A group of firefighters from Riverside, California, were returning to their fire station after training when they noticed a local elderly homeless man walking slowly on the side of the freeway overpass and had no shoes on.
The group pulled over and two firefighters went out to assist the man. Firefighter David Gilstrap offered his tennis shoes which he had on the engine company. Captain Rob Gabler then assisted the elderly homeless man with putting the shoes on and offered him some water. The two officers then offered the man access to the city’s homeless services.
This simple extension of kindness by two public servants was shared online by Engineer Chris Adams on the City of Riverside Fire Department Facebook page on January 13. The post, which briefly narrated the firefighters’ act of kindness and accompanying photos, has over 2,500 likes and has been shared about 869 times as of writing.
Praises from Facebook users have poured the post. Captain Gabler’s wife, Connie, said, “SO in love with that man of mine… Thankful for his kind heart… Our boys and I are [s]o very blessed.”
Another said the homeless man looked familiar to her. She described him as someone who “was never violent or intimidating” and “kept to himself”.
“What a great example of the wonderful humanity that your department embraces,” a Riverside native commented.
One comment said, “God bless these fire fighters that went beyond their duties to help this homeless [man]. [It’s] amazing to see this kindness still [exists].”
Another Facebook user who’s close to one of the firefighters wrote, “I am so blessed to have Rob Gabler as a dear sweet friend. . . This act of kindness by Rob & Firefighter Gilstrap brought me to tears.”
“Services are always offered and we tell them, ‘We can get help to you,’” the fire department’s Chief Public Information Officer Bruce Vanderhurst told ABC News. “We’re very proud of the work we do building our community relations and we’re here to help in any way we can whenever those opportunities present themselves.”
This isn’t the first time a public servant has offered a barefoot homeless person a pair of shoes they can walk on. In a 2014 report by Fox News Indianapolis, Officers Pat McPherson and Phil Smiley were working with the outreach group “The Pourhouse,” which offers mental health services to the homeless. They noticed a man who was barefoot during one of their rounds, so Officer Smiley went back to their squad car and found an extra pair of shoes. The man they helped then voluntarily asked for mental health treatment.
[Image from City of Riverside Fire Department/Facebook, resized, cropped, and edited]