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Firefighter proud to call city home
Firefighter Michael Cooper's house as it looks now. - photo by Photo provided.
Dear Editor: As a fireman for the past 11 years I have seen a lot that has just simply amazed me. However, over the past year I have witnessed some events that have just made me proud of my job and especially proud of the town I work in.
Over the years, my job has landed me in the paths of people who are experiencing something tragic, ranging from house fires to vehicle wrecks to medical emergencies. We are usually the first to arrive and our objective is simple – get a handle on things, but at the same time try to stay compassionate to the surrounding environment. We often return to the firehouse not knowing how the family is recouping. Sometimes it will be weeks later and in random conversation we will ask if anyone has heard an update on that particular call.
Little did I know that in January this all would change. For the first time in 11 years, I was about to experience all the stages of losing everything to a house fire.
On Jan. 8, 2010, around 3 a.m., a very close friend and firefighter Michael Cooper and his family lost everything to an unforgiving house fire. The blessing is that all family members were able to make it out unharmed. It is a strange feeling to pull up and see the address just dispatched belongs to a fellow friend and firefighter. Our tactic did not change, but there was a certain emotion that is unexplainable that hovered over this scene for the next couple of days. I now got to see all the emotions and the uncertainty of what to do next, who to call and the simple question where do I go from here. I cannot begin to fathom what it felt like to watch 26 years of history go up in flames. I know this tragedy happen to people every day all over the world, but today it affected my family. Coop and I might not have been born into the same family, but this brotherhood that we have chosen to make careers, unites us in ways that are just as close.
Just a couple of hours later, before the smoke had time to settle, the citizens of Richmond Hill and Bryan County leaped into action. As the word got out, the phones began to ring with people begging for something to do. One thing that sticks out in my mind is that morning after the sun came up, me and the chief took another ride to survey the damage. After spending some time, we returned to the station to find out that a relief fund had been set up in the family’s name. The impressive part was the bank had only been open for an hour or so. Of course we immediately contacted the American Red Cross, as we do for all house fires – they were instrumental in the process, as well.
Over the next couple of days the blessing continued to pour in from clothes to money and even some dropped off food. We started off putting the items like clothing and utensils of all kinds in the bay of our fire station. It only took us a couple of hours to realize that this was a mistake. We had to clear a spot out for our trucks to fit back in the bay. This is when we began to understand what kind of community we serve. The fire department has a shed outside that is used for operations here at the department, and when I say we filled this shed up, that is exactly what I mean. The family was able to outfit the kids quickly with replacement clothes and toys. The items not used did not go to waste. The same week Cooper’s family was dealing with their tragedy, a family in Liberty County experienced the same event. We were able to send items to assist in their healing process, as well. The generosity of our citizens was able to assist two families in their journeys to find normalcy.
I would like to say Thank You in helping out one of my own. Richmond Hill has once again reminded me why I do what it is I do. It is people like you that make this a great community to live in and be part of.
I can speak on behalf of the family in saying Thank You from the bottom of their heart. Your kindness and gratitude have been unexpected but much appreciated.

Thank You,
Capt. Andy Burriss
Richmond Hill Fire Department

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