By Kara Lopp
The fire service means family.
And the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department family grew unexpectedly Sunday, May 19, when one of their own became a groom-to-be.
Firefighter Travis Phillips used a planned demonstration showing how firefighters can use suspended ropes during a rescue to propose to his girlfriend, Heather McLaughlin. The surprise capped the department’s open house and awards ceremony where the station was renamed in honor of charter member Robert Long.
The proposal came on the first anniversary of the couple’s move to boyfriend and girlfriend.
“She thought I didn’t remember,” Phillips said of the anniversary.
“I didn’t,” McLaughlin responded.
Phillips did remember and, in fact, had been planning his perfect proposal for months. He bought the ring in February and on proposal day had it safely tucked in his buttoned shirt pocket.
“I’ve had this planned for a while,” he said, smiling.
His own family didn’t find out about his plan until just days before. Phillips tasked his father, John – who serves as the department’s fire chief – and brother, Justin – also a Mint Hill firefighter – to help.
Most of the open house guests had left by the time Phillips set his plan into motion. Though it had rained nearly all afternoon and the skies threatened to open again, Phillips attached a rope to a fire engine ladder up about 75 feet in the air. He rappelled down slowly with John Phillips operating the ladder while Justin waited below with the rope, serving as his climbing partner to ensure he wouldn’t descend too quickly.
Phillips was determined to stick to the plan, “even if it was pouring,” he said.
When he was suspended about 10 feet in the air, Phillips asked McLaughlin over with his 23-month-old son, Bryce, for a photo. After the photo, brother Justin swooped in to hold Bryce and Phillips rappelled to the ground and went straight to one knee – ring in his hand.
There were tears and a “yes” as cheers and applause erupted from the fire department family.
Phillips caught the whole thing on video with his helmet camera. McLaughlin’s family was there to celebrate, too.
Minutes later, McLaughlin was still in shock.
“I don’t think it’s really settled in yet,” she said.
The couple are planning a May 2014 wedding.