When the call comes, firefighters like Ryan McCuen always rush in, never quite sure what they’ll encounter.
On February 11, McCuen walked into this: a mother at wit’s end, a bedridden 18-year-old on a ventilator, his emergency battery power soon running out, and electricity to the home cut off by the local power company.
“I just happened to be put in that spot to do what I was supposed to do,” 35-year-old McCuen told CNN. “I was just doing what you’re supposed to do.”
It started as a routine call in Michigan for Clinton Township’s Engine 5, a “nonemergency medical” as firefighters call it.
What they found in the living room of this suburban Detroit double-wide mobile home was Troy Stone, who suffers Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a particularly debilitating variation of the muscle-wasting disease. Stone, who has limited movement of his limbs and is no longer able to breathe on his own, had a tracheotomy last December. His family has struggled financially, and they had fallen behind on payments to the local utility.
Christy Stone, Troy’s mother, said their electric bill has gone up threefold since Troy had the breathing tube inserted. It now takes seven machines, all running on electricity, to keep him alive.
Despite having a letter from their doctor’s office informing DTE Energy that “there must be electrical power in the home to maintain … life support equipment,” the power was still cut off.
“They said it wasn’t the doctor’s signature on it, it was the nurse’s signature on it. So they said it was denied,” an exasperated Christy Stone said. Nearly in tears, Stone described how she pleaded with the DTE representative to keep the power on: “How can you deny somebody that’s on life support? So I did everything that I could and they just … it’s just messed up.”
A spokesperson for DTE Energy called the situation “unfortunate” and commended the “firefighter for his actions.” However, citing privacy concerns, the spokesperson declined to discuss specifics of the Stone’s case except to say “we are continuing to work with the family to ensure this situation doesn’t reoccur and have referred their case … to partnering agencies for assistance.”
McCuen, a 7½ year veteran of the fire department, heard Stone on the phone with DTE and said his choice became clear. “He had about three hours of battery life,” McCuen said. “He needed to be plugged back in. So it seemed obvious what the solution was, that they needed their bill paid.”
Christy Stone was astonished at the matter-of-factness of this firefighter she didn’t even know.
“Ryan was standing there and he looks at me and goes, ‘I’m going to pay your electric bill,’ and I was just like — are you serious!?”
He was, and he did.
Snapping a picture of her bill, McCuen paid it, all $1,023.75 of it.
After a story ran in the local newspaper more help arrived. One local company paid the electricity bill for the next six months. A generator was donated and installed so even if the power goes out in a storm the family can keep the life-support machines running.
“There are many, many very good human beings out there,” Christy said. “No matter how bad it’s gotten. I’m still speechless. It’s like a dream. I can’t believe any of this is happening.”