Going viral: 1 firefighter’s kindness to a young crash victim lights up social media

Billings, Mont., Firefighter Ryan Benton says he's one of many on his crew who would have done the same

In late September, Firefighter Ryan Benton was part of a crew dispatched to a vehicle crash – just another day on the job. But within a few days, Benton found himself inundated with interview requests from media outlets after a photo taken at the scene by a bystander went viral on social media.

Nothing out of the ordinary

Sept. 29 started normally enough for members of the Billings Fire Department. At one point, the crew was dispatched to the scene of a two-vehicle crash with possible injuries.

“The car looked pretty totaled; quite a bit of damage,” Benton said in an interview with FireRescue1. “We got out and did our initial checking on the patient, making sure everybody’s OK. Thankfully, nobody was injured on the call.”

As the crew was cleaning up the scene during the wait for a tow truck, Benton noticed a little girl who had been involved in the crash over on the sidewalk looking nervous as she watched her mother speak with officials on scene.

“I just kind of wanted to take the daughter’s mind off of everything,” he said.

Pulling an iPad from the staged apparatus, Benton engaged the little girl and invited her to sit and look at the device with him.

“I sat down with her and we just kind of started talking, reading books to each other and looking at pictures,” he said. “[I] just wanted to put her mind in a better place than it was. She needed a little bit of release from what was going on.”

It was during this touching moment that bystander Allie Marie Schmalz snapped a photo and posted it to Facebook.

Going viral

Shortly after returning to the station, Benton’s engineer alerted him to the posted photo.

“It hadn’t gone viral yet, but people were starting to share it,” he said. “And then all of the news stations got a hold of it.”

Within a day or two, Benton began receiving calls for interview requests, which is not something he typically enjoys.

“To be honest, that’s not my cup of tea, to do interviews and things like that,” he said. “I kind of like to stay private; I just like to do my job. This is what we do every day. It’s kind of been a lot to take, so I kind of just try to stay private, live my life and just do what I’m supposed to do when I’m at work.”

Part of the job

As far as Benton is concerned, his actions on the scene that day were just part of his normal duties. The iPad he used is part of a kit each BFD fire engine is equipped with to help engage children at emergency scenes.

“We carry book bags in all of our fire engines," he said. "They were donated by groups here in town and they have books for children and stuffed animals in there. We use them on calls like this all the time.”

Benton emphasized that, while he may be the one in the viral photo comforting the little girl, he is simply one of many who would have done the same: “It just so happened that I was the one that got a picture taken of me, but the men and women of the fire department, they use this stuff all the time and they do think like this every day. We carry those for situations just like this, whenever we need to take a kid’s mind off something like that.”

Situations like these are also why youth outreach by fire departments is important, to lessen the anxiety for children when they are faced with an emergency situation.

“Whenever we’re out and about and we see kids, we carry stickers with us. We carry little plastic fire helmets that we like to hand out to them, and the point that we’re trying to make is that they don’t have to be scared of us,” Benton said. “They can come up, they can talk to us, they can engage with us and we always want to be as friendly as possible with children. We know they look up to us, so we want to set a good example and let them know that we’re the good guys and that we’re here to help them whenever they need it.”

A desire for ‘positive’ news

While Benton isn’t entirely comfortable with his 15 minutes of fame, he understands the drive behind it.

“People have been telling me there’s so much negativity, obviously what’s going on with the world, what’s going on with the nation,” he said. “I think people just like to see things like this, see things that are uplifting, that are joyful; something in a positive light. The news, it’s always negative, so I think when something positive happens, people enjoy reading that. I know when I see something in the news that’s positive or uplifting, that lifts my spirits and catches my attention.”

Above all, Benton says he is just one of many amazing responders at the BFD.

“We have a great group of people and every day they’re out there making an impact in people’s lives and sometimes it goes unnoticed, but they’re out there working hard every day for our community.”

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