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‘God bless, thank you’: Phoenix Fire Department fundraises, gifts wheelchair accessible van to clerk

After more than a year of fundraising, Abel Parra was gifted a new van. He’s worked for the Phoenix Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Section for 21 years.
Credit: KPNX

PHOENIX — For more than a year, Abel Parra has left his home two hours before the start of his shift at work to get there on time.

Parra's commute to his job at Phoenix Fire Department Administration entailed going to the bus stop, then taking the bus followed by the light rail to get to his destination near Jefferson and 12th streets. 

The journey was doable but difficult at times for Parra who uses a wheelchair after he sustained a spinal cord injury years ago.

Parra's commute used to be a 30-minute drive, but in October 2021, his 1984 Ford Econoline van gave out, leaving him dependent on public transportation.

“He’d come in and he’d be all sweaty and hot and I felt really bad,” said LaNette McKinney, Parra’s supervisor at the time. “That’s when I asked him if we could start a fundraiser and help get him a new van.”

With Parra having worked for Phoenix Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Section for 21 years, many current and former fire employees, along with friends and family, joined in on the efforts to help him get a new ride.

On Jan. 6, the long fundraiser came to an end, when Parra was given the keys to his new 2016 Chevy Express 2500 Explorer Limited. The van is fully equipped with a ramp and other special features, like a built-in TV, sunroof, and rear sofa.

“I thank all of you guys, I’m very humbled, very thankful,” Parra said outside his office after seeing the van for the first time. “I’m going to take care of it and pay it forward on my level when I can and how I can.”

McKinney said the van was purchased in Florida and transferred to Arizona. Low inventory for these types of vehicles made the wait for the van longer than expected, she said.

McKinney said her husband negotiated a better price and local businesses, like Vantage Mobility International and AMD Mobility, helped modify the van to fit Parra’s needs.

“The fire department motto, part of that is, our family helping your family and that’s what we did, and with the support of everybody out there we were able to help them, help us, help him,” McKinney said.

Parra was lost for words once inside his new van. As soon as he got in the driver's seat, he got a new pair of black fuzzy dice and hug them in his rear-view mirror.

“This is just beautiful,” he said. “I have nieces and nephews, so I want to take him for a ride now.”

Parra loves to go on road trips to visit and explore new towns in the state. After getting fully familiar with his new ride, he plans to take the van for a ride to a new place.

“Driving is actually one of my stress relievers, so I’m just so thankful,” he said. “God bless and thank you to all the people that I don’t even know who donated.”

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