One more reason Firefighters are my heroes

Grab your tissues, folks.

A brave boy joins his heroes

Colonie firefighters welcome 7-year-old with cancer into their ranks

By David Filkins, Staff writer

Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Sunday, December 2, 2007

Two things can bring brawny, hardened firefighters to tears: Tragedy, and making the final wish of a terminally ill child come true. It explains why a dozen members of the Colonie Fire Department cried Saturday.

That's when they met William McKay, a 7-year-old boy from Cohoes, whose story brings those who hear it to the extremes of sorrow and joy. In simple terms, it goes like this: Healthy kid gets sick. Sick kid has a wish. Selfless adults make wish come true.

First, the tragedy. In April 2006, William was diagnosed with glaucoma. But inside his eye, retinoblastoma, a form of cancer, was growing and spreading. It would take over his body in the months that followed, and earlier this week he was moved to the hospice ward at St. Peter's Hospital.

Next, the wish. William was a toddler on Sept. 11, 2001. He watched on TV as firefighters risked and lost their lives helping others after the World Trade Center attacks. His dream was to become a firefighter. For the last three years, he has been one for Halloween. Saturday, the dream came true.

At 3:53 p.m., William's father, also William, lifted his son from his bed on the fourth floor of the hospital and held him up to the window facing New Scotland Avenue. Outside, a dozen members of the Colonie Fire Department, dressed in full turnout gear, waved from the parking lot as they stood next to an engine with its lights on.

William waved back, surprised.

The event was put together at the last minute by Make-A-Wish Foundation. The organization was to give him a trip to Disney World, but when William's condition worsened, alternate plans were made. Make-A-Wish volunteer Linda Prinzo knew of William's dream, so she called the Colonie Fire Department Friday night and arranged for him to become the town's youngest firefighter.

Led by Chief Mike Powers, the firefighters went to the fourth floor, where William, dressed in a gown, tubes and wires running from his body, waited with his parents and other family members.

Capt. Mike Sipperly was one of the first ones out of the elevator. "How are you doing?" he asked.

"Good," William whispered, waving as the firefighters surrounded him.

A hospital employee suggested they move to a larger room down the hall. As William was wheeled away, his dream coming true, his father put his forehead on the wall and nearly crumbled, family members holding him up as tears streamed down his face.

There he stood, a father watching his son's fantasy come to life. Sometimes, the deepest pain brings the greatest happiness.

William is usually outgoing and exuberant. Not Saturday. Saturday, he was awestruck.

Powers gave William a badge and the firefighters lined up to shake his hand. As they finished introducing themselves, William lifted the badge a few inches off his lap.

"He's showing you to let y'all know he's a fireman now," said his mother, Marion Bussey.

Powers reached into a bag, pulled out a hat, and gave it to William. Then he gave the boy a shirt and yellow helmet as the rest of the firefighters looked on.

William leaned toward his mother and smiled. "Mom, I like this," he whispered.

Tears formed in Bussey's eyes and rolled down her cheeks.

"William is our hero and you guys are his hero," she said to the firefighters. "He doesn't have to say he wants to be a fireman anymore."

What happened next wasn't scripted. Maybe it was coincidence. Maybe no explanation exists.

William's parents and the dozen firefighters looked at William and said the same words at the same time: "You are a fireman."

William lifted his right hand and placed it on his forehead.

"I am William McKay," he said, "and I'm an official fireman. Thank you."

Then he saluted.

The firefighters looked at each other, tears welling in their eyes. They began crying. Some left the room. Others dabbed their eyes with tissues. William's family began crying. Hospital staff began crying. Almost everyone began crying.

But not William. He had no reason to cry. He was the happiest boy in the world.

Filkins can be reached at 454-5456 or by e-mail at


EE said...

I'm crying.


none said...

Those programs are some of the most worthwhile. Giving that kind of happiness is its own reward.

Dr. Val said...

Great story! It was indeed a tear jerker. I'll never forget the time that I got to participate in a Make A Wish Foundation event. A young boy with terminal cancer wanted to be the President of the US for a day. I got to be part of a crowd that tried to get his autograph when he arrived (via motorcade) for a meeting in a building near my office in DC. I tried so hard to act like "paparazzi" and not cry!