The First “Togahan” Story

Inspiration for the Togahan series came from a number of places, but a fundamental source was a type of story where the protagonist realizes, in a single moment, that the thing they’re facing is more important than their own survival. I absorbed lots of these moments from books or movies, but many also come from real life stories. The earliest one I remember reading was in Reader’s Digest back in the late 80’s.*

There was a traffic accident in a small midwestern town. I don’t recall the cause, but it involved multiple cars, and as tropey as it sounds, there was a tanker truck leaking flammable liquid. A fire had started, and fire crews from nearby towns were called. As the first crew arrived, some started working the hoses to contain the fire while others pulled who they could from the wrecked cars (this was before the jaws-of-life was common equipment). One of the cars was crushed badly, and there was a little girl trapped inside.

The fire was spreading, and the crew chief determined it was too dangerous to keep anyone in there, so he ordered everyone back.

One of the firefighters who had been trying to free the girl heard the order. The girl somehow heard it too, and she started screaming for him to not leave her, to not let her die.

In that instant, the firefighter decided he couldn’t live with leaving that little girl behind, so he took her hand, and hunkered down, and told her he would stay with her until he could get her out of that car. I don’t remember if he was married and/or had children of his own. I think he did, so maybe that resonated. Regardless, he ignored the order to pull back.

In the fire and confusion, as the other firefighters retreated, the crew chief saw the man staying behind, and I don’t know whether he knew why, or whether it didn’t matter, but when he saw his crewman in danger, he ordered every hose to be trained on that car.

The water thundered in and around the wreckage, drowning out every other noise. The firefighter and the girl both thought they were going to die. As the fire started spreading away from the wreckage, luckily more crews showed up from neighboring towns. After some time they had the fire contained, and finally, extinguished.

The fuel had burned so hot and so long that it consumed over an inch of the road surface around the wreckage. The vehicles were gutted, blackened hulks. One firefighter commented that it looked like the surface of hell, except for one small island around the girl’s car that had escaped all burning. If not for that bombardment of water, the girl and the firefighter would have perished. They both survived.

I don’t remember any other details of that story, but the firefighter’s decision resonates with me now as much as it did then. He chose to remain engaged and risk death than to risk living with the guilt of abandoning a child.

I know that Fred Rogers often commented in times of crisis, “Look for the heroes”. I think it’s also worth reflecting on why they’re heroes.

Look at the choices they made. Look at what they put above themselves.


* I don’t remember exactly where or when this happened, and I’m sure I’m misremembering details. I’ve searched for the actual report, but being pre-internet, I haven’t found it yet. If someone can point me to a source, I’ll edit this for accuracy.

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