Friendships form in the strangest of places. For a special needs man and a group of firefighters, a bond was built inside a small Pittsburg County fire house.
“He sees a fire truck and he just grins,” Assistant Alderson Fire Chief Jason Rodriguez said.
Shawn Partain’s smile says a lot, but the title ‘Honorary Firefighter’ on his shirt might say even more.
“I'm very proud of him. It's a dream come true,” his mom, Anna Beason said.
Shawn became an official member of the Alderson Volunteer Fire Department over the weekend. He even has his own bunker gear and locker.
“Honorary firefighter was what we could honor him with since he's honored us with his presence here at the department,” Rodriguez said.
“It really helps with him to feel a part of something,” his mom said.
Beason adopted Shawn 20 years ago when he was just six years old.
“We seen a picture and fell in love with that smile and he never left us,” Beason said.
Shawn was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which caused a developmental disability. He doesn't speak, but with a grin like his, he doesn't have to.
“The smile, it's just so contagious. This is an everyday deal. He's always happy, no matter what the circumstances are,” Beason said.
Shawn graduated from McAlester High School in 2007. He worked in a retail store until it went out of business. But he’s always dreamed of being a firefighter.
When Shawn’s dad joined the Alderson fire department a few months ago, Shawn's dream came true.
The firefighters welcomed Shawn with open arms. They're not just friends, they're family now and when Shawn's at work, he isn't treated like someone with a disability, he's treated like a brother.
“He just wants to help out and that's what he's done with us,” Rodriguez said. “He's one of us. He's one of the guys. We treat him just like one of us.”
Shawn is not able to fight fire with the rest of the guys, so the chief assigned him to washing the fire trucks - a job Shawn loves, takes seriously and does well.
“He's got determination in his eyes. You can see it in everything he does. He's just determined to never give up on anything,” Captain Frankie Johnson said.
The impact Shawn is making goes far beyond the walls of the firehouse.
“It brings tears to my eyes. I'm very proud of what they've done for him,” his mom said.
For the firefighters, though, it's not about what they're doing for Shawn. It's about how Shawn is changing them.
“He always smiles. And that's one of the biggest things he's taught me, just keep pushing forward. Keep your head up,” Johnson said.
And keep smiling, just like firefighter Shawn Partain.
The firefighters say they are trying to work something out so Shawn can fight a fire in a more controlled environment, like a prescribed burn.