Minn. Recruit Studied Sitting Bedside with Ill Girl
Dec. 21--The night before Joaquin Rosales took a Minnesota firefighter certification test, he completed his last-minute studying by 4-year-old Lucie Byron's bedside at the hospital. It was just after she'd been diagnosed with leukemia.
"The instructor told me, 'With everything you have going on, maybe you want to consider taking the test at a later date,' " Rosales said this week. "He said, 'You might not pass with what you have going on.' "
Rosales was not deterred. He spent the night in Lucie's hospital room, took the test the next day and passed. Lucie is Rosales' partner's child from a previous marriage, but Rosales considers the girl his daughter.
Rosales was hired by the St. Paul Fire Department and has spent 14 weeks in the city's fire academy. Rosales and seven other recruits become the city's newest firefighters Friday, Dec. 21.
The academy is an intensely busy time for all fire recruits -- days don't end at the fire training facility near Midway Stadium, but continue with study at home. For Rosales, his time in the academy was especially stressful as he and his family has cared for Lucie.
"For him to put in the effort that he gave us out here was amazing," said firefighter Dennis Hall, a training assistant. "In the back of his mind, you could always tell that he had something going on, but he always gave us 110 percent every day."
Lucie was diagnosed with leukemia in February. "It's constant battles, up and down," Rosales said. The girl has pneumonia
now, but the long-term prognosis is good, said Rosales and Jessica McElroy, Lucie's mother, whom Rosales plans to marry.
"She's living a normal, happy, little-girl life," McElroy said. "We're fortunate she's recovering."
WHILE SHE SLEEPS
Lucie is on the maintenance portion of her chemotherapy. When she needs medications at home, Rosales and McElroy sometimes administer them through a portacath -- a tube installed in a vein near the girl's heart.
"It's helped me with my EMT background to know some of the medications and some of the simple practices," Rosales said.
Lucie has been in and out of Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She spent about 20 days in the hospital just before Rosales started the academy and was hospitalized for shorter stretches while he was a fire recruit.
Rosales spent time with Lucie at the hospital whenever he could. One time, he brought his firefighter gear with him to the hospital to practice donning it quickly -- they're tested in the academy to put their turnout gear and airpack on within 1 minute, 30 seconds. Rosales drilled himself in the parking ramp while Lucie slept.
Rosales said everyone in the fire department has been supportive, including his academy
classmates -- they or their wives have offered to cook meals, provide rides, and help in other ways.
McElroy mostly cares for Lucie -- "She's an amazing woman," Rosales said -- and their parents and families pitch in to help. The couple has a 14-month-old child. McElroy has two other children, ages 6 and 7, who Rosales also considers his own (the father of McElroy's three older children is involved in their lives, too).
The children and McElroy are proud of Rosales becoming a firefighter. It comes out in little ways, such as their daily prayers.
Before they eat dinner, Rosales says a prayer aloud and the kids raise their hands to contribute their own prayer.
"I usually pray for God continuing to help Lucie in her recovery," Rosales said. "Lucie always prays for God to bless me in the firefighter academy."
Rosales' interest in becoming a firefighter was twofold -- his parents' service to the community influenced him to want to give back, and an accident a few years ago catalyzed his career change.
"It's a dream to get to serve my community and my city," Rosales said.
Rosales, 33, grew up on St. Paul's West Side and lives just over the border in West St. Paul. He worked for about 10 years in the film and video industry, producing corporate videos, music videos and commercials.
The accident happened when Rosales was riding a bicycle in Chicago. A pickup truck swerved into oncoming traffic, hit him head-on and drove away. He had no health insurance at the time and moved back to Minnesota, "to get my feet both literally and figuratively back under me," he said.
Rosales didn't have broken bones, but swelling and fluid in his knee kept him from walking for about a month. He used a cane for about nine months.
"That was one of those eye-opening experiences where I kind of just wondered, 'Wait, what am I doing with my life?' and I realized it could have ended at any time," Rosales said. "I said, 'How do I want to spend the rest of my life?' "
Then, Rosales' parents, longtime and active members of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, were at church when firefighters visited to spread the word that the department would be hiring. They told their son.
"I have seen his passion and desire to do this," said Ramona Arreguin de Rosales, Rosales' mother, who was instrumental in founding six community organizations; most recently a St. Paul charter school, Academia Cesar Chavez, where she is executive director.
"He's a determined individual. He said one time to us and Jessica, 'When I find it tough and I'm tired, I just think of the kids and I think of Lucie and that's what keeps me going.' "
Mara H. Gottfried can be reached at 651-228-5262. Follow her at twitter.com/MaraGottfried or twitter.com/ppUsualSuspects.
Graduating today from the St. Paul fire academy are Thomas Bever, Eric Clinton, Ryan Eckert, Steneco Green, Nicholas Hannigan, Joaquin Rosales, Nicholas Vars and Nickolaus Zajac.
Copyright 2012 - Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.