Friends and colleagues of retired Medford firefighter Harold “Hal” Simmons treated him to a surprise drive-by parade of fire and police vehicles outside his Beverly home on Tuesday afternoon to celebrate his return home after nearly four months hospitalized battling the coronavirus.
“Oh my god, I was overwhelmed,” Simmons, 71, said by phone after the parade. “Guys that I worked with on Medford, the Peabody guys that I knew, there was even a Boston fire truck here, Beverly. It was surprising as heck! . . . I never expected it.”
Simmons spoke in a strong voice, occasionally pausing to cough. He spent two months in a coma while hospitalized for COVID-19, he said.
“I don’t wish it on my worst enemy,” Simmons said of the virus that has killed nearly 8,000 Massachusetts residents and infected over 104,000 people. “It was horrific.”
He was on a ventilator until June 29, he said, and still has little energy and must use a walker. He returned Monday to his home on Lyman Street and his family, which includes two infant grandchildren he just met for the first time.
“It’s been very stressful for the family. I’m glad I’m home so I can be with them,” Simmons said, adding of his grandchildren. “I thought I was going to miss them growing up.”
Retired Beverly firefighter John Salvanelli organized firefighters from his old department to participate in the parade, he said.
Salvanelli was moved by the turnout for Simmons, whose eyes welled with tears as he watched the fellow firefighters celebrate his recovery.
“There was a ladder truck from Boston, a fire engine from Medford, three fire engines from Beverly, the chief of Beverly, 10 police cruisers — it was amazing!” said Salvanelli, 68.
“The guy’s lucky to be alive,” Salvanelli said. “He deserves some recognition.”
The parade started out from Beverly High School Tuesday around4 p.m., he said.
Tim Beckwith retired as a lieutenant from the Medford Fire Department and was a lead organizer of the parade.
Beckwith said Simmons was already suffering from “serious” chronic obstructive pulmonary disease issues that he got from his service in the fire department when he came down with COVID-19, and he’s happy that Simmons was able to beat it.
“This is a celebration of hopefulness, love, and respect,” said Beckwith.