A different kind of grandma
Someday in the future, when some-one asks one of my five grandkids what they remember most about their grandmother, I hope they’ll say I was kind, that I loved to share a good laugh and that I was good at reading books with them. I’d love it if they said I was brave and fearless too, but that’s unlikely. I am, after all, the grandma who’s terrified of granddaddy longlegs, the world’s most harmless spider.
Taylor Rich, on the other hand, probably won’t hesitate to use the words brave, fearless and smart when she describes her grandma. Especially not after two weeks ago, when she got to see her brave and fearless grandma – a very smart fire chief – respond to a two-vehicle crash on June 30 that left two local men seriously injured.
Taylor was here from Illinois for her two-week annual visit with her grandparents, Keith and Khristie Jacquin, who moved from Illinois to Pontiac in 2014.
Khristie, 51, and Taylor, now 10, have a close relationship that began when Khristie retired from working with her husband in their Golden Corral restaurant franchises in Illinois to babysit Taylor when she was then 2 months old.
Now, when Taylor comes to Pontiac, she loves hanging out with her grandma. Last Tuesday, they were headed home to Pontiac on Highway 5 south of Gainesville, having just finished one of Khristie’s house-cleaning jobs, when a call came in over Khristie’s emergency radio. The call from the Ozark County Sheriff’s Office dispatched the Pontiac/Price Place Volunteer Fire Department to respond to a two-vehicle crash with injuries just a couple of miles ahead of them on the highway.
Khristie is the PPPVFD chief, a position she has held since April, when she stepped into the role after the death of former chief Art Streigle. She and her husband, Keith, joined the fire department as volunteers in 2015 after PPPVFD responded to a flue fire at their house. The Jacquins appreciated the professional-level skill and selfless work of the PPPVFD team and wanted to join the dedicated men and women in the department.
They spent the next summer training in firefighting techniques and in the winter, Khristie completed the medical first responder course “even though I have a weak stomach and can’t stand blood and guts,” she told the Times last week. Before Streigle died of cancer in March, Khristie served as the department’s assistant chief. Keith is now president of the department’s board of directors.
When the radio call about the car crash came in, Khristie and Taylor were in Khristie’s personal vehicle, which, like the vehicles of most VFD volunteers, is equipped with a siren and light bar. When she heard the emergency page, Khristie flipped on her emergency lights and siren, went around the semi-truck ahead of her and raced to the scene.
Surely every kid loves to imagine what it’s like to be a firefighter riding in the big firetruck as it hurries to help someone, lights flashing, siren blazing, air horn blasting. For Taylor, that bit of childhood imagination became reality, except that, instead of a big firetruck, she and Grandma were racing to help in a blue SUV.
They got to the scene in less than five minutes, the first emergency responders to arrive. They could see people from other cars frantically trying to help the two victims, both of them trapped in the wreckage. Khristie parked the SUV on the side of the road directly across from the crash site and told her granddaughter with steely-eyed seriousness, “Grandma has to go help these people. You stay in this car. No matter what, do not get out of this car. OK?”
Then, for the next two hours, little Taylor watched through the window as Grandma the Fire Chief, the woman with a weak stomach who can’t stand the sight of blood and guts, took control of the grisly scene. She skillfully worked with the others at the crash site, directing other emergency responders as they arrived and emptying three fire extinguishers onto one of the vehicles that burst into flames with the driver still trapped inside. She helped pull the crash victims from their mangled vehicles and then joined medical personnel in stabilizing them before one was taken to a waiting ambulance and the other was evacuated by helicopter.
At 6 p.m., Khristie finally returned to the SUV, the last one to clear the scene.
“Are you OK, honey?” she asked Taylor.
“I was watching you, Grandma,” the 10-year-old said. “I saw you put the fire out with the fire extinguishers. I saw you help the man on the stretcher.” And then Taylor added, “Grandma …I’m hungry!”
Neither of them had eaten since breakfast. They quietly drove home to the Jacquins’ Pontiac house, where Khristie took off her blood-stained, mud-splattered, glass-sprinkled clothes and took a shower.
While she patiently waited, Taylor ate Spaghettios. Then, for supper, she feasted on corn dogs, fries, chicken strips and two helpings of green beans.
When her tummy was finally full, she and Grandma sat together on the couch, and Taylor listened calmly as Grandma told her that she was OK, but she was feeling a lot of emotions that just had to come out – because it had been a really bad accident scene, because it was one of Grandma’s first times to respond to that kind of thing as chief, and also because everybody survived.
“So these are tears of sadness and joy,” Grandma said, reaching for tissues.
Taylor saw those tears and knew just what to do for her brave, fearless, smart Grandma the Fire Chief. She put her arm around Grandma’s shoulders, rested her head against Grandma’s and let her cry.
“It’s all right, Grandma,” she said. “I’m right here.”