August 10, 2005 - Three stairs lead to the Catalina home of Phyllis Hatfield.
Three stairs, simple, sturdy and square, help her safely navigate each day as she sets about to complete her routine.
A deep honey brown in color, but otherwise free of frills, the three stairs aren't much to look at, but to Hatfield, they signify a display of compassion that she will never forget.
When a Golder Ranch Fire District response crew left the station for a medical call a few weeks ago, the responders had little idea their work would lead to an act of kindness that would touch the life of an individual and a community.
The crew arrived at the home of Hatfield, who had suffered a fall and was in a tremendous amount of pain. The crew was to transport her to the hospital. Right away the crew noticed that the small staircase leading into the trailer was in disrepair.
"They were in really bad shape," said Captain Michael Thomas, one of the men who entered the home to help the woman who suffers from cancer. "They were decaying. In fact, they were so bad that when I stepped on one, my foot went through it."
Thomas said he knew the stairs presented a problem, both for the woman living inside and for the crew, which had to use the stairs to get her in and out of the home.
When the team began talking with Hatfield, Thomas said he asked her if she was aware of the condition of the stairs. She said she was, but Thomas said he got the immediate impression that there wasn't much she was going to be able to do about it.
Hatfield said she'd recently had some work done to her home, which included putting on a new roof and installing a new cooling system, but had not gotten around to finding someone to fix the cracked stairs and was not in the condition to be able to do it herself.
Thomas said he told the woman not to worry, that they would get her to the hospital and then worry about the stairs.
When they returned to the station, the five men on the crew, Thomas, Ryan Miller, Dan Christenson, Andy Baumann and Mike Prough, talked about it and decided they would build new stairs for Hatfield's home.
"We weren't thinking it was going to be a big deal," Thomas said. "She needed new stairs. So, that's what we gave her, a nice sturdy set of stairs."
They drew up the plans and went to the nearby Home Depot to get what they needed.
It took a few days to complete the project because the men still had to work their shifts at the fire station.
"It wasn't too hard," Thomas said. "It was just something we needed to do. We didn't want her to have another fall."
Hatfield, who is undergoing regular radiation treatments and has a fractured femur, hip and back, is a little slower getting around than she used to be and said it gives her some peace of mind knowing the stairs are no longer a hazard.
"Everything takes forever," she said. "I am so high energy and fast moving, but I've gone from a gazelle to a slug."
She said she is very grateful for the work the men did on her home and said their deed exemplifies community spirit.
"It's very refreshing to see our brothers and sisters helping one another again," she said.
Hatfield said she has been spreading the news of what happened to her neighbors and friends because she is grateful for what the men were able to do for her.
"There's just too much negative in our society," she said. "I want to promote as much positive energy as I can."
She said the Golder Ranch crew's empathy and understanding went beyond their work on her stairs to the way they treated her when she was in pain and needed their help.
"I am so appreciative," she said. Hatfield, who lives at the foot of the Santa Catalinas with a house full of dogs, cats, birds and fish, doesn't like to talk about her illness and prefers to keep the conversation on the environment, her travels or the good will of the five-man crew that helped her in so many ways.
"This story isn't about me, this is about them. They were fantastic, getting me to the hospital in a way that was compassionate. Making sure I wasn't in too much pain. And then, I come home, and they've fixed my stairs." She said the men of Golder Ranch have been known to get out of their trucks and wade through rocks and deep mud to get up the winding dirt roads that lead to the homes of her neighbors and that they have shown their dedication and kindness to more than one of those neighbors over the years.
One of the people who caught wind of this recent story about Hatfield and her stairs was Oro Valley Councilwoman Conny Culver, who said it makes her feel good to know that there are people living and working in and around Oro Valley who are willing to help one another in times of need. Golder Ranch provides service to parts of Oro Valley as well as neighboring Catalina.
"It makes me proud that we have service providers of this caliber in Oro Valley," she said. "Talk about going above and beyond duty."
Golder Ranch spokesman John Sullivan said going beyond the immediate duties of firefighting to help the community in other ways is something that is strongly encouraged within the department.
"We truly try to regard each individual person we meet as a customer," Sullivan said. "But using the word customer doesn't really do it service. It's really more as a family member. We teach these guys to regard each person they come in contact with like they were their own mother, father, brother, sister or whatever."
Sullivan said that's why Golder Ranch developed the Golden Axe Award. A large golden axe enclosed in a shadow box, the award goes to any station within the fire district that displays courage or performs acts of kindness.
Although this most recent kind act has not yet gone through the official review process for the award, Sullivan said he suspects Thomas and crew will be the next recipients.
"It's an internal award that encourages people to do just the kind of things these guys did," he said.