Realities of a Small Town in the West

Photo of a man working on a TV relay tower near Bridger, Mont.



At the top of Cedar Mountain, 8000 feet or more above Cody, Wyo., Mark, a middle-aged television tech inched up the TV relay tower to do some regular maintenance repair work. His tool belt rattled on every rung of the ladder. 

One of the tools he always carried on that belt was a special radio used by the volunteer fire department in Bridger, Mont., 60 miles to the north. These radios had been set so they’d receive any emergency summons for their area. 

With friends, relatives, old classmates, and new residents, Mark had served the 780 Bridger residents on that fire department for years. They mostly put out grass fires, haystack fires, sometimes house fires. They also helped clean up after traffic accidents, helped residents flee flood waters, and helped rescue lost pets or straying cows. 

In Bridger, my niece Audrey was fighting the last days of a terminal illness. Her son, Shane, 20-something at the time, had quit his job to be with his mother. At 70-something, I had come from another town to help care for her. That allowed Shane to make a little money driving a local sugar beet truck part-time during the harvest. 

We all knew there would be no healing for Audrey. She had been ill long enough that her muscles had atrophied, and she could no longer rise to get out of bed on her own. Never a small woman, her girth had widened with disuse, and it took both of her caregivers to move her to the commode. 

As her fight wore on that day, all three of us, with Audrey barely conscious, became aware the care she needed right then was beyond our knowledge and abilities. Answering her request, Shane called for an ambulance to take her to the Billings hospital, nearly 50 miles away.

As our call went out for the ambulance, atop the Cedar Mountain TV tower the radio hooked to Mark’s belt rang out. As he listened to the call, Mr. TV Tech realized the call involved getting an ambulance for Audrey. 

He also realized the ambulance staff coming from another town would not understand the situation. Mark knew Audrey’s condition and size and the size of the small room where she lay dying. He knew the difficult path a gurney would have to take to get through the doorways and narrow hall of the mobile home. He immediately started calling the other volunteer firemen in and around Bridger. 

Two EMTs drove the ambulance into the ranch yard. One, a middle-aged man with years of experience, was obviously in charge. The second was a petite young woman getting a huge, harsh dose of on-the-job-training. They pulled the gurney up the ramp and around the corner on to the porch of the house, leaving it there. 

They entered the bedroom where the dying woman lay, and the young EMT dashed to the bathroom to vomit. The ambulance driver took vitals. He called the emergency room staff at the Billings hospital about the patient and the situation. He looked around the tiny room and decided the only way to move her was to somehow lift her into her wheelchair and transport her that way to the gurney. 

He would get no help from the old aunt or the young EMT. He and Shane decided they could do that together.

At that point, the volunteer firetruck pulled into the yard, and four guys with Fire Department baseball caps tumbled into the house, greeting the ambulance driver by name. They said, “We got a call from Mark at the top of the TV tower out by Cody. He thought you guys might need a little help moving Audrey into the ambulance. We’re here to help.”

Now, with six strong men to lift her, Audrey was moved gently to the wheelchair. Pushing some heavy furniture out of the way, they rolled her through the narrow hall and out the skinny mobile home door to the gurney waiting on the porch. 

With great care and concern, and a few tears (because they knew her, too), the volunteer firemen, her son, and the ambulance driver, gently raised her flaccid body to the gurney and covered her with a warm soft blanket. 

I moved in for a last-minute hug and reassurance that I would take care of things here at the house, and I would see her later. 

They maneuvered the gurney around the corner and down the ramp and uplifted Audrey into the ambulance for her last ride to the hospital. 

Shane, wearing his own Ashland Volunteer Fireman baseball cap, climbed into the passenger seat of the ambulance. The driver, mistaking him for one of the Bridger firemen, asked him what he thought he was doing. Shane said, “She’s my mother. I’m going along.”

With thanks from the ambulance driver and Shane, the volunteer firemen went back to their interrupted lives. And Mark continued his work at the top of a TV tower in Wyoming. 

Just another serendipitous event in the lives of the rural west. MSN

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