We owe a debt to our firefighters
Published: Thursday, July 26th, 2012
The first thing you should know about the seemingly miraculous outcome of the 10,000 acre Myrtle Fire near Pringle this past week is there was lots of skill and courage and incredibly hard work, even frighteningly difficult work, making things happen. The only thing that stood between Custer and Pringle and potentially the worst fire disaster since the Jasper fire was…well, heroes.
The Myrtle Fire started when an urgent radio call spilled into the afternoon quiet at Great Plains Dispatch at Rapid City. Sherry Fox and her team dispatched Pringle’s own “Brush 6” Pringle Volunteer fire engine which responded immediately, all of which was overheard by Les Madsen, South Dakota Division of Forestry, "Division 500," Hot Springs, who knew at 2:19 p.m. he had to call the fire in to Custer dispatcher Nancy Cates, who dispatched Custer Sheriff’s deputy Steve McMillan, “Two One A Three,” then Mike Carter, “E M One,” the Custer County emergency coordinator, and then the wheels were completely off the wagon, the horses were out of the barn and things got real Western, real quick. Unless you’ve been at a rodeo like this you have no idea.
Steve remembered the lady from Colorado who pulled up behind him on Highway 385 to ask, “Is this a forest fire?” He didn’t really know what to say.
Led in often heroic and usually unnoticed individual action by senior firefighters, unknown volunteers with years of experience, known pros like Matt Spring of Custer Hell Canyon Ranger District who learned his trade from Custer Mayor Gary Lipp, whose daughter-in-law, Gwen Lipp, is now the fire management officer in charge…well, it’s all somehow related, one generation raising another, one experience leading to others, all of them culminating in one of the flat out best initial attack, wildfire fighting organizations ever seen in any generation, never mind the Custer sheriff’s office, one of the great Western police organizations this side of Texas.
If you live in Black Hills area counties, you’re well protected by real pros with real passion. Find one of them and thank them. You got to go home after the Myrtle Fire because of their astonishing level of training and experience, but even more so by their personal commitment right down to and including laying life on the line on our behalf. Leaders like deputy forest supervisor Dennis Jaeger and Custer County commissioner Dave Hazeltine said it again and again…our first priority is public and firefighter safety, everything else is second. But, in the end, a firefighter just can’t stand to let someone’s home burn down, just like a sheriff’s deputy can’t stand to not try to help people evacuate, just like a volunteer like Rick March in Search and Rescue just can’t rest until all the people are accounted for. It’s just the way it is.
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