Southampton Fire Department Makes Birthday Dream Come True for 11-Year-Old With Autism - 27 East

Southampton Fire Department Makes Birthday Dream Come True for 11-Year-Old With Autism

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Rowland Egerton-Warburton arrives at the Southampton Fire Department's Hampton Road Firehouse on November 15 for his birthday.  DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton arrives at the Southampton Fire Department's Hampton Road Firehouse on November 15 for his birthday. DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton arrives at the Southampton Fire Department's Hampton Road Firehouse on November 15 for his birthday.  DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton arrives at the Southampton Fire Department's Hampton Road Firehouse on November 15 for his birthday. DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton, with Southampton Agawam Engine firefighter John Parry, getting a ride a fire truck for his birthday on November 15.         DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton, with Southampton Agawam Engine firefighter John Parry, getting a ride a fire truck for his birthday on November 15. DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton, with Southampton Agawam Engine firefighter John Parry, getting a ride a fire truck for his birthday on November 15.         DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton, with Southampton Agawam Engine firefighter John Parry, getting a ride a fire truck for his birthday on November 15. DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton, with Southampton Agawam Engine firefighter John Parry, getting a ride a fire truck for his birthday on November 15.         DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton, with Southampton Agawam Engine firefighter John Parry, getting a ride a fire truck for his birthday on November 15. DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton, with Southampton Agawam Engine firefighter John Parry, getting a ride a fire truck for his birthday on November 15.         DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton, with Southampton Agawam Engine firefighter John Parry, getting a ride a fire truck for his birthday on November 15. DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton, with Southampton Agawam Engine firefighter John Parry, getting a ride a fire truck for his birthday on November 15.         DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton, with Southampton Agawam Engine firefighter John Parry, getting a ride a fire truck for his birthday on November 15. DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton is greeted by Southampton Fire Department Chief  Manny Ramirez after his ride in the fire truck of his birthday on November 15.   DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton is greeted by Southampton Fire Department Chief Manny Ramirez after his ride in the fire truck of his birthday on November 15. DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton takes a ride in the ladder truck.   DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton takes a ride in the ladder truck. DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton during his first ever birthday party and the Southampton fire Department's Hampton Road Firehouse on November 15.    DANA SHAW

Rowland Egerton-Warburton during his first ever birthday party and the Southampton fire Department's Hampton Road Firehouse on November 15. DANA SHAW

Southampton Fire Department firefighter help Rowland Egerton-Warburton celebrate his first ever birthday party on November 15.    DANA SHAW

Southampton Fire Department firefighter help Rowland Egerton-Warburton celebrate his first ever birthday party on November 15. DANA SHAW

authorCailin Riley on Nov 21, 2023

By the time most children turn 11, they’ve already had several birthday parties, and their parents are familiar with the attendant rhythms of hosting one: choosing a theme, spreading brightly colored icing on a dozen or more Funfetti cupcakes, setting up a bouncy castle in the backyard, hemming and hawing about whether or not to invite the entire class or just a select group of friends, making sure someone takes cellphone video of the smiles as a large group of friends sing “Happy Birthday.”

Over the course of more than 10 years, Genie and Jamie Egerton-Warburton have never had that experience with their son, Rowland.

In fact, they had secretly come to dread his birthday, knowing there would be no invitations to send out, no pile of presents from classmates, and not much else to distinguish it from any other day.

That all changed last week, thanks to the Southampton Fire Department.

Rowland has a rare genetic brain disorder linked to autism called ADNP, which causes significant neurodevelopmental and intellectual delays. He is nonverbal, and often struggles to feel comfortable in a variety of different settings. It has made making friends and all the other trappings of a normal childhood largely inaccessible to him.

On November 5, his mother was walking through Southampton Village and came upon an open house event hosted by the fire department. She knew her son liked firetrucks and called up his aide, asking her to bring Rowland down to Agawam Park.

Once they arrived, later in the evening, Rowland was reintroduced to Southampton Fire Department Chief Manny Escobar, whom they’d met a few years ago. When Escobar asked Rowland if he remembered him, Rowland smiled. When Escobar asked him if he liked firetrucks and firefighters, he nodded, and smiled again.

The seed of an idea took root after that moment for his mother.

She texted Escobar a few days later and told him that Rowland’s 11th birthday was coming up on November 15. She told him that he’d never had a birthday party before — that he doesn’t have friends — and was wondering if she could bring him down to the firehouse for a visit that day.

“That really touched my heart, that he’d never had a birthday,” Escobar said. “I told her, ‘Bring him down — we’ll make something happen.”

What happened, his mother said, was a “beautiful collaboration” between her son and members of the department.

She was excited in the days leading up to Rowland’s birthday, and even admitted to getting “a bit overzealous,” ordering him a special firefighter costume to wear, making cupcakes, and buying firetruck-themed paper plates.

More than a decade of parenting her son had taught her not to expect much — predicting how he will react in any given scenario or new environment is often a toss-up, she said. She warned Escobar about that, but said they all took “a leap of faith.”

That leap paid off.

Rowland was thrilled right away after getting out of the car at the Hampton Road firehouse. He greeted the firefighters, smiling and giving them high-fives.

The department had hung a large “Happy Birthday” banner for Rowland. They sang to him and had cupcakes; Rowland devoured two. They gave him a gift — his own authentic firefighter helmet — and took him for a ride in the firetruck, sirens blaring.

“He was so excited,” Escobar said. “I think he was really excited about everything. It was great to see a group of men and women come and show their love to him.

“It was the first birthday party he ever had. We are so blessed by that. We love this community, and what we were able to do for him.”

“In those moments, you forget that he’s a child with autism,” Escobar added. “He’s just a regular child for me.”

Days later, Rowland’s mother was still overcome with emotion when talking about the day, and what it meant to her and her family, and especially to her son.

“This was the first time my little boy has made a connection with somebody in the community,” she said. “I was so blown away. He sat next to the firemen and he had no maladaptive behaviors. He was so present and excited and happy, and he knew exactly what was going on. He was cognizant of his surroundings, and the enthusiasm they all had for this special moment.

“All that camaraderie they showed, and the sense of community, it was just unbelievably touching,” she added.

She called the party “the happiest day in Rowland’s 11 years,” and said she was even more moved by what happened after the day was over.

Escobar reached out to her again, thanking her for trusting the department with Rowland — and extended the invitation for Rowland to come to the firehouse any time he wants.

“It was the reach-out after that was so heartfelt and beautiful,” she said.

For a child who lives a largely insular life, the connection with the department was powerful and meaningful, she said.

“He doesn’t really have a lot of things that he really enjoys, so to see him in that moment, enjoying the firefighters and the firetrucks, it’s something I want to continue.

“I will bring him over there again,” she added. “He has another home in the community now.”

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