Commotion and activity was visible on the side of State Road 135, near the Bargersville Fire Department.
Mike and Carla Herron were on their way to the northside of Indianapolis, where Mike Herron was scheduled to have surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his shoulder. He was worried that an accident or other emergency would delay their travels, making them late.
But as they drew closer to the fire station, his worry turned to surprise.
Firefighters from Bargersville and Franklin — Mike Herron’s current department and the one he worked at for 11 years — lined the road. Trucks were on the side of the road, with a big banner stretched out pledging the departments’ support.
All the trucks were out, and everyone stopped to say a prayer for the Herrons.
“It makes me wish that everyone who was going through cancer had that level of support,” Mike Herron said.
Mike Herron had been diagnosed with skin cancer in early 2017. His daughter, Abby Mentzer, was diagnosed with lymphoma in July 2016. The situation could have overwhelmed them, Abby Mentzer said. But they had another surrogate family that surrounded them with support: local fire departments.
“At the fire department, our entire existence revolves around solving problems and helping people, administering first aid to someone or helping put out a fire,” Bargersville Fire Chief Jason Ramey said. “Then when something happens to your co-worker or their family, and they’re sitting there suffering, you feel helpless. It’s so hard for people in our business to sit there and not be able to fix it, so we wanted to do anything we could to make it better.”
Mike Herron has been a member of the Bargersville Fire Department for 11 years. He also took shifts with the Greenwood Fire Department. Previously, he had worked for Franklin for 15 years, and his father also had worked as a firefighter in Franklin.
After Mentzer was diagnosed with cancer, the Bargersville department designed T-shirts in support of her and made meals so the family always had a hot meal to eat. Firefighters have come over to cut the family’s grass. Calls came constantly: “What do you need?”
“They stepped up for our little girl. When Mike got sworn in as a firefighter, Abby was there holding his hand. She’s always been our little firefighter girl, so when they stepped up for her and did so much for her, and now have done the same thing for Mike, it’s meant a lot for our family,” Carla Herron said. “We can’t get through this by ourselves.”
The Herrons have been friends with Ramey going back to 2001, when he and Mike Herron worked together for the Franklin Fire Department. He remembers Abby being around the firehouse when she was still a young girl, so supporting the family during such a difficult time was a matter of friendship, Ramey said.
To the family, it was special to see the outpouring of love.
“You feel all this love for them, since I grew up there, and then they reciprocate it, even if they didn’t have to. I think the way they’ve reached out and supported us has taught us how to treat others and give back to others in their time of need,” Mentzer said.
But at the same time, to have so many people within different departments coming forward to provide assistance speaks to the bond that firefighters share.
“Within the fire department, it’s just a large family. People hear that a lot, but until you’re involved in it, you can’t understand how much that is true,” Ramey said.
Mentzer’s husband, Austin, was enrolled at the Indianapolis Fire Department Academy when she was diagnosed. The other potential firefighters in his class wore ribbons of solidarity when they learned about Abby’s treatment. They collected donations to help the Mentzers with bills and other costs.
“It was awesome and humbling for all of them to treat us like that, especially my classmates, who I had spent every day for six months with,” Austin Mentzer said. “After graduating from the academy, I was a substitute firefighter, so I was at a different firehouse every day. Guys I didn’t even know, but knew about Abby, stepped up to support us, whether that meant making sure I made every one of her appointments or buying T-shirts, whatever they could do to help.”
Other fire departments throughout the county also have offered to help however they can, and let the family know that they’re pulling for them. Franklin’s fire department made shirts as well, wearing the supportive shirts while on duty, normally against the rules.
“You still feel that love, even though I haven’t worked there for 11 years,” Mike Herron said.