By Marcy Stamper
It’s hard for anyone to imagine the pain and long recovery firefighter Daniel Lyon is facing.
But the fifth-graders at Methow Valley Elementary School took on that challenge with sensitivity and compassion by writing letters to Lyon, who is being treated at Harborview Medical Center for severe burns he sustained in the Twisp River Fire this summer.
As Lyon heals from multiple surgeries and gets physical therapy, his parents read him thousands of cards sent by people around the country. This week, the fifth graders have contributed 48 more letters to that impressive stack of correspondence.
The letters convey the students’ uniquely individual concerns and admiration for Lyon. They describe being evacuated and scared and include personal stories and drawings. A few excerpts:
“I went to my grandparents’ house until the fires were put out. I was really scared. You saved a lot of people’s houses and you saved the town of Twisp.”
“You risked your life for ours and we are so thankful that you are a firefighter. Thank you for your service.”
“Just please get better for me if you can.”
Grace Kominak, whose family lost outbuildings and business equipment at their perch high above Twisp River Road, told Lyon, “Our family was badly affected by the fire. Without brave people like you, our house would have burned.” We thought about how he helped other people, and how people helped us, she said.
“It was hard — he risked his life saving our homes,” said Addison Stratman, who said the fire had been close to her home and, without people like Lyon, probably wouldn’t have survived.
Avery Catlin was one of many students whose family was directly touched by the fire. She wrote to Lyon that her grandparents had lost their home near where he was injured.
Catlin said she had received many get-well letters when she had health problems as a baby. While she was too young to remember the letters, Catlin said, “It helped me write, knowing it was probably really comforting to have all those supporters.”
The students see Lyon as a role model. “He’s such a great inspiration. It’s so incredible — the random things people do to save people’s lives, said Stratman. “I’d like to do something like that when I get older. It’s hard to appreciate that kind of heroism,” she said.
Writing a letter in these circumstances is difficult because it’s such an emotional subject, said fifth-grader teacher Catie Barber. But most kids are also eager to talk about the fire and how it affected them, and learning about Lyon and writing the letters proved to be a good outlet for that, she said.
The idea for the letters came from Jill Sheley, who has twin boys in fifth grade. After reading an article in the Methow Valley News about Lyon’s recovery, Sheley encouraged her sons to write to him. She then proposed the idea to Barber and Jennifer Duguay, the other fifth-grade teacher at Methow Valley Elementary.
The students’ letters were on display for parents to read at a school open-house last week. “They were so touching,” said Sheley. “I hope Lyon will save these letters and know how much these kids thought about him.”
Duguay and Barber also used the opportunity to teach students about health and medical issues. The students understood that they had to be sensitive that, at this phase of Lyon’s recovery, he can’t learn too much about the fire or about his three colleagues who perished.
The students were perceptive about the challenge of writing to someone they hadn’t met. “It’s easier to write to a person you know — you know how they’ll react,” said Melody Langan. “We didn’t want to make him feel bad — we don’t know if he’s emotional.”
Many of the students have parents or other relatives who are firefighters, making the situation even more vivid. Nicholas White said his father had fought the fire at the Kominaks’ house. “My father likes helping out with people,” he said.
Katelynn Budrow also understands what it’s like to have someone close to you respond to emergencies. In her letter, she explained that her father was working during the fire because he is a police officer.
Writing to Lyon helped the students develop social skills that demand considerable maturity, such as how to write an empathy letter and what to say to someone who is sick, said Barber. They concentrated on what would be comforting for Lyon and his family, she said.
Langan said her family had been threatened last summer by the Carlton Complex Fire. “It was scary. Knowing there’s somebody there to help makes some of the pain go away,” she said.
The students also had deep empathy and concern for what lies ahead for Lyon. “The stuff he does remember will be painful,” said Langan.