AMERICAN FORK -- Three nights a week, security guard Pete Mills patrols the halls at American Fork Hospital. He mans the check-in desk that screens late-night visitors, calms unruly emergency room patients, and fills in to cover any facility issues that arise. It's a good job, he said, and the 12-hour overnight shifts are as enjoyable as any job. But to the staff and patients who inhabit the hospital overnight, Mills is more than just a security guard.
Mills's popularity is due in no small part to the toy cars that he gives out to scared and sick kids. He has given out hundreds of cars in his seven years at the hospital and said the kids always love it.
"I have yet to have a kid that didn't have a 'wow' moment," Mills said.
Initially the cars came from Mills's own collection. He has been a car guy for as long as he can remember and has a personal collection of model cars that used to fill a whole room at home. He and one of his sons culled their collections, only keeping the cars they really wanted, and immediately came up with around 200 cars to give away.
"I stuck them in a bag in my locker and put a few in my pocket and gave them out," Mills said. Those first 200 went fast. Mills has a big heart and gives out several cars every night, some for the patients themselves and some for siblings.
"Sometimes a kid will be treated and his little sibling will be down there and he'll be just as scared as he is," Mills explained.
Mills has received donations from co-workers, members of the community, and is now partnering with The Happy Factory, a nonprofit based in Cedar City that builds wood-block cars suitable for even the youngest kids.
From his bank of computer monitors displaying security camera feeds, Mills picked up the phone early in his shift one night and dialed the emergency room.
"You got any kids over there?" he asked. Receiving an affirmative answer, Mills opened a filing cabinet to reveal a huge box of toy cars. Armed with a few Matchbox and a few wooden ones, Mills walked to the emergency room. On the way he passed a little girl in the waiting room and held out a car. Confused, she looked back at her mom, and Mills told her the car was hers to keep.
"That's my car!" she exclaimed, her eyes wide with excitement as she realized what the oversized man wearing a batman-esque utility belt was offering. After handing over the car, Mills continued on to find more kids to cheer up.
"I figure a kid looks at me and if I'm nice to him, everybody else must be nice to him," Mills mused about his large stature.
Mills has found many ways to contribute on the job besides his security duties and giving out toy cars.
"He's always very helpful," said house supervisor Brent Gurney. "If somebody needs help he's there to help them."
His popularity among the hospital staff is obvious as Mills paused during his rounds to chat and laugh with the nursing staff. The close community of night-shift workers at the hospital is one reason Mills has stayed at this job, but he is also happy to stop and chat with patients who come in and might just need someone to vent their frustrations to.
"Sometimes some of them want to talk a minute or two and you just stop and listen," Mills said. "Sometimes a good ear is as good as medicine."
Working nights has brought Mills closer to the co-workers and patients, and that's what makes the job fulfilling to him.
"Here at night I know all the faces, all the people," Mills said. He said he is constantly amazed at what his co-workers have accomplished and that he enjoys hearing their stories. "If you stop and listen and talk to a few of these folks, you get inspired. ... I've never worked with any better bunch of people."