GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Imagine having a day to live your dream, to be able to do that one thing you've always wanted out of life. Thanks to Goodfellow Air Force Base, one special teen got to do exactly that.
Trey Pons, a native of Port Isabelle, Texas, has wanted to be a firefighter for as long as he could remember. He can list facts for days about fire trucks and has a constant thirst to learn more each day about anything related to firefighting.
However, Trey has autism. He is also deaf in his left ear and blind in one eye. These setbacks will probably prevent Trey from ever becoming a firefighter, but Trey's determination and heart say differently.
Jim Podolske, the Fire Emergency Services program manager, heard about Trey's situation. Podolske, and Trey's parents, Linda and Mack Pons, organized a surprise for Trey. They would bring him to the one place where they train firefighters in the military: the Louis F. Garland Fire Academy at Goodfellow.
In one day they put Trey through a series of situations trainees go through while attending the school. At the end of the day, he experienced a graduation ceremony. For that day, Trey was the firefighter he has always dreamed of being.
Trey's training day started bright and early. The first thing on the schedule was a tour of the highbay, where the various fire trucks were held.
Trey received his personalized fire helmet and gear, which he put on to begin the physical part of the training. He then went on to work on a mock car accident, where he smashed the car's windows open and used the Jaws of Life to pry open the door on the car.
Trey's focus, determination and skill impressed his parents.
"I've never seen him concentrate on something for so long," said Linda. "He is really focusing on what he is doing in front of him rather than just looking around."
After demonstrating his skills on the car, the instructors gave Trey a ride around the training site in two fire trucks and let him sound the sirens. Then it was time for more action.With the help of the instructors, he connected an industrial firefighting water hose to a fire hydrant and extinguished an interior structural fire in one of the simulation buildings. This turned out to be Trey's favorite part of the day.
When he was introduced to a group of students training to be firefighters, he made sure to let them know how much he admired them.
"This has been a lifelong dream for me and you guys are doing a great job," Trey told them. "Congratulations. One day, I'm going to be a firefighter in a big city."
His fast-moving training schedule next landed him in the dispatch area where he handled mock emergency calls. Students go through this training to ensure once they graduate, they will handle real calls calmly and get the callers the help they need.
There were no first-time jitters from this trainee, though. Trey expertly picked up the phone on his first mock call and handled it as if he worked in dispatch for years.Now, it was Trey's dad's time to be impressed.
"It's amazing to see him react and adapt so well to the situations they are throwing at him," said Mack.
After the full day of smashing, prying, clanging, extinguishing and coordinating was done, it was time for Trey's graduation. Trey's parents proudly pinned the badges signifying that he was a firefighter onto his jacket. Col. Paul Bugenske,17th Mission Support Group commander, presented him with his authentic Department of Defense certificate of Level I firefighter training.
"I wanted to thank all the instructors, the colonel, and especially my parents for this amazing experience," said Trey, the look of pure joy and happiness on his face. "This has truly been the best day of my life."
Many instructors and people said they put a lot of time and effort into making it a wonderful day for Trey, not because they felt like they had to, but because they wanted to.
"We wanted to treat him like a real firefighter and make him one," said Podolske. "Everyone was over the top with their generosity and with all this stuff we have given him, he will be able to relive the memory long after he leaves here."
Although Trey may never be an operational firefighter, he is one to the Air Force. He has the will and determination to help others. He constantly thanked God for His grace throughout the day and never gave up on anything the instructors gave him to do that day. This faith and determination gained admiration for Trey from everyone in the room of during his graduation.
"Earlier today, there were 925 firefighters in the Air Force," Podolske said. "Now there are 926."