LEE CENTER — Joey Abt wants to be a firefighter.
But until he’s old enough, the 13-year-old has made it his mission to visit as many fire departments as he can across New York State, from the big city departments to the town and village volunteers.
Joey is the son of Diane and Steve Abt, of Phoenix. Joey, his mother and one of his aunts stopped by the Lee Center
Volunteer Fire Department on Stokes-Lee Center Road Tuesday evening to take a tour and a ride, and to add to his growing collection of patches and T-shirts.
“I just like them,” Joey said when asked what it was that he loved so much about fire departments.
Joey has Down Syndrome, and in December 2016, he was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia across both lungs. According to family members, Joey was placed into a medically-induced coma for six weeks to get through it.
Once he returned home, his family said Joey needed peace and quiet while on oxygen, and that’s when he started listening to fire calls on his aunt’s emergency scanner in Syracuse.
“I was in a coma for six weeks in the hospital, that’s when it started,” Joey explained. “When I started this whole thing, my Aunt Donna from North Carolina and Aunt Kathy told me about firefighting.”
With his curiosity piqued, Joey visited the Syracuse Fire Department, and that inspired his fire department “bucket list”.
Since last year, Joey and his family have visited more than 50 fire departments, most of them across Central New York. He started in Onondaga County and then moved into Madison and Oswego counties, where his family now lives.
Joey has ridden on fire trucks and fire boats. He has put out garbage fires and vehicle fires. He was grand marshal of the Minoa Field Days Parade in Onondaga County in early June.
Joey and his clan have recently started making roads into Oneida County. He visited the Verona and Oneida fire departments on Monday, and stopped by Lee Center on Tuesday.
Lee Center Second Lt. James Fisher said one of his firefighters alerted him to a news article online about Joey’s journey, and he immediately knew he wanted to help out.
“I don’t know if I feel like I have to, I just love the happiness,” Fisher said on Tuesday. He said his own son has autism.
“We’re here for them. Just knowing it’s going to make his day, make him have such a good day, fills me with all the joy in the world.”
Fisher reached out to Joey’s family on Monday, and they immediately set up the meet and greet for Tuesday evening.
Joey received a tour of the Lee Center fire station, including getting to sit in their rescue truck and their classic 1931 Ward laFrance truck, the first fire truck that Lee Center ever purchased. Joey was gifted with a patch and a fire helmet from Lee Center, and more gifts from visitors from the Lake Delta, Camden and Taberg fire departments, as well as AmCare Ambulance.
Though for Joey, visitors weren’t enough, and he immediately started asking when he could visit the Lake Delta, Camden and Taberg fire stations in person. He also made sure his mother wrote down the names of everyone in attendance.
He’s already scheduled to visit the Sylvan Beach Fire Department for Pirate’s Weekend later this month.
The No. 1 department on his bucket list is the Rochester Fire Department, Joey said. When asked what it was he loved most about visiting fire departments and seeing the fire trucks, Joey said it was “everything”.
You can follow along with Joey’s journey on his Facebook page: Joey’s Dirt Road Diary.