SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. -11-year-old Mason Allen a fifth grader who falls on the autism spectrum scale from Spokane Valley caught the attention of firefighters across America from Kennebunk Port, Maine all the way to Anchorage, Alaska. But Mason never had the chance to meet his pen-pal hero.
38-year-old Garrett Paiz, a firefighter from Noel, Missouri, reached out to Mason in March 2017, after seeing our story about Mason, since then the two had been in contact talking almost every week, "We would talk to each other on Facebook messenger back and forth," said Mason. Over the summer Garrett was fighting wildfires in Washington state and wanted to meet Mason in person, "He wanted me to bring me the challenge coin, and hand delivers it to me," Mason said.
Not just any coin - a challenge coin - the kind they give out to those who serve on the front lines - whether at war or in a disaster - Garret's way of showing Mason that he was one of the team. But before the two had the chance to connect in person, pain and his squad were relocated to California - to fight the nuns fire in Napa County.
The Napa fires burned more than 240,000 acres, destroying thousands of buildings, killing 44 people and causing just under $9.5 billion in damage. Paiz knew it - sending a text to Mason saying "I am headed to the fire line k. Pray for us, this one is bad." it would be the last time Mason would hear from his hero "he was fighting a fire I don't know which one it was and then he was driving the water truck down to the fire and unfortunately it rolled," Mason recalled.
When Mason heard the tragic news his heart was broken "when I first heard it I. that night I was just laying in my bed, and I was trying so hard not to cry," said Mason.,
The next months would be a blur for this little boy - and despite his pledge, the tears did come, and often. But fast forward to early December - mason received an unexpected package in the mail. While Garrett's widow Bobbie Paiz was cleaning out Garrett's belonging's. She found the challenge coin that he always talked about giving Mason.
So for Christmas, she fulfilled Garrett's wish "I was thinking holy cow I can't believe this and then I kept telling to myself don't cry don't cry because I swear I was going to cry," Mason said.
Along with the coin, the care package also contained a remembrance flag and a way for Mason to keep the memory of Garrett close to his heart.