “MSFA 165.”
Fisher said it was a surprise, and at first he wasn’t sure it wasn’t a joke. Instructor Chief Daniel Cross told him they were going to have to give a weather safety briefing during his class on firefighter survival. He replied that he had already done that, but Cross persisted. Fisher didn’t think anything of it.
“We had made phone calls to the guy that had the litter of puppies as well as to Rob’s family so they knew kind of what was going on and trying to keep it from him,” Parks said. “Everybody was pitching in the money and we made those connections… (instructor) Barry Burnside had the idea, ‘Let’s come up with a certificate we can present to him, we’re sorry about your loss, we love you.’
“It worked out real good for what we were trying to do. Everybody knew but Rob,” Parks said.
At one point Fisher’s mother-in-law, talking to his wife on speaker phone, almost let the …dog… out of the bag.
“She said, ‘Have you told Rob?’ and my wife said, ‘No, Mom, I have you on speakerphone,’” Fisher said. Once he determined the secret was not that something was wrong with someone in the family, Rob was content to let the secret stand.
“I don’t like someone telling me what’s going on around Christmas. I’m good with them keeping a surprise,” he said. “I was completely clueless. Absolutely clueless.”
The presentation, made in Fisher’s class full of firefighter candidates, was an emotional one for everyone, because it’s hard to find a firefighter who hasn’t loved a dog.
“They just kinda came in my classroom and busted the door open and said, ‘Hey, could you pause the video for a few minutes,’” Fisher said.
When the instructor chief came into the classroom, the entire instructional staff came with him. Parks was live streaming the interruption on Facebook.
“It caught me off guard and I was kind of thinking they were going to play a practical joke. I didn’t know in 100 years what they had done,” he said.
Fisher and his children went to pick out their puppy. They chose one who pulled on their pants legs, the runt of the litter. His name after some thought and fitting for a firefighter’s companion, is now Axe.
As Fisher told the story at the fire academy on Dec. 1, Axe rolled around at his feet, playing in the leaves and intermittently chewing on his fingers.
When asked how he felt about his coworkers and students pulling together for him like they did, Fisher took a deep breath.
“I want to say I’ve never worked around such a group of God-fearing, loving men that care the way that they do, they’re just a great group of guys,” he said. “I enjoy coming to work, and I sure appreciate it, and I know my kids are going to appreciate this new member of our family that will help fill the void for the one we’ve lost.”