|Kip Hall's Last Day|
Good Morning Brothers and Sisters, (it's 4 am and I was awoken by a great spirit)
Today I remember a brother, a friend,..a man with a servant's heart.
I remember a night in Carlsbad..specifically a phone call. What's up Kip.."where are you? We're here at Chili's. You almost here?" I asked. "In the hospital Dave." He replied. "I was loading up the car and my family for the competition (in Carlsbad, NM) and I kept droppin my keys, my wallet...couldn't hang on to anything, and noticed suddenly that I was sweating..you know, like a stroke or somethin, so I had Sandra bring me here to see what's goin on. I should be able to make it there by morning to compete with you guys." That's how it began. Later that night I would receive a text from Kip. --Not gonna make it Dave. They found something like a tumor in my head. They will run more tests. Sorry, I let you down.-- The next morning we would compete... I would pray a different prayer that day. Can't really remember how we did in that particular competition...I don't suppose that will ever matter, really.
Kip underwent surgery that monday. They removed a baseball sized tumor in the back of his head. Medullo blastoma they called it..you know, I can't hardly say it without a deep feeling of hate...hurt. There's a strong connection with firefighting and this evil...not strong enough to be considered an occupational disease. (http://www.lancasterhouse.com/services/ffel/FFEL.pdf ...you might find this interesting and equally upsetting.)
So Kip's got it. And now he's fightin it. Two months of Chemo and Radiation...you think you've had bad days brotha.. pffth. I saw what it did to Kip. By the way, this wasn't a normal, every day, comin to work for a paycheck kinda firefighter. This man earned it. He lived it. He raised his right hand, said a few words at the start of his career and he MEANT IT...every day! He was a good man. A firefighter's firefighter. A father who was involved in his kids' life. A husband who loved bringin his wife to the competitions...(This is our vacation man...our time to get away.",he once told me. I can remember standing in the lobby of a Denny's, or was it IHOP, in Portland, Main before a competition. Today, I remember an elderly man standing before us and telling his wife, as he stared particularly at Kip. "Now THAT is what a firefighter should look like Mary." ..I remember chuckling as I whispered to Kip..."I suppose I look like your GARDENER!???" ...It was true. Kip was the epitome of "Firefighter"...didn't just LOOK like one. He acted like one. Today, I remember Ron Patterson sittin at Dispatch tellin me about how Kip responded to one of his pages for Mobile Air, for a multiple alarm, I suppose...a BIG fire anyway. So Kip quickly responded to this page for this three AM fire. Today, I remember some details, from fellow brothers about Kip's noticeable struggle as he refilled his brothers' and sisters' bottles at that fire. (Those of you that were there remember.) Kip had been reassigned to the Training Academy at the time and it wasn't really his primary duty to respond to this particular page..but he did. "Not my job." "I'm just a firefighter."...not through Kip's mouth.
So it was to be, two months of chemo and radiation. When I say Kip put up a fight, brotha, Kip PUT UP A FIGHT! He was flippin tires and still tryin to work out as much as he could. He still continued to join me on our trips with Combat Challenge equipment to local area High Schools and Charity Events..you know, to demonstrate the "Meat and Potatoes" of firefighting, as Kip liked to refer to it. He came to me shortly after his two month portion of Hell and explained that he would join us on our trip to our next competition in Tyler, TX. "Sure Kip. That would be great I said." I could see it in his eyes, he didn't intend to be a spectator that day. "You're gonna compete?" I asked.
It was a wet course. We had a rain delay for 2 hours. I'd hafta say that THIS particular rain delay was certainly worth the wait. Kip would begin the competition. They asked him to start it all off. When I share this story with the troubled kids in our community, I explain that the Firefighter Combat Challenge is like running an 800m race at the speed of a 100m race...all out, 100%!..for TWO MINUTES! So the oxygen in our body is flowin towards our legs and arms. You know, nothin in our heads (explains a lot don't it?). We tend to get a pretty bad headache afterwards. I recognized some of that particular thought was runnin through Kip's mind as he donned his mask. Courage? Indeed. I can't remember ever thinking this would be Kip's last Combat Challenge...nope. In fact, I remember thinking Kip would do it. Beat it. There wasn't a dry eye in the place as Kip demonstrated the spirit of something supernatural by crossing the finish line. You know, the one in all of us. The one placed there for a rainy day...there to simply overcome. This would make national news, but it was the feeling in our hearts that we, the witnesses, will remember for a lifetime.
