‘There wasn’t a dry eye in the room’


J.D. Stokes (front) and Oneonta firefighters (from left) Kyle Dodd, Mark Howard, and Matt Crow pause for a photo before Stokes takes a ride around Oneonta in the fire truck. -Leslie Loggins

J.D. Stokes (front) and Oneonta firefighters (from left) Kyle Dodd, Mark Howard, and Matt Crow pause for a photo before Stokes takes a ride around Oneonta in the fire truck. -Leslie Loggins

On Friday, Jan. 11, the coordinated efforts of several agencies helped make a retired firefighter’s wish come true. According to Olive Home Memory Care Assisted Living administrator Melissa Gilliland, “There wasn’t a dry eye in the room” when Oneonta Fire and Rescue came to grant resident J.D. Stokes’ family a wish for their loved one.

Stokes, 76, suffers from late stage dementia. Add in recent blindness due to cataracts and you can imagine the confusion Stokes experiences each day. Yet despite the diagnosis of a disease that robs a person of short-term memory, Stokes still gets excited when he hears the roar of sirens. His daughter, Dee Chappelle, had one wish for her father, to ride in a fire truck one last time.

Stokes worked as a firefighter and EMT from 1968 until the mid-‘80s. He retired from Station 3 in Birmingham, which is known as the Highland Avenue station. His retirement came when he encountered some health issues that no longer allowed him to do the job he so loved. In the early 90s, Stokes and his wife and soul mate, Carol, moved to Straight Mountain. He remained there until after Carol’s death when he could no longer live independently.

J.D. Stokes strapped in and ready to ride. -Dee Chappelle

J.D. Stokes strapped in and ready to ride. -Dee Chappelle

Stokes moved into Oneonta’s Magnolia House before his condition deteriorated thus necessitating his move to the Olive Home, a more restrictive environment. The Magnolia House is very close to Oneonta Fire and Rescue, and, according to Chappelle, Stokes’ face would light up each time he heard the sirens. She knows that he remembers his days as a firefighter.

Despite being robbed of short-term memory, Stokes is able to recall working as a firefighter. When he and his nurse were talking about his profession she asked him if he would like to ride once again in a fire truck. Stokes responded by saying, “Why, is it broke?” He then asked if he could drive it.

Knowing how important it is to help a family cope with debilitating diagnoses, a nurse contacted Oneonta Fire and Rescue about the possibility of letting him ride in a fire truck one last time. She said they did not hesitate when asked and even said, “We will make it happen.”

And make it happen they did. When Oneonta Fire and Rescue arrived that Friday morning, there was excitement (and tears of joy) throughout the building. Firefighters Kyle Dodd, Matthew Crow, Mark Howard, and Leslie Loggins helped Stokes into the front seat of the fire truck (he rode shotgun), while his daughter and a nurse rode in the backseat. Chappelle said as they traveled through the streets of Oneonta Stokes “took it all in and grinned from ear to ear.” When asked if he was having fun, he replied, “Oh, yeah.”

Gilliland said of making this wish happen, “It was amazing.” Stokes’ nurse said, “Part of being a nurse is helping the patient and the family. While he may not remember this tomorrow, today we helped the family.”

The family thanks each member of the fire and rescue team that helped grant this wish. Loggins, who served as interim Oneonta fire chief, said that in his 12 years with the department this is the first time to his knowledge they have taken part in such an event. He said, “We were glad to be a part of helping the family grant Stokes this wish.”