After Amtrak train derailment, first responders included in ‘Valentines for Veterans’ drive
When Congressman Denny Heck asked a class of third graders and kindergarteners at Maplewood Elementary School if they remembered the Amtrak train derailment in Dupont in December, there was a chorus of “Yes.”
Third-grader Jack Jackowski knew exactly who jumped in to help those who were injured.
“There was a military base really close to where (the accident) was so some of the military actually came to help,” Jackowski said.
Jackowski spoke about the accident as he created a heart-shaped valentines meant to be given to first responders, veterans and other service members.
The cards are part of Valentines for Veterans drive created by U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia. The drive is meant for students to recognize and thank veterans and service members in the area. Last year, more than 5,000 valentines were collected and distributed to local veterans and service members.
For its sixth annual drive this year, Heck wanted to include another important group to the mix.
“We’ve always done ‘Valentines for Vets’... but this year we added first responders and one of the reasons I wanted to do that is because we had that terrible train accident,” Heck told a class at Maplewood Elementary last Friday. “We had all these firefighters and ambulance drivers and police officers, some who were off duty, jump into action because they wanted to help. That’s what first responders do...So it’s really important that we remember to say thank you to them.”
The January death of Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel McCartney, who died while chasing two burglars in the Frederickson area, was another reason Heck wanted to include first responders. McCartney’s death brings to mind the danger that first responders put themselves in front of, he said.
This year, 15 schools participated in the drive, including Aylen Junior High School, Brouillet Elementary, Edgerton Elementary, Maplewood Elementary, Meeker Elementary, Ridgecrest Elementary, Sunrise Elementary and Wildwood Elementary schools in the Puyallup School District. At Maplewood Elementary, about 450 students between preschool and fifth grade created valentines for the cause.
Many of those students already know what first responders are and what they do.
“They knew the definition, which I’m really impressed by,” Heck said. “My guess is that this is an incremental contribution to more of those young people growing up someday to want to pursue one of those careers.”
“I think they’re learning how much veterans and first responders do for our local community and our nation,” Maplewood principal Susan Walton said. “The fact kids can say, ‘It’s Navy, it’s Air Force, it’s Marines,’ is really awesome.”
Many students have veterans and first responders as family members, too, Walton added.
Maplewood fourth-grader Lucis Bizak told Heck that he wanted to serve in the Marines one day. His uncle is a Marine.
“Thank you for your service. When I grow up I want to be a veteran. I think you are awesome,” he wrote in his Valentine’s Day card.
Maplewood fifth-grader Connor Hedden’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather have all served. He said they’d be happy to know he was making these valentines.
It makes Hedden happy to think about who’d be receiving his card.
“It makes me happy because it’s hard when they get deployed away from their families and are away for a long time,” he said.
“They sacrifice for us,” he added.
Heck’s office plans to distribute the valentines starting Feb. 12 through Valentine’s Day to local service groups, police and fire departments, including the Puyallup Police Department, Central Pierce Fire & Rescue and Pierce County Sheriff's Department.
For those wishing to participate, Valentine’s Day cards can be dropped off between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday until Friday (Feb. 9) at Lakewood City Hall, 6000 Main St. SW, Suite 3B, Lakewood. For more information, call Congressman Heck’s office at 253-533-8332.