MANCHESTER, Pa. – Superheroes don’t always wear capes.
Seven years ago Manchester junior firefighter Ryan Bowman had a homework assignment — write an essay about a hero.
“Always growing up, my dad was my hero,” said Ryan, now 15 years old. “Not only because he was my dad, but because he was a firefighter.”
His father Dave Bowman, a retired captain in the York City Fire Department, had no idea his son was writing about him.
"I knew nothing about it until one day I got an email from his teacher," Dave said. "It brought a tear to my eye."
Dave has always cherished that third grade essay. He even posted it on Facebook earlier this year.
For the Bowman family, firefighting is in their blood.
Ryan always knew he wanted to be a firefighter, following in the footsteps of his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather.
"My dad used to take me to fire calls when I was 5, 6, 7 years old," said Dave. "I'd sit in the car while he helped fight the fire."
Years later, Dave passed the love of firefighting on to his son.
"As soon as Ryan heard I was going to a fire call, he was like a little puppy dog," Dave said. "He wanted to jump in the car and go, too."
But Ryan had to wait until he got older before he could officially join Station 23 in Manchester.
"As Ryan approached his 14th birthday, he was a real pain in the butt," Dave said, laughing. "It was like a countdown, a New Year's Eve countdown, to the date he turned 14 so he could join up here and start doing active firefighting."
Ryan is now a fourth-generation firefighter and recently received the 2018 York County Junior Firefighter of the Year Award.
And he continues to make his father proud.
Before retiring in 2016 after 21 years on the job, Dave was assigned to Station 1 in York. There he worked alongside Zach Anthony and Ivan Flanscha, the firefighters who died in the line of duty when the old Weaver Piano building collapsed in March.
Even months later, Dave still gets emotional remembering that difficult time, but credits Ryan with being his rock.
"When Zach and Ivan were killed, Ryan was by my side for the whole week," Dave said, trying to hold back tears. "He helped me get through it."
At the time, Ryan was working on another school project -- building a table in Tech Ed class. A big Penn State fan, Ryan's original plan was to make a Nittany Lion table. But that plan changed.
"When the accident happened, I was thinking about it," Ryan said. "I talked to my dad about maybe altering the design and making a table to honor Zach and Ivan. And we put it in Station 1."
That table made a lasting impression on his dad.
"When he did the table, that's probably my proudest moment ever," said Dave. "That a 15-year-old kid would have the thought of doing something like that to honor two guys that he knew and two guys that were my friends and co-workers."
It was just another way for a son to honor his father.
In the words of 9-year-old Ryan ... (sic) "You think you know EVERYTHING about super heroes, don't you? How they wear underwear like tights. How they have fancy silk capes that flow in the wind when they fly in the air. Well now you know that super heroes do not have to have a costume. They are people like my dad."
Volunteer opportunities are available at Union Fire Company No. 1 in Manchester. If you'd like more information, contact Station 23 at 717-266-2226.