Dr. Phillips native Eric ‘The Fireboy’ Aach recently became an honorary firefighter for the Orange County Fire Rescue Department.
Around the Dr. Phillips area, most of the local firefighters know 25-year-old Eric Aach by name.
After all, he has gained the nickname “The Fireboy” for a reason: He is absolutely mesmerized by anything having to do with fire departments.
Lori Aach can’t remember exactly how her son’s fascination with fire stations and firefighters began, but it’s been a massive part of their lives for years. And most recently, his passion for fire rescue led to him being named an honorary firefighter for Orange County Fire Rescue Department.
For most of his life, Eric has been medically fragile. He has autism, as well as both a severe seizure disorder called Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and a mitochondrial disease that has caused stroke-like regressions throughout his life. Because of the regressions and seizures, he functions cognitively like a toddler.
Eric was born typical, but right before his younger brother was born, Lori noticed he was exhibiting some unusual behavior. She also suspected he might be suffering from seizures, which was confirmed by an EEG. Many of the seizures were large ones.
“He got very, very sick — that was when he just turned 4,” Lori said. “We had to go to Johns Hopkins, and there they determined he was having around 300 seizures a day. He was very ill for all his years. He’s pretty much, I guess, what we would call a miracle for still being here.”
“They really make his life wonderful. One is in terms of providing him with all these things he enjoys, but also they saved him multiple times coming to the house here.”
— Joel Aach
Over the years, Eric continued to have uncontrolled seizures and sometimes experienced debilitating stroke-like symptoms. For a few years, he also dealt with aggression issues caused by his illness. In 2016, he underwent brain surgery to shut off his right frontal lobe, remove half of the right temporal lobe and sever the corpus callosum to try to stop the seizures.
Lori said although the surgery was not the success the family had hoped for, Eric’s symptoms are medically managed and the family is praying he stays healthy and the grand mal seizures and regressions don’t return.
During the years leading up to his brain surgery, Fire Station 31 in Bay Hill has rescued Eric many times from severe seizures and the station’s C shift came to the house so often that they knew the names of the family cats. They even brought Eric a gift when he returned home from the hospital after his brain surgery.
Ever since Eric was young, Lori said, he was fixated on visiting fire stations, watching fire videos, looking at pictures from “Firehouse” magazine and perfecting the siren noises that fire trucks and ambulances make.
“I think people with autism frequently have fixations,” Lori said. “He, I guess, just started liking fire stuff. It just started happening, and I’d always take him to fire stations, and he was always enamored with the doors and the ‘pumper,’ the engine. Most kids love the ladder, but he prefers the engine.”
It always was hard finding activities to do with Eric in Florida’s heat, Lori said, because his medical conditions also make it impossible for him to sweat to cool down. So when his fire fascination began, she would take him to firehouses all over Orlando.
In the last 20 years, Lori estimates they have made more than 500 visits to firehouses. Although Eric cannot read or write, he can tell you how to get to five Orange County fire stations in the southwest part of the county, as well as two firehouses in Apopka, where he now resides in a group home.
Many of the local firefighters and staff know Eric by name, and his passion for all things fire rescue hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2008, he became an honorary firefighter for the city of Orlando at Station 10.
And most recently, on July 20, “The Fireboy” officially became an honorary firefighter for OCFRD at Station 30, thanks in part to family friend and OCFRD Lt. Jesse Harris.
Eric enjoyed a memorable day and ceremony, complete with getting to operate a fire hose and being presented with his very own E30 fire helmet.
For Eric’s parents, seeing the way the fire departments care about their son is the most heartwarming experience.
“They really make his life wonderful,” said his father, Joel Aach. “One is in terms of providing him with all these things he enjoys, but also they saved him multiple times coming to the house here. Their commitment to helping someone like him and being generous about it is really wonderful.”
Lori agreed, adding that there is true happiness in something as simple as finding something you love — in Eric’s case, that includes anything related to fire rescue.
“There’s been so many people, wherever we’ve been, where they’ve come and rescued him and have been just some of the most genuine people,” Lori said. “We just appreciate them so much.”