Detroit firefighter Brendan Milewski didn't lose everything on August 13, 2010. He lost half the day of the wall collapse.
He held up his end of the promise, giving his legs in the service of others, but the city backed out of its end when it filed for bankruptcy.
Brendan and those catastrophocally injured on the job went from heroes to creditors. The promise of lifetime benefits was taken. Instead, they were given a monthly stipend of $395 and sent on their way.
"Disheartening. Frustrating. Bitter. Yeah, I could be all those things," Brendan said, "But now with a daughter to raise, my head's gotta be in a different spot man. I can't grit my teeth and be mad, spend my short time on Earth being pissed off how things played out with the city. What's making it a lot easier to deal with that is how much love and compassion I'm getting from the community, from people that don't even know me."
For the past few years, FOX 2's Charlie LeDuff and his friends Grace Keros and Dean Bach have hosted a chili cook-off to raise money for catastrophically injured first responders, like Brendan, who lost their health insurance in Detroit's bankruptcy.
He called to say he wanted to meet, he wanted to thank you all: the firefighters, the cops, the business owners, the rockstars and bikers and the housewives -- all those who come to the yearly chili cook-off fundraiser or donated their time or hard-earned money. Brendan received an elevator from your kindness. It won't fix his body, it doesn't pay for the doctor, but it makes his life a little better.
"I know what it takes to make a buck in this world," Brendan said, "And for people to separate with their money and support the cause that they did, to help us out, it's been awesome. I know people. First lesson you learn after you're hurt is someone's got it better and someone's got it worse. But as bad as this situation is, as much as I don't want to be living it, it's been made a whole lot more tolerable with all the love and compassion, with all the help that we've gotten. From people, they don't owe us anything."
There are others just like Brendan. Retired Detroit firefighter Rock Turnipseed lost a leg in a building collapse a decade ago.
"Getting in and out of the tub -- I'm a big guy. Getting in and out of the tub is kind of hard," Turnipseed said, "So they got me a walk-in-bathtub and it changed my life. Really it has and I'm more than appreciative and thankful to have it. My wife even enjoys it. She's a mail lady, so she gets to enjoy it, also."
Things are hard in working America today and if you don't know that, you don't know work. Thankfully, there are many who do understand the dignity of labor. Don Purdie is one of them; his company donated the elevator.
"People like Brendan... if this building were on fire, he would come in here and try to fix that. You think about that and all the people here who volunteered, honestly, it was the right thing to do," Purdie said. He is the Vice President of the Detroit Elevator Company.
"To be a career firefighter and being the one who's usually doing that donating and the selfless acts, to be on the receiving end of it, it's not a very comfortable place to be," Milewski said, "But at the same time, there comes a point where you just got to throw up your hands and say, 'Thank you.'"