The Hinesville Fire Department, which is made up of men and women who put their emotions in check when dealing with tragedy, shed tears last week when a 9-year-old boy from Puerto Rico who is battling skin cancer stepped into Station 1 in Hinesville and gave each of them a lesson on life.
Sebastian Andres Torres Rivera of Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, visited the department twice last week with his mother, Aida Rivera Santiago, sister, Katialy Resto, and Hinesville resident and newly acquired family member Annie Torres. The boy immediately captured the hearts of department personnel who were on shift.
The road from Puerto Rico to the Hinesville fire station and various other county agencies started out with a wrong number.
A little more than a year ago, Annie Torres was calling her sister Aida Rivera in Puerto Rico when Aida Rivera Santiago picked up the phone. Thinking she was talking to her sister, Torres soon realized the mistake. But instead of apologizing and hanging up, the women began to converse, and from that wrong number, both women fostered a bond so strong that they now call each other family members. During the course of subsequent conversations, Torres learned of Sebastian’s battle with melanoma cancer.
“During our conversations, his mother told me what he had been going through and when I saw photos of him, I could see it was serious,” Torres said.
She began to send care packages. Over the course of time, Sebastian, who is homeschooled, would become excited when Torres called to speak to his mother and check on him. As the months passed, it was eventually decided that Sebastian and his family would visit Torres, stay at her Hinesville home and hopefully get a second opinion on his condition, which is terminal.
During Sebastian’s weeklong visit, Torres took him to meet various agencies in Liberty County and Hinesville.
“We brought him to the Sheriff’s Office, the courthouse annex, the Heritage Bank and the Hinesville Police Department,” she said.
At the Sheriff’s Office, Sebastian met Sheriff Steve Sikes, and they posed for photos. At the Police Department, Sebastian was given a tour and met Chief George Stagmeier, along with patrol officers, and he even learned the workings of a patrol car.
But the highlight of Sebastian’s week was his visit to the Hinesville Fire Department. The firefighters made him an honorary firefighter, outfitting him with firefighting gear, giving him a ride on an engine truck, instructing him on how to handle a working fire hose, and capping it off with a ride on the ladder used to fight fires on tall structures. He was so high at one point, only the outline of the helmet he was wearing could be seen as he peered down at the crowd of firefighters gathered below.
When asked after the ladder ride if that was part of the practice the Fire Department gives, Public Information Officer Capt. Robert Kitchings said, “No! Sometimes, someone gets a hold of us in a place we just can’t shake, and Sebastian has really done that to us.”
Torres said that at each agency, Sebastian was given hugs, kisses and gifts — so many gifts, the family had to buy another suitcase to carry everything back.
Sebastian has a long road ahead.
“No one knows how much longer he has,” Torres said. “We’re hoping that a second opinion will give us hope for his outcome.”
Sebastian has gone through several surgeries over the past year and is expected to undergo more. The family was unable to get Sebastian in to see a doctor for a second opinion, but family members are not giving up hope on a future visit where they will see someone who may help.