Gateway: News

Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One unites community behind its No. 1 fan

Contractor Chuck Lawson, left, volunteered his services Monday afternoon along with a large group of others to help build Gig Harbor resident Audie Graham, center, a new apartment. Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One Battalion Chief Lance O’Leary, right, a longtime friend of Graham’s, helped coordinate the work party.
Contractor Chuck Lawson, left, volunteered his services Monday afternoon along with a large group of others to help build Gig Harbor resident Audie Graham, center, a new apartment. Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One Battalion Chief Lance O’Leary, right, a longtime friend of Graham’s, helped coordinate the work party. Special to the Gateway

For longtime Gig Harbor resident and Safeway employee Audie Graham, having firefighters from Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One at his home is always an exciting day.

Even more so when those firefighters are there specifically for Graham, as was the case Monday, helping with his recent move-in with his sister, Starla Hauser.

Graham’s move follows the death of his and Hauser’s mother, Jackie Graham, on March 15. Because of his special needs, Graham, 39, needs to live with the support of his family nearby.

Seeing the need for Graham to have space of his own within Hauser’s house, Battalion Chief Lance O’Leary stepped in to assist with the move.

“Lance knew what our needs were,” Hauser said. “We’re going to convert our garage into an apartment so Audie has his own space.”

Her and her husband’s initial thought was to downsize their belongings stored in the garage to make room for Graham, but O’Leary had other plans.

With the passing of his mom a need arose. Between the firefighters and (these companies) everything’s really coming together.

Battalion Chief Lance O’Leary

Hauser said he insisted on providing a storage shed for the family, along with an apartment in the garage for Graham.

“He said this shouldn’t become a burden on us,” Hauser said.

There has been support for both Graham and the project, including donations of supplies and materials from several companies and local businesses.

“With the passing of his mom, a need arose,” O’Leary said. “Between the firefighters and (these companies) everything’s really coming together.”

The storage shed was donated by Frontier Northwest Inc, a company in Des Moines, after O’Leary contacted the company and explained the situation. He said the company president simply asked where to send the materials.

Other support includes donated materials from the Gig Harbor ProBuild and from contractor Chuck Lawson, from Juno Construction LLC, who will help with work on the apartment.

It’s gonna be fun. I’m having fun. I love it. I love all (these) guys.

Audie Graham

The construction on the shed was finished Monday, and the next step will be converting the garage into an apartment for Graham and furnishing the space, O’Leary said.

Both Hauser and Graham are grateful for the support of both the community and the fire department, and Graham’s excitement at time with the firefighters is palpable.

“It’s gonna be fun,” he said of the building project. “I’m having fun. I love it. I love all (these) guys.”

Graham’s love for the fire department stretches back to grade school and has remained strong since. In 2010, he was named an honorary firefighter with Fire & Medic One, and he participates in training and some ridealongs.

“When the tones go off, I’m ready to go,” Graham said.

He added that the colors he chose for his new room are grey, white and red, to highlight his love for all things firefighter related.

He’s so happy, everbody wants to see him...I think he fell in love with us first and then we fell in love with him.

O’Leary

In fact, Graham keeps tabs on his firefighter friends through his own radio scanner, listening as they go out on calls and talking about the incidents later.

Chief John Burgess has known Graham for years and noted that his dedication to the department has stayed strong since grade school.

“To help someone be that happy, that’s a great thing,” Burgess said. “He’s just such a great kid.”

O’Leary agreed: “He’s so happy, everybody wants to see him ... I think he fell in love with us first and then we fell in love with him.”

Andrea Haffly: 253-358-4155, @gateway_andrea

Donations for Audie Graham

Donations for Graham and the project can be made at any U.S. Bank, including the Gig Harbor Safeway location, which opens May 9.

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