Surprised students get fire truck ride to prom

Surprised students get fire truck ride to prom

North Providence Fire Chief Edward DiGiulio Jr., left, chats with Tyler Pedro after naming him an honoring fireman and presenting him with a certificate, patch and helmet. Pedro and his prom date, Kaylee Smith, were driven to the prom aboard a fire truck, courtesy of friends and a generous community effort. (Breeze photos by Nicole Dotzenrod)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Strangers and friends alike joined forces in North Providence last week to provide two high school students with the memory of a lifetime: a fire truck parade escort to senior prom, which the pair attended for free thanks to donations from the community.

Noth Providence High School senior Tyler Pedro and his date, junior Kaylee Smith, both diagnosed with autism, were driven in a fire truck to Kirkbrae Country Club, in Lincoln, for Pedro’s senior prom last Friday. Pedro, who says he loves the fire department, was also sworn into the N.P. Fire Department as an honorary member and given a helmet and shield with his name on it.

The journey began two weeks earlier on Facebook, when Pedro’s mother, Annmarie Hedden, posted asking for flower shop suggestions for her son’s senior prom. Her friend, Mario Mozzetta, of North Providence, offered a suggestion. Hedden ordered the flowers and thanked Mozzetta: “...Now if only I can get a fire truck to bring them to prom like on Chicago Fire,” she joked.

Mozzetta, a crane operator at the Port of Providence, immediately got to work. He messaged Mike Baptisa, a Coventry firefighter who played football with Mozzetta in high school, to see whether he could help. In less than two hours, Baptista secured one of two fire trucks to surprise Pedro and Smith.

Baptista, who had never met the students, said, “Hearing about a chance to make a kid’s night, I said I’m 100 percent in. We never meet anyone we help on the job but we’re there anyway. I just had the chance to do something for a kid who loves what we do and we wanted to do whatever we could to give him a wonderful day.”

He secured the first fire truck from the Rhode Island sheriff and retired North Providence firefighter Brian Nicastro, who had purchased the “Westbrook 7” at auction in Westbrook, Conn. Nicastro had served on the fire department with Baptista’s father, and said he was happy to help.

“I want to put a smile on (Pedro’s) face and give him something to remember,” said Nicastro, who took the day out of work to hand-wash the truck and bring Pedro to his prom. “I was just reminiscing about being in awe of the fire trucks as kids … getting a ride in the truck would have been gold. It was a dream for us as kids, and we’re making it happen now.”

Soon after Nicastro volunteered his Westbrook 7 for the night, Baptista visited with the fire chief to see whether the department could help. Mayor Charles Lombardi, a former volunteer firefighter, overheard the conversation and said: “This is what it’s all about.”

“It is all about the kids, so when I picked up on that conversation I said we would do everything we can to make sure this happens. I think this is a great show of caring,” he told The Breeze. “In my office there is a T-shirt hanging that says North Providence: A Community That Cares. This is what we do here.”

Within two days of the original Facebook post seeking flower donations, Pedro and Smith received an outpouring of support from the community. “It spiraled and spin-balled into my inbox blowing up with people who wanted to be a part of it,” said Mozzetta. “It started with whether we could get a fire truck to stop by to make him happy, but once we secured the truck, friends and family and complete strangers started to reach out to see what else they could do.”

Within two days, Our Place Tuxedos in North Providence had donated Pedro’s tuxedo, Amy Rochefort paid for Smith’s dress, and Tiffany Peno volunteered to do Smith’s hair and makeup. People donated money to pay for accessories, flowers, photo packages and even their tickets.

“Everyone just came together,” Hedden said. “There are truly amazing people in this world.”

Hedden was just happy her son wanted to go to prom, noting how hard it can be for people with autism to feel comfortable or seek out that sort of experience. “The fact that he is even going is such an accomplishment,” she said.

Though a bit apprehensive about his impending surprise, Pedro’s anxieties melted away when two fire engines and a specialty vehicle turned the corner to his street, stopping at his house. He and Smith later pulled up to Kirkbrae with sirens and smiles on.

“I’m humbled and overwhelmed by the experience,” said Mozzetta, who does not take credit for starting the effort to surprise the pair of students. “I never imaged this would turn into what it has become. To see how people come together; there are so many good people in the world.”

North Providence firefighters, from left, Battalion Chief Dan Usenia, Lt. Jay Petrillo and Chief Edward DiGiulio Jr.; NPHS senior Tyler Pedro and junior Kaylee Smith; firefighter Michael Baptista of Hopkins Hill Fire, Mayor Charles Lombardi; firefighters Winston Cobb and Nicholas Davis and Assistant Chief John Silva III, stand with the fire truck that took the high schoolers to the prom at Kirkbrae Country Club in Lincoln.