Stories From The Street: A Debt Repaid

Dan was a volunteer firefighter in Warrenton Virginia and the town had hired him as the first paid firefighter. He was conscientious, funny, jovial, skilled, big hearted and well respected. I know of a time when he took his own money and bought food and clothes for two young boys hanging out on the street because their home life was so cruel.

He invited them in to the warm station, put them to work cleaning the engines, started making them do homework for the first time in their lives, fed them every day and provided guidance. They became volunteer firefighters, graduated from high school and entered different but successful careers. They didn’t stand a chance in life without Dan’s intervention.

Dan and his wife couldn’t have kids, so he was able to be a father figure to many of the young junior firefighters, including myself. He kept the station spotless with the work of his young followers and he ran a tight ship, which influenced work ethic and values of many young people. Many of us became career firefighters and can thank him for his influence on our successes.

One day a local attorney called Dan and asked him and his wife to come to his office. When Dan asked what for, the attorney would only say I need to see you both about a legal matter. Naturally this raised some concern, neither Dan nor his wife could figure out why an attorney wanted to see them. Needless to say it was a long drive to the attorney’s office, even though it was only a few blocks away.

The attorney met with them in a nice conference room and proceeded to let them know they were there for the settlement of an estate. Dan had been named as beneficiary for another old volunteer firefighter named Gus. Dan was the recipient of a $250,000 life insurance policy that Gus had taken out on himself 40 years earlier. Even though they had both volunteered together for most of their lives, they weren’t close friends. In fact, Gus never really interacted with anybody at the station. He never married, lived by himself and was always quietly on the fringe of any activity at the station.

One day early in their lives as volunteers, Dan and Gus responded to a house fire in the old section of town. Dan drove the engine and pumped the water to the hose that Gus carried into the house. Being the only two firefighters fighting the fire, Gus was hunting the fire down on the second floor as Dan broke out the windows to let the smoke and flames out.

Back in those days the masks firefighters wore filtered the smoke from the air instead of carrying in a tank of air like is done today. The filter masks didn’t always filter out the toxic gases and when that happened firefighters would pass out, and some would die from breathing these gases. As Dan was operating the pump, he noticed the water had stopped flowing and the hose was no longer moving, so he went to the front door and called for Gus. He could see the hose going up the stairs and with heavy smoke pouring from the house Dan knew Gus was in trouble.

He ran back to the engine, grabbed a filter mask, and charged into the house. Visibility was so bad he couldn’t see anything but blackness, he could hear the fire roaring over his head, as he crawled along the floor calling for Gus. Following the hose he swung his hands back and forth feeling along the way trying to find his fellow firefighter. As he entered a bedroom, Dan finally bumped into Gus’s body lying motionless, and with fire all around them, Dan was able to drag him back to the stairs. Nearly overcome by the toxic gases himself, it was all Dan could do just to roll both of them down the stairs and drag Gus to the front yard.

They had both survived a close call and afterwards Gus had secretly taken out a life insurance policy to pay Dan back for saving his life. In a way, Dan was rewarded later in life for all the good he had done for others.

Life insurance is used for many reasons and in this case it was a gift of appreciation. Life insurance can also be called “Love Insurance” because it is often intended to take care of those you love in the event of your own death. It can cover paying off the mortgage, college tuition, living expenses for a non working spouse, or funeral expenses. It can be used to help out a nephew or niece, or someone who made a difference in your life. It can be used to create an endowment for your school or favorite cause, and sometimes provide tax strategies for financial planning.

It’s never too early to discuss life insurance planning, but putting it off until tomorrow can always be a day too late.