Honoring a fighter and firefighter in Whitewater

By Craig Andres
KSN – July 6, 2018


For more than three decades, Mike Sawyer was a firefighter in Wichita.

But Mike in retirement is fighting a different fight now. His his time could be short now that he’s fighting complications with advanced alzheimer’s disease. So Leslie Sweasy with Rivercross Hospice packed in family, friends and firefighters to Wheat State Manor nursing home in Whitewater on Friday. It’s a day to honor Mike Sawyer.

And it’s a day that turned out to be a blessing to family and friends.

“I mean we expect the inevitable and we know it’s going to happen,” says Mike Sawyer’s brother, Tom. “But it’s just a matter of when it happens. And our parents both died of it… It’s just, Mike has always been the middle, fun guy and kept everybody going so…”

So Tom says it’s fitting that firefighters from Wichita, Newton, Whitewater and other areas all gathered to honor Mike. And, hopefully, give him a good day.

The Whitewater fire department brought out a truck to let Mike have a look at something familiar. And, as the firefighters lined up to say hello and offer words of encouragement, Tom looked on with pride.

So did Tom’s wife.

“Just to perk him up just a little bit. See if our Mikey is still in there,” said Renee Sawyer, Mike’s sister-in-law. “And every once in a while we did see that when he was walking around the truck. That’s our Michael. That’s our Michael.”

As he fights alzheimer now, Mike’s hospice worker wanted to do something special. Not just for Mike, but for his family as well.

“And just showing awareness that Hospice is a beautiful thing and we can do things like this to brighten someone’s day,” explained Leslie Sweasy with Rivercross Hospice. “So at the end of the day we just wanted to give him a smile. It’s a beautiful gift for families.”

The line of well-wishers for Mike continued to stream by, out in the hot, July Kansas weather at Wheat State Manor. Sweasy event got, appropriately, a local Firehouse subs shop to provide some lunch for those who came to celebrate.

“I called Megan Reese (sub shop owner) and she just didn’t hesitate,” says Sweasy. “It’s encouraging to see people step up for something like this. Hospice is not a bad thing. Quite the opposite.”

Firefighters say Mike’s legacy as a firefighter will be remembered for a long time.

“I worked with Mike when he was a private at Station One and was, I will date myself, at least 30 years ago?” says Wichita Deputy Fire Chief Joe Bickel. “Mike just… he was always having a very warm caring smile and an always upbeat attitude. So when I heard about this I said I just have to get up here and see Mike. We know that his time is not long here and it kind of really hurts to come up here.”

But Bickel said it was an easy decision.

Other firefighters say it’s duty to friends and the profession that also brought them to Whitewater on Friday.

“This is a special day for members of the fire service and whenever gather around to support one of our own we always try to talk that opportunity,” explains Scott Metzler, Chief with Newton Fire/EMS. “It goes beyond being a job and a career. It actually is a brotherhood and a sisterhood. It’s a family environment. Hopefully it will be meaningful for Lt. (Mike) Sawyer. It certainly is meaningful for the rest of us who are on active duty.”

Mike was not having one of his “good” days on Friday. He was tired. But he did perk several times and smile. Especially when firefighters came and shook his hand and wished him well.

“Once you are in the fire service you grow into it and it just sticks with you forever. I actually worked with Mike quite a bit off and on,” “They say yes it’s a brotherhood and that’s a word that is thrown around a lot but you do grow close together because we live with each other a third of our lives. It’s really hard to explain because people don’t understand what we go through in the station.”

It was not hard to see the smiles in Whitewater on Friday. That was easy.

“Mike… the days that he’s jolly and happy he’s just the happiest guy out here,” said Tom. “He keeps this whole area laughing when he’s on a good day.”


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
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