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Man of Honor Photos and text By Dean Baker


Left: A view of Cairo from the fire station looking north.

T

ronzo Graham, a firefighter and pastor, lives in Cairo, Illinois. Most of the town’s 3,500 residents know Tronzo by name. Many people in the small town look up to Tronzo for his positive outlook and efforts in the small town. This young man really wants to make a difference where he lives. Cairo, located at the southern most tip of Illinois, is a town that could have been great. The once booming town is now economically challenged with several empty buildings and high unemployment rates. Tronzo grew up in just a few miles away from Cairo in the town of Mounds. The firefighter loves his job. Along with the other firefighters, Tronzo can handle any situation that arises. Whether it is extricating a victim involved in a car accident or teaching children fire prevention at the local school. Cairo has one of the highest arson rates per capita in the state of Illinois. Tronzo’s co-workers at the fire department are a close knit group. there is a level of trust that is built between the workers of the fire department in the small town. Paid on call volunteer Brian Nelson often visits the department when he is in town to pick up supplies for his construction business. “I stop by all the time,” Nelson said. Fire Chief Brandon Manker thinks highly of Tronzo. Manker sees Graham as an asset to the community. “He does so much. It is common to see Tronzo on his day off helping someone. That is just the kind of man he is,” Manker said. You can see the passion in his eyes and the conviction in his voice Manker said. The fire department has five full time firefighters for the small town. If a firefighter needs some extra time off to be with their family Tronzo is the first one to speak up and work for them. One can often see the 26-year-old firefighter in town stopping someone on the street just to see how they are doing. The young firefighter also has another passion. Tronzo

Right: Tronzo Graham(right) and Brian Nelson put out a small fire near the downtown area. The city of Cairo, Illinois has the highest arson rate per capita in the state.

Above: The firefighter attaches a ladder back to the truck, after making a repair to a flag in preperation of the city’s annual riverboat days.

Right: Brian Nelson(right) and Tronzo Graham put away a hose. Below: Tronzo and volunteer Richard Miles look at training information on a computer inside the station.


“Small children get scared when i put on all of my gear. It’s hard for them to realize i am still in there.” -Tronzo Graham

The Firefighter sets up a high volume fan to clear out a home filled wih smoke created by a dryer fire.

Left: Tronzo shows the children of the Cairo Head Start Program equipment on the city’s fire truck.


is a pastor of a small church in Ullin, Illinos, another small town north of Cairo. On the outside the church looks tired, however, on the inside the strength of the conviction from its members more than makes up for the buildings state of repair. The church has about 40 members Graham said. The tones and cadence from the music reflect hope and desperation. The music does not come from a hymnal but was handed down from past generations. “I don’t force my religion on anyone. If someone needs help, I help” Tronzo said. Tronzo wants people to see him for who he is. “Even if I was not a firefighter, I would still be trying to help others in need physically and spiritually,”Graham said. Every spring and fall Tronzo visits the schools and teaches fire prevention to the children of the community. When I teach the pre-schoolers what to do and not do I have to be stern

Above: Tronzo Graham leads Wednesday night service at St. John;s Freewill Baptist Church in Ullin, Illinois. The small church has 40 members.

with them so they will listen. I want them to know the dangers of fire and how fast it can spread Graham said. “The small children get scared when I put on all of my gear. It is hard for them to realize that I am still in there,” Graham said. It is worth it though when I drive the truck through town and the children wave to me or when I see them on the street they yell hey Mr. Fireman Graham said. Most of the fires Tronzo responds to are arson cases. Vacant buildings and houses dominate the economically challenged town. Recently, Tronzo responded to four fires back to back.

“This lady went crazy and was setting fires all over town,” Graham said. I could not believe I would put one out and we would get another call just a couple of blocks away of another fire Graham said. In addition to responding to fire calls the fire department is also a first responder unit for medical emergencies. The town lost its only hospital several years ago. “Now injured or sick people have to be transported about 40 miles to the nearest hospital,” Graham said. “It is hard sometimes because in town of this size. I know a lot of the people that live here and they depend on


us in tense situations,” Graham said. “It is hard to rise above a situation when the person you are caring for is a friend or someone you know,” Graham said. One of the biggest things that the residents of the city want is a hospital in town. “The chances of Cairo getting another hospital are slim but there is always hope,” the young firefighter said.

The firefighter reflects on the changes he would like made in the city he lives.

Tronzo Graham rinses potatoes for a meal in his sisters home. Graham feels obligated to help with meals when he is there.

Tronzo prepares to eat a late lunch after a long morning.The firefighter will be getting married in October 2005.

Man of Honor  

Photo story of Tronzo Graham. Created in 2004.

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