At 93, Bob Hallett still mows his lawn. And that’s what the longtime Westminster resident was doing last Thursday morning when he collapsed.
Neighbors called 911. Four paramedics with the Orange County Fire Authority soon arrived, one of whom whisked Hallett to the hospital.
Their job was done. Hallett’s was not.
So, rather than pack up and leave, the remaining three paramedics finished mowing and raking Hallett’s yard.
“My impression was that this is the type of individual who’d want to get back to his lawn as soon as he came home,” said OCFA Captain Greg Chrismas. “That was the last thing he should be doing.”
Tim Crawford, a fire apparatus engineer, helped Chrismas sweep up grass.
“It was so easy for the three of us to knock it out, put the lawnmower in the back yard and wheel the trash bin to the side of the house,” Crawford said.”The whole process took maybe 12 minutes.
“It’s the little things that make big differences in people’s lives.”
Steel Morris, who lives across the street, snapped a photo of the men at work. If not for his social media post making the rounds, the story would have ended right there.
“This is something firefighters across the country do all the time,” Crawford said. “It’s routine for us. We’re not, ‘Hey, look at us.’”
In fact, when officials at OCFA headquarters tracked down Chrismas to connect him with well-wishers, he worried he’d done something wrong.
“I thought, ‘Oh God, did we leave equipment out and it got stolen?’” Chrismas recalled.
On Wednesday, August 11, Morris and one of Hallett’s daughters showed up at Westminster’s Fire Station #65 bearing a thank-you lasagna. Still recuperating, the elder Hallett couldn’t join them.
“I want you to know my dad is a lovely person,” Lori Hallett told the firefighters. “You couldn’t have done this for a nicer man. He is so appreciative.”
Two of the four firefighters involved in Hallett’s call had the day off – Shane Allan, who handled the mowing, and Ryan Bassett, who accompanied Hallett in the ambulance.
Morris and his two siblings grew up with Lori Hallett and her three siblings. The Hallett house was the fun house, where packs of kids congregated to play basketball.
Today, the 1950s-era track is almost as close-knit as back then. “Dad walks the neighborhood and knows everyone,” said Lori Hallett, an audiologist who lives in Long Beach.
Bob Hallett’s friend, a fellow nonagenarian, rides his bike over every day for a game of cribbage.
“A lot of original families still live on our street,” Morris said. “Kids bought their parents’ houses.”
Hallett, who worked for a furniture store chain, was the go-to guy for a tool or help with a home project.
To this day, Morris feels a little intimidated by Hallett’s skill set. “Whenever I see him mowing his yard, I think, ‘He’s just doing that to make me feel bad because I hire a service,’” Morris said.
Lori Hallett said her father, whose wife Erma died in 2009, loves staying active: “He always boasts, ‘I’ve still got it!’ He does crossword puzzles every day. He lives independently. He’s pretty remarkable.”
Most endearing is Hallett’s wit. “Bob has always had the driest, funniest most awesome sense of humor,” Morris said.
“He’s silly, for sure,” Lori Hallett agreed. “Laughter keeps him alive. He doesn’t get anxious. He just makes jokes.”
Chrismas said that many injuries happen during home maintenance. “I’ve finished mowing a lot of yards,” he said.
A few years ago, Chrismas helped finish hanging Christmas lights for a man who had tumbled off a ladder.
Firefighters even clean up inside houses. “If someone falls and leaves a pool of blood, we do our best to clean up the residence,” Chrismas said. “I would feel bad if that person came home to dried blood that we could have mitigated.”
Spending a few extra minutes tidying up doesn’t take them out of service.
“We’re still on call for emergencies,” Chrismas said. “There’s not really a playbook. It’s just good for a public agency to show the community we care.”
So completing Hallett’s chore was just business as usual for the paramedics.
“As Shane shut the ambulance door, he said, ‘Yards?’” Chrismas remembered.
Everyone instantly knew what that meant. They all mow the grass at the fire station every Saturday, referring to the duty as “yards.”
“Shane fired up the lawnmower and Tim and I got some brooms,” Chrismas said.
Her father was thrilled to learn about their favor, Lori Hallett said.
“With all the bad news in the world,” she said, “it’s beautiful to see people doing such good for others.”