Clovis resident honored as honorary firefighter

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Brooke Hankins of Clovis embraces Clovis Fire Chief Ray Westerman after she was named an honorary fire fighter Saturday at the Department’s Station 1.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

The Clovis Fire Department made their biggest fan an honorary firefighter Saturday.

Clovis resident Brooke Hankins, 20, suffers from an undiagnosed syndrome that threatens her immune system and white blood cells. The issue makes her more susceptible to illness. She and her parents, Mike and Gene Hankins, spend much of their time making her happy in between bouts of illness and trips to the hospital.

Brooke likes Mickey Mouse, dancing, riding in her yellow car, the Clovis Wildcats and fire trucks, fire fighters, fire stations ambulances and the TV show “Emergency.” Whenever she needs a cheering up, the family takes a trip to the fire station or the firefighters bring the fire engine to her.

“It’s so neat. We give her a ride around the block and it makes her week,” Lt. Michael Bridges said. “Ten minutes of our time means so much to her.”

Family, friends and firefighters gathered at Station 1 to name her an honorary firefighter, present her with a department-issue helmet complete with her name and a ride in the department’s new fire truck.

“We’re here to honor our biggest fan,” Chief Ray Westerman said to the group of about 75. “And if you’re going to be a fire fighter you have to do it safely.”

Brooke erupted in giggles and smiles during the presentation, even giving her framed certificate a kiss when the chief handed it to her.

“You do not know what it means to her to be able to come here and hang out with you guys,” Mike Hankins said with tears in his eyes. “Thank you guys. You mean so much to us.”

Hankins, cross country and track coach at Clovis High School, said his daughter’s love of all things related to emergencies came about eight years ago when his father died and Brooke was taken to the hospital in a sheriff’s car.

“This is something she loves,” he said. “Today she’s a little overwhelmed but this is something she’ll replay with us every day for a long time. Gena will put an album together and she’ll carry it around and look at it daily. This means a lot.”

Hankins said the couple make every day special with Brooke because they don’t know how much time they have with her.

“As a parent, you do whatever you can with your kids to make them happy. It’s no different with her, we just worry about our time limit,” he said.

Gina Encinias, a friend of Gena Hankins, had tears in her eyes behind her camera during the ceremony. Encinias said she and Gena Hankins joke about being spirit sisters. Encinias’ son Jake, who had Down syndrome, died in 1992 and having a special needs child brought the two together.

“I’m happy for Brooke,” she said. “It makes it extra special because this is not a birthday or Christmas. This is just for her. It just melts our hearts,” Encinias said.

Gena Hankins said the firefighters have become like part of the family for the Hankins.

“This means the world to us. This shows people outside our family how big their hearts are,” she said. “These guys are heroes outside of their work as well as in it.”

Gena Hankins said the fire fighters are never too busy to let her sit in the fire truck or in the ambulance.

“It’s a very simple way to brighten her day and they always accommodate her,” she said.

Gena Hankins said many of the firefighters keep up with Brooke and her condition via Facebook.

“They love her and we love them,” she said. “I can’t really find the words to express our gratitude. Her smile says it all.”

Westerman said Hankins is the first to be named an honorary firefighter in his six years at chief.