When firefighter Brian Hackenburg runs a race, it’s impossible not to notice. That’s because for the past five years, Brian’s been participating in community runs of all distances in his full firefighter gear.
Brian, who has been a firefighter for 22 years and now works at station #2 in Perkins, first donned the 42-pound uniform in a race to encourage fellow firefighters to take charge of their health. “I had become out of shape and wanted to do something to bring attention to health on a bigger scale,” he explained, adding that firefighters in particular are at an increased risk for heart disease. In fact, about 45% of all firefighter deaths while on duty are from sudden cardiac death.
Running for a cause
But as Brian’s miles grew, so did his reasons for running.
One of those reasons is in honor of his late friend Jamie Dickman, who died while fighting an apartment fire in 2014. “Jamie was one of the first firefighters to run with me. I worked with him in Perkins before he went to Toledo,” explains Brian.
In addition, Brian runs in his gear to raise money for the Fireman Rob Foundation, which provides teddy bears to disadvantaged children and children in hospitals throughout the world. Thanks to teddy bear manufacturer GUND, the teddy bears are provided at a significant discount so the fundraising can go farther.
Brian and a group of firefighters deliver the teddy bears locally to ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital each holiday season. They also send packages of teddy bears to firefighters in other states to deliver to their local hospitals. Brian’s group aims to provide teddy bears in each state every year.
For Brian and the other firefighters, the visits to the Toledo Children’s Hospital have been humbling. “It makes you appreciate everything that you’re given,” explains Brian.
“Our hearts go out to these kids. They are still smiling after everything they’re going through and the parents are so grateful. We like to spend some time with the kids and talk with them and their parents to see how things are going. No child should have to go through what they go through, especially around the holidays, and we want to be there to help them.”
The visit is a special treat for the children, too.
Kylee Byrd, certified child life specialist at Toledo Children’s Hospital, works with the children through the Child Life program to support them and their families coping with the emotional impact of childhood illness. She says Brian and his co-workers are “real life heroes who bring joy, take away pain and deliver smiles every holiday season.”
Brian and his co-workers are “real life heroes who bring joy, take away pain and deliver smiles every holiday season.”
“A personal visit to a child and family, along with a cuddly teddy bear, can provide comfort during an anxious time,” Kylee adds. “The Child Life department and our children are grateful for their kind and generous hearts year after year, and also thankful for their dedication and commitment to saving lives and keeping the community safe.”
Support from the community
Brian will run his 62nd race in full gear at the Churchill’s Half Marathon, in conjunction with the ProMedica 5k to End Hunger on November 12, 2016, at The Shops at Fallen Timbers. Both events raise funds to help improve access for local children in need of healthy lunches during the summer.
Again, Brian will be raising funds to give children in hospitals a much needed boost. And, there may be some bears in his running gear, too. He often buys some with his own money to hand out to kids at the races.
The support of those around him keeps him going. “The people I talk to at races make it easier on me,” he says. Firefighters often shake his hand and fellow runners tell him he’s inspiring.
If Brian’s not careful, the firefighter gear can weigh him down. Because gear is made to keep out fire, it traps in body heat. “You can definitely overheat and dehydrate quickly,” Brian explains. For safety, he often runs with fellow firefighter Ryan Houghtlen, who also raises money for The Fireman Rob Foundation. He only wears his gear during the races and says it’s great training for his upcoming triathlon trainings.
Brian’s not the only local firefighter to run in his full gear; he’s part of a handful of firefighters. However, he will be the only one at the upcoming Churchill’s Half Marathon running in gear. See him at the upcoming race, support the cause and learn more about local programming for hospitalized children.