A.J. Heightman Reflects on Being a “Public Safety” Father

Long before I was born, my Father had many “children” that he raised. He “adopted” public safety early in his life, long before he had his own children.

In particular he “adopted” and “raised” an ambulance service when Scranton State General Hospital gave it up because they didn’t want it any more.  It was his passion, his profession, his lifelong commitment.  It became his “baby”!

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He then lead and nurtured a team of eight “children” – his “Ambulance Men” as his beloved ambulance service grew. He was committed to it 24/7 and trained them to care for patients as they would their own children and family members.

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My father also raised dogs as his father did before him. At the headquarters station of the Scranton Fire Department, he raised and trained a Dalmatian (“HINDU”) to climb UP a 30 foot fire ladder to the balcony roof of headquarters AND then climb —- DOWN —- to the ground to entertain school children.  He raised that dog like a child.  HINDU had his own bank account and sent thank you notes to children and donors with his paw print stamped on the signature line.  This may be where the genes passed for me (and my sons) to love and raise dogs)

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You see, my Dad and Mom were unable to have children for the first 15 years of their marriage. My mom had several miscarriages, tubal pregnancies and lost one of her fallopian tubes.  Doctors told her she probably would never be able to give birth to a child of her own. Mt father thought he was never going to have a child of his own and continued to immerse himself in his profession and service to the community

But she and my Dad never gave up and then, when a doctor thought she had a tumor  and did exploratory surgery (long before ultrasound was available), they found my Mom was pregnant with my sister Ann Marie.  It was a miracle, but they did not think it could happen again.   But it did — and two years later as I — (another tumor) — was born!

I was soon raised in a public safety family, shadowing my Dad in the Fire Department band during parades and hanging around the fire house washing and polishing his beloved ambulance.

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Then, at the age of 10, riding as an unauthorized “third runner” on ambulance calls.  My Dad (affectionately known as “The Grey Fox”, made me lay down on the floor of the Cadillac ambulance – between the bench and the stretcher — at fire scenes — so the fire chief did not see me and know I was riding on a city vehicle.)

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My career was born one night when, while “hiding” on the floor of this beautiful Cadillac ambulance at a 2-alarm fire, the fire chief, walking next to the ambulance, leaned in the side door window and said “Hi A.J., be careful!”

That was it. I was “discovered”, I was “accepted”, I was :”enabled”.   I was “born”!   The rest is history!

My father was absorbed by his career, and I was absorbed by his passion for his career and helping people.

This is the life of a public safety father and the life of his children.  It is something you have to live through to understand. It is infectious – in a wonderful kind of way!

My father was seldom home. If he wasn’t on ambulance duty, he was fighting and politicking for improvements in his ambulance (EMS) division, taking classes, working undercover on Arson details and starting programs like police response station wagons (in 1968) – equipped with oxygen, first aid supplies, tourniquets and a low level wheeled FERNO cot, to transport patients when the primary ambulance was on a “Mercy Mission” as the newspaper referred to “emergency calls” as.

My father didn’t really follow sports, but somehow managed to make my high school football games even if it meant coming in the ambulance. And he always was home for me on Christmas morning. He was able to do this because, for the 15 years before I, his “tumor”, was born, and he did not have any children, he worked every Christmas day so his men, who did have children, could be with them on Christmas day.

Then, 15 years later, when he became a father, (and their kids were now teenagers) he had the Christmas favors paid back by his grateful “ambulance men.”

I don’t really remember asking my Father for advice, I simply watched him, absorbed his habits and traits, and learned by assimilation.

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Fast forward many years and I was blessed by the birth of two wonderful sons – Joe and Steve – two years apart. Right or wrong I assimilated them into the world of EMS and public safety. They climbed on fire apparatus, went of accident and EMS calls with me when I was off duty but in an area of a call, and yes, wore uniforms that made them a part of the “public safety family”.  They were a big part of my career and they knew it!

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I rarely missed a school or sporting event. Once, while at an evening baseball game, a twin high rise in Allentown PA (Gross Towers) was rocked by a massive gas explosion and I slipped away in the 7th inning to respond (I call that my 7th Inning MCI).

It was a massive event, with 100 injured and 100+ evacuated/relocated.

I worried that my son Joe would be upset that I left his game early. (Steve was at the game and was only upset that I could not take him along!)

To my great surprise, he wasn’t upset at all because when he heard why I left early he “knew” I HAD to go. He had learned what I had learned, that love is not dictated by ATTENDANCE, but rather by committment and devotion to my children at all the right times.

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Joe has gone on to be a dedicated and highly respected and  decorated California Highway Patrol Officer – a member of the elite CHP motor division, a CHiP.  Steve has gone on to be a highly respected product manager for two of the EMS industry’s leading manufacturers.

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I didn’t think I could ever be prouder than when I saw Joe march into the CHP auditorium with a thundering march in unison with his classmates at graduation. In particular, I was proud that he trained not only in all aspects of law enforcement, but as an Emergency Medical Responder.

But I was wrong. I have since learned that I could be prouder.

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I learned that when Joe became a father; when his beautiful daughter, Hinley Ava Heightman, was born and he beamed and began to show me that loves being a father.

He’s a great father. He’s a devoted father. He’s an attentive father.  When he’s away at training, he misses her like I missed him when I was forced to travel.  He spends every minute of time he can with Hinley when he’s when not on the job. And it shows. She follows him around like I did my Dad.  She adores him, adores his motorcycle and washes it with him as I washed the ambulance with my father.

That is my gift from him on Father’s Day.

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A year after Hinley was born, my son Steve and his beloved Jessica blessed us with Harper Anne Heightman, an angel that smiles 24/7 like her father. Steve, like Joe and I, is “all in” as a Dad.  He hates being on the road away from her but “FACETIMES” with her when he does and rushes home at the earliest opportunity to be with her as she grows and develops.

Steve goes to work early so he can be home to see her and be with her before she goes to bed. He’s devoted to his job and equally devoted to her as a Father.  He takes Harper everywhere and treats her like we treated him, as a young adult, not a baby. And it shows. She adores her father and he adores her.

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Steve’s love and devotion to Harper Anne is another wonderful gift to me on Father’s Day.

You can keep all that after shave and all those ugly ties!  Father’s Day is meant for “reflection” and giving thanks for all your blessings.

And, boy have I been blessed!

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