Gene Work’s Saturday was already a stressful one, as he worked feverishly to fix his garden before he was issued a fine. His day then got a whole lot worse after he suffered a heart attack. But the firefighters that arrived not only helped save his life, but they also had a wonderful surprise in store for his wife.
Originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, Gene is now a resident of Bayonet Point, Florida, and he lives at home with his wife Melissa and their two children. However, the Work family’s lives became somewhat more complicated after they were issued a fine by their homeowners’ association (HOA).
In particular, according to Melissa, she and Gene were faced with receiving a hefty penalty for allowing “lots of weeds” to grow on the lawn of their front yard. To avoid the charge, then, Gene needed to resod the grass before a particular deadline. And that demand likely added to the stress that he was already under. Melissa’s health had also been a major concern for the dad and husband at the time, as she required a costly bone marrow transplant later that summer.
So, with the deadline looming, Gene got to work on the lawn, enlisting the help of his brother Mark Rouco along the way. And following plenty of hard labor, the pair looked likely to finish up the resodding in time. On a Saturday afternoon in July 2018, however, the situation took a dramatic turn.
As Gene worked on the garden, he suffered a heart attack. “We had just received our last four palettes [of sod] and were going to finish it,” Melissa recalled on Facebook in July 2018. “It’s been my husband’s biggest stress, as our HOA date to fine us a huge amount was getting closer.”
Despite his perilous position, though, Gene had only one thing on his mind as he waited for the emergency services to pick him up. “While he was having his heart attack – literally in and out of consciousness – he kept begging me to figure out the sod and have it put down because he didn’t want it to go to waste and die,” Melissa continued.
“It’s all he kept asking about literally during a massive heart attack,” Melissa added. “I calmed him and kept saying, ‘Jesus will help us. It’s okay. Jesus will figure this out, babe.’” Then, before long, the pair were transported to the hospital by Pasco County Fire Rescue – leaving Mark at the house.
With the HOA deadline fast approaching, though, Mark made a tough decision. “[Mark] was planning on staying there by himself until midnight to get [the work] finished,” Melissa wrote on Facebook. “He finished getting the old grass out and then began laying a few rows of the new sod.”
However, a short time later, Gene’s brother received the most unexpected of surprises. “As [Mark] was laying [the sod], he heard huge trucks driving back down the road,” Melissa later explained on Facebook. “He turned around and saw the fire truck and ambulance had come back. He was confused and thought they were coming to check on him.”
Despite Mark’s initial bewilderment, though, the situation would soon become clear. Melissa explained, “Before [Mark knew] it, seven firefighters and [emergency medical technicians] jumped out, put on gloves and said they came back because they knew Gene was in serious trouble, and they wanted to lay the new sod so it didn’t die.”
Speaking of her husband, Melissa went on, “[The emergency personnel] knew [Gene] wouldn’t be able to do any work for weeks, so they came back. They came back! They saved his life, dropped him off and then cared enough to save our grass!” Then, following an hour of work, Mark and the Pasco County firefighters completed the resodding – beating the HOA deadline.
And, unsurprisingly, Melissa was overcome with emotion when reflecting on the circumstances surrounding this remarkable gesture. “[The firefighters] didn’t know our HOA was going to fine us,” she wrote on Facebook. “They didn’t know that [I am] about to fight for my own life during my bone marrow transplant next month.”
Melissa continued, “They didn’t know that my husband pawned his favorite gun to pay for the sod that he thought was going to die. They didn’t know all we have been through as a little family. They simply saw someone in need [and] something in need and did this for us. This wasn’t in their job description. We have no words. Just sobbing.”
Meanwhile, Melissa’s own timing was praised by doctors at the hospital, who informed her that Gene could have died if she hadn’t called 911 straight away. The dad subsequently underwent a major operation, with surgeons placing stents into his artery to help alleviate a blockage.
Then, when Gene finally came around from the procedure, Melissa updated him on everything that happened – and the news left him stunned. “Gene said we had to find [the firefighters] and thank them,” the mom told the Tampa Bay Times in July 2018. “We had to tell everyone about this kindness.”
“On paper, we’ve been dealt a lot of difficulties,” Melissa continued to the publication. “But we teach our kids to look for the positives, and that is what this was. That’s what we’re going to focus on, and that’s what we’re going to keep with us.”
On that note, Melissa focused her attention on the firefighters and reiterated her husband’s thoughts. “These men didn’t do this for any attention [and] they didn’t know what family they were doing this for, but we feel that we should return that kindness and tell people,” she added. “We’re hoping to find them and thank them in person, too.”
In the meantime, Melissa’s previous Facebook post that recounted the incident went viral; it ultimately earned over 115,000 likes and 85,000 shares. Her heartfelt words also generated close to 300 comments – many of which praised the Pasco County firefighters – on the social media site.
Then, after learning the identity of the crew that had pulled off the gesture, Melissa and Gene contacted the fire department and organized a surprise reunion. And that meeting was captured on camera, as the Work family personally thanked all those who had helped them on that difficult July afternoon. The footage of the event was also later posted on Pasco County Fire Rescue’s Facebook page, where it has earned 18,000 views to date.
However, while his crew was being flooded with praise, Pasco County Fire Rescue Captain Boyd Marshall had one last message on the matter. “I’d just like to remind everybody that there are a lot of other fire departments and crews that do a lot of things that go unnoticed,” he said in the video. “So, it’s nice to see someone appreciates the help.”