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Holding Our Heroes

Helping Our First Responders When Crisis Hits Home

Fear presses down, heart pounds, and darkness starts to narrow your vision. Desperation claws at your mind. Panic tightens its hold on your throat and breath comes in shallow gasps. Hope dwindles to a tiny pinhole of light and your life flashes before your eyes. Then through the terror, a helping hand pierces the blackness. Rescue is here. 

In the midst of our trauma or emergency, that life saving hand might be the only thing we remember. But on the other end of that hand is a face, a name, a life, a neighbor. Most likely the person who ran towards danger to help you, has a family waiting for them at home. “As a spouse of a police officer or firefighter, you live daily with an unquenchable fear of the doorbell,” shares Linda Deland, the wife of the late Police Chief Tom Deland who served with Broomfield Police Department for 37 years. “Every time it rings, you’re terrified it will be a person in uniform telling you your loved one is not coming home again.”

Our Broomfield first responders face danger and risk their lives every day to help keep us safe and secure. Their families sacrifice time with them, often on holidays, evenings and weekends, never knowing if a hug will be their last. Though the rest of us might risk our lives for our children, a family member, or a close friend, Broomfield police officers and North Metro firefighters daily put everything on the line for complete strangers.

“Nobody joins the police force or the fire department for selfish reasons,” says retired Police Officer Chris Hickey, “They want to help people.” As a teenager with a challenging childhood, Hickey and some buddies were pulled over on their mopeds by a cop in his hometown of Kansas City. Instead of berating the young hooligans, the police officer checked on Chris from time to time, built a friendship, and eventually became a mentor. His positive encouragement and care made such a difference in Mr. Hickey’s life that Chris decided he wanted to do the same for others. In 1996 he chose to join the police force in a repressed area of Dodge City, KS, overwhelmed with violence and drug use. Three years into his career, Chris was part of a traumatic shooting incident that leveled him. He looked for a change and found it in the Broomfield Police Department.

Chris worked hard and finally landed his dream job with Broomfield’s Special Operations Motorcycle Unit. He joked around a lot at the department but was always serious about helping others. When a fellow officer got assigned patrol for the eighth Fourth of July in a row, Chris offered to trade shifts so his colleague could spend the holiday with his family. Riding home from work on his motorcycle the evening before his Independence Day patrol, Hickey was involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle. The collision broke Chris’s back, both tibias, his femur, his hand and much more. The crash traumatically injured his brain and caused significant hearing loss. Chris underwent multiple surgeries and two and a half years of intense physical and occupational therapy. Partway through this painful season, Chris returned to the BPD for “light duty.” While he enjoyed feeling purposefully employed again, his brain injuries and consequent memory loss frustrated and deeply discouraged him. 

Hickey’s allotted time of paid recovery ran out, and his career with BPD came to an unwanted end. Unbeknownst to his superiors, Chris’s medical retirement had still not been approved by the necessary outside agency. This officer, who had selflessly served his community and daily risked his own life while raising two beautiful daughters, now looked down the barrel of unemployment with no way to support his children. Devastating family news simultaneously hit the reeling policeman. “The bottom fell out of my life,” Chris shares, “I thought I was going to lose everything.” This bleak season dragged on for seven harsh months. 

Then one day, the phone rang and the caring voice of Tom Deland broke through Chris’s nightmare. “How are you doing?” inquired the Chief. “I’m drowning Tom. I’m financially drowning,” Chris admitted. Deland, one of the founders of the Broomfield Rotary Fire and Police Fund (BRFPF), gladly stepped in. Not only did the Rotary Fund throw the Hickey family a financial lifeline until Chris could start working again, but it also opened the door for their eldest daughter, Katelyn, to attend DU with a partial scholarship. Katelyn will graduate with a degree in Biology and a double minor in Chemistry and Entrepreneurship. Like their father, both Katelyn and her younger sister, Meghan, are incredibly hard workers. Since they were five, they’ve helped at Chris’s carpet cleaning business, Code Blue. Katelyn also mirrors her father’s care for the community and hopes to start her own fund to help people the way she’s been helped by the BRFPF.

North Metro Firefighter Craig Moilanen, another beneficiary of the Rotary Fire and Police Fund, had a precious 3-year-old daughter, Gabriella, and a sweet 1-year-old son, Brendan, when a terminal cancer diagnosis rocked his world. Having dreamed of, and worked hard towards, being a firefighter, Craig initially volunteered with Foothills Fire and Rescue in Evergreen. He became a captain at Foothills Fire before being hired as  a firefighter and paramedic for North Metro Fire Rescue District in Broomfield. He created with an artistic streak, loved hockey, the outdoors and his friends and family. Craig delighted in playing with his two children and adored his high school sweetheart wife, Amy.

In October 2013, when a persistent cough wouldn’t subside, firefighter Moilanen went in for a chest x-ray. A 5.5” mass under his sternum and over his heart sideswiped Craig and Amy.  A further CT scan revealed masses on both kidneys as well. After a biopsy, one doctor held a sample of Craig’s mass and said, “This thing is literally multiplying in my hands. We’ve got to get on this now!” Urgent as it was, another week passed before the definitive diagnosis was given.  Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a work-related cancer linked to chemicals firefighters encounter on a regular basis, was taking over Craig’s body. The Moilanens persisted through two years of countless treatments, prayer, and struggles. Finally in August 2015, Craig’s medical team in Colorado informed him that they could do nothing more for him. Craig and Amy decided to throw a Hail Mary and head down to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas.

With no family in Broomfield, the Moilanen’s amazing community rallied around them, including the tight-knit brotherhood at the fire department. They received offers of help from people they didn’t even know. The Broomfield Rotary Fire and Police Fund paid for their transport to Texas, for hotel rooms for Amy and also for family members who came to visit. The BRFPF covered food and Uber rides to the grocery store too. “I wasn’t even thinking about what I needed,” Amy shared, “but other people were.” Her community provided what she needed on every step of her incredibly difficult path.

After his two-year fight against a dismal diagnosis, Craig found eternal rest and peace on October 8, 2015. Though devastated by his loss, Amy moved through the tragedy with God’s help. She continues to share Craig’s passion for helping others and plays a vital role in multiple ministries, some at an international level. Amy also just finished writing her first book, “Saved in the Fire”. Though Craig passed away, his legacy of loving people and caring for others lives on in Amy, his children, and the lives of those he touched. 

Similarly, Police Chief Deland’s passion for the community also thrives in his wife Linda. Among other things, Mrs. Deland now directs the Tom Deland Memorial Golf Tournament, one of the main contributors to the BRFPF. This year marks the tournament’s 20th anniversary and will be quite a celebration of all the lives it has changed. “These first responders meet us in our desperate time of need,” explains Linda, “We have a chance to come alongside them in theirs.” The heroes mentioned in this article represent hundreds of Broomfield public servants who sacrifice daily to care for our community. Yet our police officers and firefighters go through tragedies and traumas just like we do. The Broomfield Rotary Fire and Police Fund helps us hold our heroes in their darkest moments. The tee slots for the tournament are already filled up, but you can still be a part of helping our heroes through the BRFPF. To learn more about the fund or get involved at a higher level, please contact Linda Deland at llkress@gmail.com. What an honor to give back a little to those who give everything.

“These first responders meet us in our desperate time of need, we have a chance to come alongside them in theirs.”

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