Landon gets his turnout gear

WENDY STIVER/THE EXPRESS Landon Readinger, in firefighting gear, stands in the center of other members of Dunnstown Fire Co.

DUNNSTOWN — Landon’s love of firefighting might have started at the age of 2, or it might have been something he was born with, like lots of boys are.

Landon Readinger didn’t completely grow out of this first love of big, red, noisy trucks. Instead, he became a member of Dunnstown Fire Co., and he just received a set of Station 5 turnout gear.

Something did happen when Landon was born, though. He had a stroke at birth and it caused cerebral palsy, his mother said. Landon has major limitations on his right side and a seizure condition as well.

None of this has stopped him from becoming a fire company member, a goal he attained a year ago.

At age 2, something else happened to Landon, something that could have been insignificant but that might have had a great influence on him. In a small act of kindness, the sort anyone might perform, family friend Peggy Baker lifted the toddler into the driver’s seat of a fire truck.

WENDY STIVER/THE EXPRESS Landon Readinger grins in his new firefighting turnout gear with, from left, his mother, Tammie Readinger; Dunnstown Fire Chief Justin Baker; his father, Shawn Readinger; sister Kaitlyn Readinger; and Fire Company President Mike Fetzer.

His mother, Tammie Readinger, likes to remember little Landon holding onto that steering wheel with both hands and smiling.

“He’s had a love of fire trucks ever since,” she said.

Peggy’s son Justin Baker is now fire chief at Dunnstown.

Landon, age 21, of Woolrich, spends one night a week at the fire hall, helping with bingo nights and other fundraisers. He wants to learn how to use firefighting equipment properly, and even though he won’t be entering any burning buildings, his fellow members at Station 5 are happy to instruct him.

They surprised Landon with a set of firefighting gear on Aug. 24, and it got him grinning from ear to ear.

Landon Readinger grins while wearing the firefighting turnout gear that his fellow members of Dunnstown Fire Company surprised him with on Aug. 24.

They first told Landon they wanted to meet his family, and about 50 people showed up at the fire hall for a meal.

“It’s a family here,” Tammie said of Station 5. “The fire company has always wanted him to be a part of them, of what they do, and this has impacted Landon’s life so much. He’s come out of his shell, he’s become more social.”

That Friday evening, Landon was surrounded by his mother, his father, Shawn Readinger, sister Kaitlyn, his grandparents and lots of other relatives. When everyone was assembled, Fire Chief Baker stood up front and reminded the gathering they were all there to honor a company member.

“This person walks through the door every week and automatically puts a smile on our faces and warms our hearts,” he said. “That individual is you, Landon!”

Landon got a big smile of his own just then, and Chief Baker’s remarks prompted hearty applause.

Landon Readinger, 21, of Woolrich, is seen at age 2 sitting in a fire truck for the first time. Peggy Baker, left, lifted him into that driver’s seat, a gesture that might have started Landon’s love of firefighting. Peggy’s son Justin Baker is chief of Dunnstown Fire Co. where Landon is now a member.

The chief said he’d thought a lot about his friend lately and the challenges Landon faces daily. Baker said he’s learned that 17 million people have cerebral palsy, 50% of them are in chronic pain, one in three can’t walk or talk, and 1 in 10 have vision impairment.

“We’re lucky that Landon can walk, he can talk, and he can see that I’m beautiful,” he joked.

He encouraged his listeners to appreciate people with cerebral palsy and to help them find something that brings them joy.

“Thank you for hanging out with us, Landon,” he said. “You bring US joy.”

Baker and Mike Fetzer, fire company president, then called Landon forward, pulled out a helmet from a big cardboard box, and buckled it in place on Landon’s head. Then they helped him don the Station 5 jacket that is his, and his alone, with the name Readinger on the back.

Landon grinned wide and big. He grinned and grinned while his friends and relatives all took photos to capture this red-letter day in his life. He was still grinning after he sat down again.

It was a little warm in the fire hall, but Landon probably would have worn that helmet all night if given the chance.

He had first asked to try on a set of gear on a very hot day, as Baker recalled. Even with beads of sweat popping out on his brow, Landon was thrilled to be wearing a jacket and helmet. “He didn’t want to take them off,” the chief said.

After a fine meal of picnic foods, Landon’s fellow members had him sit in the cab of a fire truck once more, this time in the passenger seat where he ran the lights and the sirens. They drove to Lockport Boat Launch Park, pulled out a fire hose and trained Landon in how to use it, giving him the chance to spray a stream of water into the river.

“He is a kid who fights for everything he wants, and this is something he’s waited a lifetime for,” his mother said. “The fire company members have been a godsend to him. They have poured their hearts into this. They are phenomenal people.”