Firefighters build backyard deck for colleague who died of cancer
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
HIGHLAND — Friends and family of Bruce Ballard recently gathered at his house to share hugs, smiles and stories with the veteran firefighter.
"There's not many people who get to celebrate their life right before their funeral," his wife, Shanna Ballard, said Wednesday.
Bruce Ballard, a firefighter and one-time police officer for nearly 30 years in West Jordan, died Monday from an aggressive form of lymphoma cancer that started in his brain and rapidly spread. He was diagnosed with the disease just two months ago.
Ballard, 61, loved the outdoors. Fall was his favorite season and he loved fishing and hunting, his wife said. The Ballards were also at a point in their lives where they were looking forward to watching their grandchildren play in their large yard in the back of their Highland home.
He was bed-ridden during his final days. But his wife wanted to do something special for him to lift his spirits and planned on having a deck made off the back of their home, with the back door leading right to it so there wouldn't be any stairs.
When word got out that the Ballards needed help making a deck, more than 30 firefighters from the West Jordan, Lehi and Lone Peak fire departments immediately volunteered to help.
"What firefighters are doing here is what we do. We go and help people in need. And this time it's family. It's one of ours," said West Jordan Fire Battalion Chief Reed Scharman.
Construction of the deck began Friday. Ballard was too weak to help them by that point. But his family made sure he was able to see from the window when ground was broken. And firefighters made sure to include Ballard all along the way by getting his approval on design.
Although family members got to wheel Bruce out onto the deck once while he was bed-ridden during construction, he died on Monday before it was completed.
Shanna Ballard told her husband's co-workers there was no need to drive out to Highland anymore to build the deck now that her husband was gone.
They told her that wouldn't stop them.
"'Bruce wanted you to have this,'" Shanna Ballard recalled them telling her. "'We want you to enjoy it and we want to do it for you.' So, that's what they've done."
Now, the backyard deck and patio that was intended as a place for Ballard to enjoy during his final days will become a place his grandchildren will enjoy for years to come.
"I cry every time I go out there," his wife said tearfully. "He was all about grandkids and that's what I feel like I want to continue. So that's why I'm so appreciative of the deck being continued out here. We'll be able to have many family gatherings because of that."
Bruce Ballard began his firefighting career in Moab. After two years, he went to the then very small areas of West Jordan where employees acted as both police officers and firefighters. After the city began to grow, emergency responders were told they had to choose to be one or the other. Ballard chose firefighting.
Scharman called him one of the "hardest-working firefighters in the department."
Before he was officially diagnosed with cancer, Shanna Ballard said she could tell something wasn't right. Her husband was having problems keeping his balance. And his usually sharp mind couldn't process math problems like he used to.
When he was first diagnosed with lymphoma, the family was told the average person had an 80 percent success rate with treatment, she said. "We had high hopes."
But those hopes faded as the cancer spread faster than anyone could anticipate.
"The chemo just could not keep up," she said.
After surgery and two chemotherapy treatments, an MRI revealed the cancer had actually spread.
"It's just not working," she recalled their crestfallen doctor telling them. "So it's probably time to send him home."
"He cried. We cried together," Ballard said upon receiving the news.
Now that her husband is gone, Ballard said she will use the deck for what it was intended: a gathering place for family to enjoy each other.
"So that's what I need to do," she said with tears in her eyes. "So it's very tender for me to see our grandchildren."
The deck was expected to be completed by Thursday. Ballard is delaying her husband's funeral so attention can be given to a family wedding in New Mexico this weekend before others have to worry about a funeral. It was a family member who spent a lot of time with Bruce Ballard before his death. Shanna Ballard wanted to make sure she got to have a wedding and honeymoon without having to miss the funeral.
As for the firefighters who donated their time, materials and sweat to build her new deck, she wants to plan an open house or barbecue — or a party with ice cream, her husband's favorite treat.
"I did not realize how close that brotherhood was with firefighters. My eyes have been opened tremendously," she said. "The goodness that surrounds us is amazing."
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