Hundreds of people paid $20 a ticket Friday night to help ease the pain of a baby who lost a heroic father she'll never know.
Elayna Seguin turns 10 months old today, much too young to understand what all the fuss was about Friday night at the Connecticut Street Armory. Dressed in a red, black and white Dalmatians outfit, she posed for photos, flashing her photogenic smile as adults jingled keys in front of her face.
They were there to pay tribute to her father, Buffalo Firefighter Michael L. Seguin, 30, who lost his life July 4 in a Kehr Street fire.
"After Mike got killed, we wanted to take care of the baby and make sure she has a future as good as anyone with a father," said Firefighter Howard Stutz, who worked with Seguin at Engine 33 on Kehr Street.
"We want Elayna to look back at us and realize that we tried to do something to fill the void when Mike passed away," he added. "Mike was the type of guy who would have done it for us."
Maybe it's because firefighters spend so many hours together. Maybe it's the risks they face together. Or maybe it's the way they have to depend on each other, when the smoke gets too thick.
Whatever the reason, firefighters talk about the firefighter brotherhood that always stands together, no matter what.
"We're one gigantic family," said Firefighter Tim Lopez of Ladder 15, Elayna's uncle. "Elayna's part of their family right now. That's what this is all about."
The benefit also served as another tribute to the fallen firefighter, a night that will help Elayna eventually learn more about her father.
"She will never have the opportunity to know her father personally as she grows older, but I hope the pictures, the tributes and the mementos will help to fill that gap for her," said her mother, Kim Lopez, who was Seguin's fiancee. "And I'll do my damnedest to instill in her both Mike's and my values."
"I'm going to teach her to be proud of her father," Ms. Lopez added. "He died with a lot of honor. He was a brave man. He was a go-getter. . . I'll tell her there are a lot of dreams out there and I want her to fulfill all of them. And if she decides she wants to be a firefighter or a police officer, I'll tell her to go for it."
Organizers of the benefit were hoping to draw more than 1,000 people and raise at least $20,000.
But the money didn't seem to be the most important part for Ms. Lopez, as she talked about her gratitude for everything the rank-and-file firefighters have done for her and Elayna.
"I'm sure everyone here and everyone who knew Michael will have a memory or a special place in their heart for him but I also want them to remember the good times and the smile he had on his face."
Ms. Lopez said her daughter often looks at a photo at home and breaks into a non-stop chant: "Da-da, Da-da."