Benjamin Leake, epilepsy, fire fighter, My hero, seizures, Sibling Loss

A Hero In My Story

Many people have heroes for one reason or another.  Some because of big, history-changing moments, and some for the quiet admiration built by ages of adoration, day in and day out.  Hands down, Spiderman is my pick among the superheros.  Despite my breath-stealing disdain for 8-legged creatures, I really am enamored by the polished confidence with which Spiderman executes his astonishing stunts so effortlessly in the face of danger.  Also, Tobey Maguire, but that’s neither here nor there.  I’m certain each of us, asked the question, would have some entity that we have chosen to represent our own “hero” of sorts, someone who clutches the core of our admiration, or stirs emotions of inspiration within us.


I do, in reality, have an understanding of the “Hollywood magic” that has created this red and blue Spidey of mine, and as an adult woman have come to terms with knowing no such champion exists.  Don’t  worry, you need not fear being the one to shatter my illusion.  I want to share with the world though, my real life hero; the man whose life and bravery influenced my soul in a way I hope will never be the same.

This chubby-cheeked little blondie is the one who gave me the title of big sister.  Our childhood years a harmony of stirring up adventure and trouble, building crude forts to house the rescued “wounded,” or pretending the victim ourselves as “orphans” skittering about the gravel forest roads, making a living scrubbing shoes.  Our parents’ divorce slashed a deep canyon in the landscape of our siblinghood; time and space laying pause to our knowing of each other as the soft freckles of his youth faded into manhood.  As we both emerged into the newness of adulthood however, our horizons once again blended seamless with the freedom to be as much a part of each others’ lives as we desired.

If Benjamin ever had a passion besides being a firefighter when he grew up, it must have been short-lived, because I never knew of it.  Having recently started at my first fire department as an EMT, I was thrilled when he began the process of getting his own certifications.  Having taken a different route in life than most had expected for me, I often felt isolated from friends and family, and I was eagerly anticipating having someone who “got me.”  We are a different people, those in EMS, and there are just some things you can’t say to someone who hasn’t been there.  Ben, he was gonna be my person.

That boy, he went full speed ahead.  He grabbed applications from every department he could get his hands on, ready to sign his life away to be given the chance.  He got his EMT license, which didn’t come easily for him. He did not pass the test the first time… or the second, but he never wavered; he kept at it, studied and practiced in every spare moment, hardly letting me help him.  “I just have to do this for myself,” he told me.  License in hand, he showed up bright eyed, heart pounding, certain he was just what they needed.  The thing about this eager, spirited young future firefighter, was that since his toddling years, he had suffered from seizures.  Big, dangerous, fall down, forget-who-you-are, unable to move one side of your body for awhile seizures that had been poorly understood and not excellently controlled. Once that little red flag word crept across the pages of his applications, he met walls hard in his face.  He was too big a risk.

Ben would not be so easily suppressed; he believed there would be someone else that would take a chance on him.  Time after time though, the answer was “no.”

His next logical step was to make himself more valuable.  He enrolled himself in classes to get his Firefighter Certifications; usually provided through training once hired on a department, he was going to have the certs under his belt before he even approached the next department; surely no one would turn him away.  Scraping the cash from his job at a local kitchen to pay for the classes and the books, he soon had a crisp new card boasting his name, validating his ability to do what he longed for most.   He beamed brighter than ever, certain the firefighting career he craved was within his grasp, and I cried in my pillow.

I remember my conversation with a family member, admitting my frustration and heartbreak over the whole thing.  On one hand I felt guilty for encouraging him, wondering if I was just contributing to a larger and larger facade of false hope, and on the other hand I wanted nothing to do with being one of the people who said anything to him that would crush his dream.

As Ben continued to search for his landing place in the fire community, he was hired on with his county EMS agency.  It wasn’t his first pick, but he knew the experience would be useful, and he already had a thirst for that blitz of adrenaline that would rush through his veins each time a call dropped.  My heart simply melted when he would call or text me to excitedly relay the details of a breathtaking call he had been on.  I inwardly giggled at his adorable “green-ness,” felt honored when he asked what I would have done, and promised I would be there day or night as he wrestled through some of the ugly firsts of the things your eyes and mind will never un-see.

When I had recently moved up from EMT to Paramedic and was settled in with the wonderful crew of firemen I worked alongside, Ben asked if he might be allowed to run as a third-rider with me if he came to visit.  My Captain was a dear and seasoned man with a big heart and an enjoyable sense of humor, and he swung wide the doors for Ben to come spend the weekend at the station with us, being “one of the guys.”  Those 3 days were a gift I will never forget.  I was so proud to have a little brother made of what he was made of, giving life everything he had, and simply loving and soaking in everything about being a fire fighter, with the bright eyes of a man who may never get to live his dream. My “boys” were wonderful to him, showing him anything he asked, answering questions, telling stories.  My partner at the time a young man fresh out of college himself, shy and earnest; didn’t know the brake from the accelerator, and he and Ben got along famously.  It was a weekend of much laughter, few calls, and insurmountable memories.

The week that my little brother hero abruptly left this earth, he fought his first fire.  He still didn’t have a fire crew to call his own, he didn’t have his name sewn on a set of turnout gear, or have boots perched ready in smoke-tarnished pants, but he put the wet stuff on the red stuff, and I know he died a happy man.  Where he lived out in rural Kansas, he was driving home one day when he noticed smoke billowing from a house he was passing.  Jerking the car from his route and toward the smoldering home, he made the call for help before dashing to bang on doors and windows to make sure everyone was out.  Once all the souls were safely outside in clean, fresh air, and fire trucks were still long stretches of Kansas roads away, Ben, this little brother EMT Fire Fighter hero man of mine, hooked up the garden hose, and he aimed that meager little spatter of water at those flames, and that boy held that fire back until the big water came to snuff it out.

I find it hysterical we actually have a pic of him posing like this.  Oh Ben!

Hearing the story retold, the images my mind painted made me laugh so big, and I’m sure we would still be teasing him, but really, I am pretty thankful he had that chance, just days before his home-going.   That was Ben, proving that however the odds were stacked, he wasn’t ever going to give up, he was going to find a way to do what he loved.  And that, that why he is my hero.

Taught my boy how to give his boots a good spit-shine. He was so proud!

Please leave me a comment, it lets me know you’re listening!

1 thought on “A Hero In My Story”

  1. So sorry for your loss Hannah. We never forget who they were and who they still “are”! Cherish the memories and cling to the promise of reuniting in heaven. He sounds like an awesome guy!!


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