Kip would come home to El Paso..back to work. He followed up his three week break from his treatment with yet more treatment. A month went by...a busy month. We had begun our busiest time of year. It seems we were loading the Combat equipment daily to share our passion with the people of El Paso.."The Meat and Potatoes." The second month after Kip's glorious Combat Challenge began, Kip began to feel ill. I remember driving up Val Verde street just before it meets Alameda. We, Kip and I had the equipment loaded on my pick-up for, what would be our last public demonstration together. We stopped there at the convenience store so Kip could grab us a couple of power drinks. Kip struggled tremendously that day, helping kids up and down the Thomasson Hospital parking lot stairs as they themselves struggled through our course. He would silently escape throughout the day, into The other team members and I stuggled as well. Our struggle was to get Kip to stop and rest. Two days later, Monday, Kip was in the ICU at Providence Hospital.
Later that week, your Combat Challenge Team was holding the annual "Hearts of Courage" Event at Providence Hospital. This is the annual event where we honor the young souls from the hospital's oncology center, by inducting them into our department...They become Honorary Firefighters. Kip was looking forward to sharing some encouraging words with the honories and their families that year, as he now intimately knew what their fight was all about. Kip, however, had a fight of his own on his hands, upstairs in the ICU, as he and Sandra had learned that he had been given an overdose of Chemo, which was causing, what was becoming irreversible harm.
We were met upstairs by a nurse, who wasn't initially allowing us to visit him. His condition had deteriorated to a point that our very presence could cause him harm. He had been isolated from contact with loved ones. His nurse called to us as we were turned away and said, "Kip's had a really hard week and would love to see you guys." We masked up and were allowed to stand at Kip's door to greet him. Sandra, his wife was by his side. We made a few "fireman" remarks. I can remember one of us explaining that we would've come up sooner, but we couldn't find a big enough mask to fit Danny's nose. I guess that was me. Kip struggled to laugh... That was it. The first time I realized it. Not many words were spoken on our way down and out of the hospital. I suppose we ALL felt it.
Kip fought HARD for three weeks, as his brothers and sisters gave blood downstairs. I remember focusing on GOOD, POSITIVE thoughts, prayin for healing in my blood as they drew it. I guess I was fightin it myself.
Sandra had Kip flown to a hospital in Lubbock, TX. He would spend three days there, fighting his fight. I recieved a call from Sandra on the fourth day. Today, I remember where I was. I had the Combat Equipment loaded on my truck, enroute to Cohen Stadium for the Miracle League's "Movie on the Mound" event. Kip had begun a partnership with them the previous year. We would set up the Combat Course for the kiddos, and rewarded them with an EPFD water bottle upon completion. I hadn't quite left my house when she called. "He's not gonna make it, if he continues to breath like he's breathing. The doctor thinks his friend's should come." I could hardly make out what she said...maybe I didn't want to.
My flight was booked. I still had time to do one for Kip. You'd think the drive to Cohen woulda been hard, but it wasn't. Remember that spirit in Tyler? It hasn't left.
A couple of other team member's met me at Cohen Stadium. We set up and ran Kip's course for the kids. I can't really remember leaving Cohen Stadium...suddenly I was in Lubbock. The remaining team member's had begun their drive from Austin, TX early that day...They had competed that morning just after learning of Kip's condition. They picked me up near the airport, before continuing the quiet stretch to the hospital.
Kip's family was in his room. Their tears as we entered gave me a quiet recognition of the meaning of "firefighter brotherhood"... They had watched us compete together throughout the years, and knew this was more than friendship walking through the door. This was family. Our brother breathed his last breaths with loved ones nearby on October 21, 2007.
Today I remember, a promise. "We got this Kip... You rest." Today I remember my brother and his spirit. Tomorrow I honor him. Join me and the Combat Challenge Legacy at the Training Academy at 9 am, and bring your kids.
I encourage you today my brothers and sisters. Serve well. Daily. Do that which you have raised your right hand and spoken an oath to do. Do it well. Don't do it conditionally. We are standing on the cusp of change. The mission, however shall remain unchanged.
Dave Valero Fire Captain, P-15C El Paso Fire Department (915)857-1441
Fire Captain, P-15C
El Paso Fire Department