When Lieutenant Jim Grostick and fellow firefighters from the Olympia Fire Department were called to the Olympia Downtown branch of the South Sound YMCA last year to help with a flooding problem, they were just doing their jobs. In the process of helping the staff to clean up, they struck up a conversation about the Y’s various programs and its commitment to providing access to families of all income levels.
That goal struck a chord with Jim, who says, “When we respond to calls, we see a wide range of socioeconomic issues. Sometimes we see children that maybe don’t have the same advantages as say, my children. Everyone’s trying to do more with less. The Y opens up their programs and they won’t turn children away. Whether it’s swimming or reading groups or basketball. That aligns exactly with what we do as firefighters, doing everything we can to help people.”
Upon learning that the South Sound YMCA’s auction was coming up in September, Jim and the crew knew what they had to do. For several years, they have been making one-of-a-kind American flags out of old firehoses in order to contribute to local fundraisers and they decided to donate their next one to the South Sound YMCA. Jim, along with firefighters Mike Simmons, Kelen Sachet, Blake Regan and Jerry Miller put over 125 hours into the flag’s creation, including two ten-hour sessions. They all enjoyed the camaraderie and putting their energy into something for the greater good. Jim’s wife was also a key member of the team, cutting out all the stars. Each leg of each star takes six knife cuts, explained Jim, of this time-consuming task.
Jim says, “Once we knew it was going to the Y, for the kids, it was about making something bigger than ourselves. There’s a lot of love and laughter and cut fingers in that flag!” Older fire-hoses are typically discarded once they fail testing, but Jim got permission from their Chief to salvage them and the Kent, Central Pierce County, and Bellingham fire departments all passed some on as well.
Though Jim and his co-creators were proud of their creation, they were unprepared for the stong, postive reactions from others. When they dropped it off at the Y, at least one staff member teared up. “It was a really neat moment,” says Jim. “It was surprising to see the same enthusiasm for it as firefighters have. Everyone in the station wants one.”
Perry Shea, a founding principal at SCJ Alliance, and his wife Susan also believe in giving back. “We love going to these events and helping our community,” Perry says. “We’ve been big supporters of the Y and we always make sure we attend the annual auction to show our support for their programs and mission. When our kids were younger we always had them in Y programs like youth sports. We’ve donated to the before and after school program ever since SCJ Alliance was formed.”
When Perry and Susan arrived at the South Sound YMCA auction, they knew they had to bid on the flag. “My wife, Susan, always attends with me. She saw the flag first and brought me over to it. I’d never seen anything like it,” says Perry. “What really moved us was the fact that is was made by Oly Firefighters – previously used to protect life and property in our community. First responders and what they do, this hose probably had a significant role. The fact that they took the time and care and were passionate about building this was really incredible.”
The flag was the last item up for bid and Perry credits Susan for giving him the nudge to make the final, high bid. Perry says, “The idea of supporting our country and first responders while also giving back and helping South Sound YMCA really struck a chord with us. There was almost a standing ovation after we bought it, everyone was so moved by it.”
The flag now stands in a place of honor in the SCJ Alliance headquarters in Lacey. Perry and Susan made a deal that it will stay in the office for a year before coming home where she can enjoy it, too. In early February, Perry brought together SCJ Alliance staff, South Sound YMCA CEO and President Kyle Cronk, and the flag creators for a ceremony to thank them for their contributions to the community.
Jim says they weren’t expecting more than simply a chance to see it on display. “All of us were just humbled. I said it like six times,” he shares.
Perry believes that “a lot of times firefighters probably don’t get thank-yous for what they do. We take for granted sometimes that they’re there on the front lines helping us.”
Jim sums up this convergence of public service, non-profit and private business best saying, “Maybe it seems fifty percent of our country is on one side or the other of where things are politically, but in the end, we’re all Americans and we all believe in what the flag stands for – courage, vigilance, perseverance – it’s one symbol that we can all fall under.”