- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2016

SNYDER, Texas (AP) - Everyone seemed to agree, it’s pretty lowdown stealing gear from the fire department. Even so, it wasn’t anger that motivated Mike Dalby to donate $1,500 to replace it, but gratitude.

Dalby has been a firefighter in Lubbock for about nine years and one night he was watching the local news. Like many others, he learned that someone had stolen a Snyder volunteer firefighter’s protective clothing from the back of his truck while the man was fighting a grass fire.

“We had a vehicle with mechanical problems start about seven grass fires simultaneously on U.S. 84 north of Snyder,” Snyder Fire Chief Perry Westmoreland told the Abilene Reporter-News (https://bit.ly/1MRzQpj). “So we were trying to put them out as we came to them.”

The Snyder Fire Department is a mix of volunteer and paid staff. David Kruse is one of those volunteers and like every time for at least a decade, answered his call to duty by throwing his gear in the back of his pickup and following the smoke.

Kruse donned his lighter wildland firefighting outfit. His bulkier turnout gear for fighting structure fires stayed in the oversized zippered bag in the bed of his truck, which he parked along the highway.



“He had his vehicle locked up, slammed the tailgate and hopped on the fire truck,” said Westmoreland. Kruse rode the truck from fire to fire for the next few hours, putting it out.

“And then somebody came along and proceeded to help themselves to whatever they could get their hands on,” said Westmoreland.

Stolen was Kruse’ coat, pants, boots, helmet and gloves. The chief said the loss adds up to about $1,800, the gloves alone are $65.

The leads are thin, but Westmoreland said they would like to speak with some people who were selling portable generators in area oil fields that day. They were driving a white one-ton dually pickup, the type with four wheels in the back.

“They were in the area at the same time and we’re not accusing them of anything, but it’s possible they saw something,” he said.

But the chief is flummoxed over why someone would steal bunker gear in the first place. It’s not like they can sell it at a pawnshop.

“That’s been pretty well what’s buffaloed all of us, what value did it have? Who would want it?” he asked. “I mean, if somebody wanted some, we’ve got old stuff down here that we’ll just give you.”

It’s that old stuff that Kruse is having to use right now, at least until his new gear arrives. Since it’s all custom-fitted; Westmoreland said they will take Kruse’ measurements, send the order in and between 30 to 90 days, the new gear should arrive.

The chief said the department wasn’t looking for donations, but Dalby’s reasons for coming down the day after the theft ran deeper than him simply having the cash on hand.

“My wife and I, we’ve been dealing with a medical condition,” Dalby said. “My wife is an ER nurse; the fire department, the medical community has stepped-up big time for our family with donations and things.

“I really felt it appropriate that we pay it forward.”

Kim Dalby had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of stomach cancer on Dec. 2. The next morning she had most of her stomach removed in an operation. Then after the New Year, she spent six weeks receiving simultaneous chemo and radiation treatment.

“They caught it early in her, which is very rare, but she does have a good prognosis and a great attitude,” Dalby said. “She’s back at work now and feels awesome.”

Dalby and his wife are 39 and 38 years-old, respectively. They have two children, a daughter turning seven this week and a three-year-old son. It was right before putting their kids to bed when they heard of what happened to Kruse.

“I turned to my wife and said, ‘I’m going to Snyder in the morning and donate to the cause,’” he said. She understood why.

Even with insurance, there are always expenses never covered by one’s policy. Family and friends pitched in to help by opening wallets and stepping into Dalby’s shoes.

“I will never complain about a $25 co-pay again,” he said. “When you start getting into surgeries and getting treatments, the bills are just astronomical.”

Over the telephone, his voice got a little rougher as his emotions colored it.

“The outpouring of support was just tremendous, you can’t fathom the level of support I’m talking about,” he said. “Guys on the fire department were covering my shifts just so that I didn’t burn sick-time.”

He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts, and the line went quiet.

“I can never, never, ever repay that generosity everyone showed us,” Dalby said. “All I could do was pay it forward, that was the only way to honor the people who have given to me and my family, by carrying on that legacy and doing something out of the norm, just helping somebody out.”

So Dalby took a little of that spirit, went to Snyder and passed it on.

“I gave him some cash, looked him in the eye and said I hoped this will do something. I don’t know what kind of bunker gear they have, but I figured it would make a dent,’ he said.

Dalby calls himself a “behind-the-scenes-guy,” he wasn’t looking for notoriety but it still found him. Still, perhaps his example will move someone else to step forward, maybe even the one who stole Kruse’ gear in the first place. Westmoreland said if the gear shows up at the station one day soon, no questions would be asked and forgiveness would be given.

“Some might argue this, but I think humans are naturally giving souls,” Dalby said. “I think everyone has something inside that allows them to drop their guard and to give to someone in need.

“The key is just putting your own needs, and wants, aside.”

___

Information from: Abilene Reporter-News, https://www.reporternews.com

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