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Firefighter receives a blanket of love

Taylor Mangan (left) and her husband James look over a hand-stitched quilt in their Stafford County dining room. / Photo by Robert A. Martin

By CATHY DYSON

James Mangan suspected something was up when he couldn’t find one of his favorite firefighter T–shirts.

His wife, Taylor, tried to throw him off track.

“You have so many, you don’t know where they all are,” she said.

Turns out, she and her mother, Vickie Daniels, had stitched the thread of a secret between them. Starting last summer, Taylor Mangan contacted fire departments across the country, asking them to donate shirts for a quilt Daniels planned to make for her son-in-law.

Mangan has volunteered with the Stafford Volunteer Fire Department for almost eight years, and his mother-in-law wanted to tap into her passion for crafts to recognize his passion for fighting fires.

Soon after the letters went out, packages started arriving, from Carova Beach in North Carolina and San Pasqual Reservation in Valley Center, California.

From Hilton Head and New York City, Fargo and Toledo.

And sew on.

And sew on.

Daniels assembled the materials, adding a few more purloined from Mangan’s shirt drawer. She included one of his favorites, a gray shirt with photos of old fire trucks that commemorated the 50th anniversary of Stafford’s Co. 2 last year.

Daniels spent almost three months putting needle and thread to her task. She used a machine to stitch around the images that graced T–shirt pockets and backs. She arranged the squares against panels of red, yellow and blue—fire department colors—and included phrases, such as the one from Kenova Fire Department in West Virginia that stated: “First in, Last Out.”

Then, by hand, she attached the front of the quilt to another piece that formed the back.

Daniels tied them together, putting an old blanket in between to give the quilt added weight and warmth.

“I do believe in making them big and heavy,” she said.

Her heart and bobbin were full as she quilted the one-of-a-kind Christmas present for the son-in-law she loves.

“I knew that we would like it,” said Daniels, who lives near Stafford Courthouse, close to her daughter, son-in-law and their baby girl,  Olivia, also known as “The Divine Miss O.”

Mangan agreed with his mother-in-law, a phenomenon almost as unusual as getting the thread through the needle’s eye on the first try.

“It’s great, I’ve been wanting one of these,” Mangan said, hoisting the blanket that dwarfs his queen-size bed.

The firefighter didn’t feel fleeced because the women around him pulled off such a surprise. Instead, he was amazed that his buddies at the fire department kept word about the quilting bee to themselves.

One of them, Zach Castle, even contributed the shirt from  farthest away. It’s from Taji Fire Department at Taji Air Force Base in Iraq, where Castle once worked as a contractor.

But it wasn’t just friends and family members who donated the shirts off their backs for a fellow brother. Firefighters often trade shirts, hats and patches, and it’s not unusual for them to do what Mangan’s often done on vacation.

They’ll go to the firehouse in the city they’re visiting and ask to make a trade.

When Cliff Kellogg, the deputy chief of Palomar Mountain Fire Department in California, got Taylor Mangan’s letter, he “certainly wanted to help.”

He told his chief, George Lucia, about the quilt effort, and Lucia brought in shirts that he had collected.

“She sounded like a very nice lady and was putting in a lot of effort to do a wonderful thing for the holidays,” Kellogg said. “It sounds like it was a hit.”

And sew it was.

Cathy Dyson:   540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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