Get the latest from TODAY
Three-year-old Trucker Dukes is about to receive a gift most little boys can only dream of: he will be made an honorary member of New York's Fire Department. As Trucker's mom, Shauna Dukes, explained, it's just one of the many "tragic blessings" for the toddler, who's been battling cancer for a year and a half.
Originally from Maui, Hawaii, Trucker and his mom were living in New York while he was being treated for Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare and aggressive cancer of the nervous system. When they came home one day to a crowd of firetrucks outside of their building, Trucker was over the moon.
“Every fire truck, he thought it was for him,” Shauna said of Trucker, whose dad, Joshua Dukes, is a firefighter back in Hawaii. "He would hear a siren, and his jaw would drop” in excitement.
As it turned out, the New York City firefighters were there for a simple kitchen fire. Trucker was so thrilled to see them that he ran straight into the arms of Captain James Grismer.
“I see this little boy excitedly walking towards me with his eyes aglow. I opened my arms and he basically climbed up and hugged me around the neck,” Grismer told Hawaii news channel KHON 2. “It was as if we've been friends/brothers for years.”
Grismer invited Trucker to visit his fire station, and a friendship was born. Not only did Grismer and his fellow firefighters allow Trucker to explore their firetruck, they threw him a third birthday party.
The firefighters have "brought us meals at the hospital, they’ve given us rides in the firetrucks, they’ve hosted us for holidays… They’ve been amazing," said Shauna, who was alone in New York with Trucker while Joshua took care of the couple's other three children in Hawaii. “We have these people that are now like our family that we wouldn’t have met otherwise.”
Trucker, of course, is delighted to be spending so much time with his firefighting fans. “Every time we see a fire truck, he goes, ‘Yeah, boys!’” Shauna said, adding that "three firehouses on the Upper East Side now know Trucker" and "have standby mac and cheese in their lockers."
When New York Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro heard about Trucker's bond with the fire department, he reached out to the Dukes and offered to make it official. The toddler will be sworn in as an honorary firefighter at the FDNY's Brooklyn headquarters on May 31.
Although it may be a first for the fire department, Trucker's mom knows that firefighting is in her son's blood.
Before Trucker was diagnosed, "we were at my husband’s fire station every Sunday," Shauna explained. "I think [Trucker] was just born a firefighter."
To donate to Trucker Dukes' cancer fund or write him a message, please visit TeamTrucker.org.