LAWRENCE TWP. — Aaron Lambert will never forget the excitement of Christmas 1981.
Lambert, then only 4, was close to his father. And the holiday that year wasn’t going to be the same without his dad.
His father, Dean, had broken his neck after diving into a pool at Creston stone quarry in Wayne County, a mishap chronicled in a 1981 article in The Independent. As a quadriplegic, he had been a patient at a rehabilitation center in Columbus since September of that year.
Because of his father’s condition, he had to be transported lying down.
Aaron Lambert recalls the joy he felt when three firefighters from North Lawrence Volunteer Fire Department brought his dad into his grandparent’s house after making the four-hour round trip journey.
“He was in bad shape, but I’m lucky I got to spend the years I did with him,” Lambert said. “I’ll never forget that Christmas. That was such a key point in my life.”
Last month — after the North Lawrence Fire Department posted the article on its Facebook page — Lambert reached out in hopes of getting in touch with the men who transported his dad home back in 1981. Two of them, Jack Lawrence and Rich Mortland, both 72, remain active members of the department.
Lawrence and Mortland remember the trip to bring Dean Lambert home. Lambert was able to visit for two days before returning for additional treatment.
The two veteran firefighters were surprised to hear from Lambert’s son after all this time.
“This is what makes it worthwhile doing all this volunteer work,” Mortland said.
Though the department didn’t frequently take long distance trips to transport patients, Mortland said it wasn’t unusual.
At the time, North Lawrence Fire Department was comprised solely of volunteers and did its own dispatching. Many had other jobs and would work as a firefighter or EMT outside of work hours. Today, some workers are paid part time to staff the station, Lawrence said.
Mortland worked swing shift in 1981. On Christmas Eve in 1981, the ambulance stopped by his work and picked him up at 6 a.m. He walked out of the shop and hopped in the back of the ambulance.
Lawrence recalled a time they transported a patient to Buffalo. Another time, they brought a man home from Canada after he had a heart attack while visiting the country.
“We did a lot of things like that back in those days,” Lawrence said. “We took care of our community.”
Both men have kept their EMT certifications over the years. Lawrence has been with the department for 52 years; Mortland for 37 years.
“We still make runs,” Mortland said. “It gets in your blood. As long as I feel good I’ll keep it up.”
Remembering Dean Lambert
This past Christmas, Aaron Lambert said he was missing his father and his grandmother, Alice, who called the fire department in 1981 to make the special request.
When he saw the article on the department’s Facebook page, he knew he had to reach out.
“I’ll never forget it,” the 42-year-old said. “They are amazing guys. It was always on my mind.”
Dean Lambert remained in the hospital until the end of 1982. Three years later, he moved to Florida with his second wife. The fluctuating Ohio temperatures made it difficult for him.
Lambert would book a plane ticket for his son to spent the summer with him in Florida.
Aaron Lambert remembers going fishing at Lake Tarpon, a short walk from his father’s house, or spending the day at Clearwater Beach. Even when Lambert couldn’t see his dad, he remained in constant contact.
His father was a talented trumpet player, and Lambert followed in his footsteps playing in the band for Massillon City Schools. He would call every day to remind Lambert to keep practicing.
Nine years after the accident, his father passed away. Lambert, just 12 years old at the time, isn’t sure what led his father’s death.
“It was like all the muscles in my body released, and I collapsed to the ground,” Lambert said. “It just hit me in the chest. It was the worst day of my life.”
Though his father has been gone since 1990, Lambert says he can still feel his presence.
They father and son bonded through music and a love of rock ‘n’ roll.
For two years, Lambert played music with old friends of his father’s who formed a band in the 1970s. Whenever they would preform live, Lambert said, he could feel his dad on stage with him.
Six months ago, Lambert joined a Pink Floyd tribute band known as Floyd the Tribute. His father was a huge Pink Floyd fan, and Lambert took it as a sign when the band needed a guitarist.
Though he hasn’t touched his trumpet in nearly 10 years, he plans to take the instrument out of storage to play “In the Flesh.” In a music video of the song, Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters opens with a trumpet solo.
“This is the kind of thing that proved to me that dad is still with me,” Lambert said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that dad is watching out for me.”
Reach Samantha at 330-775-1133 or Samantha.Ickes@IndeOnline.com. On Twitter: @SickesINDE