[The Stories of America editors: This article is part of the Public Service Pairing. To read the other story, click here.]
Retired Houston firefighter Don Hoyt remembers holding the baby in his arms.
“Please do something,” the mother said. “Please.”
But Hoyt knew the baby was dead — it was something you could just tell when you’re trained, and it was a morbid scenario he’d been in before.
Over the course of his career, Hoyt responded to many similar emergencies — terrible car accidents, large fires — that carried the weight of witnessing the heartbreaking pain of others.
“That stuff stays with you,” Hoyt said.
But his 37 years as a firefighter also involved a different sort of call.
Mere hours after holding that baby in his arms, Hoyt’s crew woke up to an emergency call at 3 a.m. They arrived to discover a man who said his stomach was hurting and that he’d wanted a ride to the hospital.
Hoyt said he’s seen this countless times: people just trying to get free medical care — who’ve learned the keywords they can say that would get them a hospital trip at no cost when it wasn’t a true emergency.
Another time, a man had called a 9-1-1 because his thumb hurt, Hoyt said, and he wanted to be taken to the hospital.
“There’s people with real problems out there, and then you’d meet a guy like that,” Hoyt said.
And after working hard every day, cherishing every hour of sleep he could get, facing danger and looking right into the face of human suffering, Hoyt said seeing people just trying to take advantage of the system really got to him.
“You’re busting your butt trying to make an honest living,” he said, “and some people are getting free meals while they’re driving expensive cars.”
This concept went against Hoyt’s dearest values — values he considers to be at the core of what it means to be American.
“I believe if you work hard and play by the rules, you can achieve whatever you want to achieve, and you should be proud of what you achieve,” he said.
After seeing people beat the system, he did his best to let it go and not think about it. But that became harder when he said the government allowed people to continue to do no work and still receive benefits other people have to pay for.
“I’ve worked hard, taken care of my family, and done the right thing,” Hoyt said. “My parents fought for these values, and now it seems like no one in Washington cares. They want power, and it seems they’ll do anything they can to maintain that power. What’s best for America is no longer relevant.”
Hoyt saw Former Secretary Hillary Clinton as a continuation of what was wrong with American government — a continuation of the betrayal. So he voted for President-Elect Donald Trump. And when he won, Hoyt felt a little vindicated.
“The results of the Election showed that an awful lot of people in middle America feel ignored by our leaders on both sides,” Hoyt said.
Hoyt said he was nervous when Trump was declared the winner — he’d never been a huge fan; he’s just been anti-Hillary.
But now he’s cautiously optimistic.
“However, you know it’s bad when a crook and an idiot are our two candidates,” he said.