Hunter Williams, or “Chief Williams” as the firefighters at Station 24 in Woodstock called him Friday, was born with a rare congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, and said it was his dream to be a firefighter.
“It’s hard work,” Williams said of the job, after visiting the Emergency Operations Center, Emergency-911 call center, the training facility and Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services headquarters Friday morning.
The 14-year-old was given his own custom fire chief’s uniform to wear, complete with his name stitched on it and patches matching those of county firefighters, as he visited various fire facilities.
Williams said his favorite part of the day was getting to explore the fire trucks. He even got to control a ladder truck, and Williams said he was good at it.
The teen was accompanied by Cherokee County firefighter Ricky Collett, who was recently promoted to battalion chief and helped arrange Williams’ day as honorary fire chief.
“The idea just kind of came to me,” he said. “I have known Hunter virtually his whole life and he is a great kid, very active in church, and a joy to be around.”
Collett said, despite the teen undergoing quite a few major surgeries, Williams is “very resilient” and active.
“The heart transplant was the fifth open heart surgery he has undergone,” Collett said. “Along with the open heart surgeries, he has gone through hundreds of procedures, and this will be an ongoing way of life for the rest of his life.”
Williams said he’d been dreaming of the day ever since his heart transplant on Sept. 14, 2011.
“I’ve known the guy who put this all together ever since I was a baby,” Williams explained. “We’ve been good friends over the years, and he’s been trying to plan this for a long, long time, after my transplant. Today, it finally happened.”
Kelley Williams said she had a wonderful day watching her son visit different fire facilities throughout the county, and said the firefighters had been great.
The teen’s mom said she supported her son’s dream to become a firefighter.
“After all he’s been through, he can be whatever he wants to be,” she said.
The Ball Ground teen wore a big smile as he arrived at Fire Station 24 in Woodstock to eat lunch with the firefighters there at about noon.
Williams, his mom, Collett and the firefighters of Station 24 enjoyed grilled hamburgers and tater tots for lunch before he continued his day as the honorary fire chief, visiting many more stations.
Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services spokesman Tim Cavender said Williams was brought in as an honorary firefighter, and went through a realistic “promotion ceremony” to become the Chief for the Day.
“He’s a strong young man,” Cavender added.
Williams said he had a “really fun” day, and wants to become a firefighter when he grows up — especially after his experience Friday.