Adam Hunwicks has dreamed of a career in policing for nearly half of his life.
With a family full of first-responders — his father is a paramedic in Peel Region, his mother is a retired Simcoe County paramedic and her partner is a member of the Barrie Police Service — the 15-year-old Barrie youth says he’s known he wanted to be a police officer since he was only eight years old.
“Police are always seen rushing toward (and) helping people and sticking up for the little guy, which is cool," Hunwicks told BarrieToday.
Hunwicks had even been collecting memorabilia from police services across the province for the last two years, ever since Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood generously surprised him with several items for his birthday.
Unfortunately, Hunwicks lost that collection — including one of his most prized possessions, a wooden 'Thin Blue Line' sign his father had given him for his 15th birthday — when his house was destroyed July 15 by the tornado that hit the city’s south end.
“I like the 'Thin Blue Line' sign because it represents police and their willingness to stand up and protect the public and themselves. They stick together and have people's back and support,” he said.
Prior to the tornado, he had collected crests and pins set from more than a dozen police departments.
Hunwicks naturally assumed his collection was lost forever.
While working in the tornado-affected neighbourhood two days after the EF2 twister touched down, Barrie police Sgt. John Brooks says he received a text message from one of the service’s civilian members informing him that the sign had been spotted in some aerial footage. Brooks was asked if there was any way if he thought it could be retrieved for the teen.
“I told her to leave it with me and headed over there,” Brooks told BarrieToday.
When the police sergeant arrived at the Sun King Crescent home, Brooks said he found crews in the midst of fencing the house off, because it had been deemed uninhabitable. While he didn’t want to interfere with their work, Brooks said he approached the crew and inquired if there was any way he could get inside to find the sign. They hesitantly agreed and Brooks went upstairs, stepping over mounds of debris to get to the teen’s room.
“I knew exactly where Adam’s room was … and I saw the piece of art sitting on his desk. I was able to grab it and went back downstairs and exited the house,” Brooks said. “It was one of those things where, at the end of the day, you can always say it’s a piece of property and it’s not worth the risk, per se, but, especially when it comes to kids, when you know it’s something that is that important, it was easy for me to just go in and grab it.”
Brooks admitted there was a bit of concern for his safety, given the poor state the house was in, but said the risk was worth it.
“I got to pretend I was a fireman for three minutes,” he joked.
To be able to help return something that means so much to someone was undeniably special, Brooks added.
“It doesn’t even have to do with the fact that it was police memorabilia, but when you hear about something that was so important to someone, it’s almost just in policing nature that we are always there wanting to help and to make situations better," he said.
Hunwicks is already starting to rebuild his collection, telling BarrieToday people and police forces from across the country are sending him crests and other memorabilia.
“I have never met these people, but they are sending me crests and stuff from all over the country. A bunch of services have been sending me things in the past few days to replace and improve the collection. It's awesome,” he said.
Hunwicks was also stunned when he learned his sign had been salvaged from the damage.
“I thought, for sure, it would have been damaged, but it stood up to a tornado and came out undamaged. It felt like I had something of mine back," he said.
The Grade 11 student dreams of starting his career working for the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service and then eventually heading south to work for Ontario Provincial Police or the Barrie Police Service.
“My grandmother lived in Pangnirtung on Baffin Island in the '60s and got to live with and learn from the Inuit about their culture and way of life and loved it. (She) made friends she still talks to today. I think, especially now, that is so important for us to do.”