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Michigan Firefighters 'Adopt' Mentally Challenged Man

Michigan Firefighters 'Adopt' Mentally Challenged Man Tony Tumminello
Tony Tumminello (second from left) with firefighters from Station No. 1 in Lansing, Michigan
Jeff Sciortino

08/28/2014 AT 05:50 PM EDT

Tony Tumminello has been fascinated by fire engines since he first stopped by his neighborhood fire station in Lansing, Michigan, in 1953 at age 13.

The mentally challenged part-time flower-shop sweeper, now 73, has spent every day since with a rotating crew of caring "brothers" at the fire station.

For six decades, the crew at the downtown Lansing station has treated Tumminello as one of their own – feeding him home-cooked meals daily, washing his laundry, and, now that his step is a bit slower in his 70s, helping him to shower and shave.

Tumminello, who lives alone in the house near the station where he grew up, has two older brothers, who help as much as they can. But the firefighters monitor his health, buy him new socks and include him in everything from station pranks to holiday dinners.

"We get a lot more out of helping Tony than he gets from us," says Lt. Doug Burke, 44. "He's one of the guys. If we get a call and have to leave our dinner there, Tony gets up, too. He'll shut the garage door for us and let us in when we get back. He's the only resident in Lansing who has a key to the fire department in hand."

New recruits to the station are introduced to Tumminello first thing when they show up for duty.

"He's a legacy, a part of the family," says paramedic Justin Conklin, 30. "It's fun to be a part of his life. I lost both of my grandparents at a young age and I never remember having a grandpa. So Tony calls me 'Jussie,' and I call him 'Grandpa.' He's kind of like that for me."

"Tony brightens the day when he comes in with a smile on his face," adds engineer Eric Weber, 37. "If you've been out on a bad call, the second you talk to Tony, it's clear that things will be okay. You can have a laugh with Tony, dive into his day and put your troubles on the back burner."

The firefighters like to joke around, and Tony is no exception. He jokingly calls Battalion Chief Jim Marino his assistant, Marino told CBS Evening News in a 2012 segment. "Oh, I just got demoted again," Marino would say.

Tumminello spends all of his holidays at the station, with the firefighters chipping in to buy him new underwear, socks and gift certificates to his favorite restaurants. But his favorite meals are found in the kitchen at Station No. 1.

"They're good cooks," he says, "but I don't like it when it's spicy. The guys are great. I love coming to the fire house."

"He's eaten here every day for 60 years," says Conklin with a laugh. "So it must not be too bad."



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