Unsung First Responders

Dan Killoy

Guest Columnist

Having lived in Miles City for 18 years, I as most people spend a certain amount of time talking about the weather. We talk about the droughts, the floods, range fires cause by lightning, the depth of the snow, how far the temperature has dropped into the minus column and so on.

The old-timers really like to sit around and tell the stories about the blizzard of whatever year, the floods, the worst drought, etc. But this year we seem to be making some stories that 40 or 50 years from now will be the new “I remember in 2018, the snow was up to a tall giraffe’s neck, schools were closed, the mail didn’t get delivered, the paper was three days late. The millennials will be telling the younger generation about this winter and the cycle stays moving.

This particular column has been brewing in my mind for the past two months, back to the Christmas of 2017. As usual we always travel to the western side of Montana to spend the holidays with our children and grandchildren.

During this holiday season, I got to see first hand what a true FIRST RESPONDER deals with on a daily basis. What normally comes to most peoples’ minds when those words are uttered are the brave men and women of law enforcement, our firefighters (both paid and volunteers), the highly trained ambulance personnel, the folks that save many lives, in all kinds of conditions, usually when most residents are trying to avoid whatever natural or manmade tragedy is happening.

I would like to bring to the attention of all Montanans a group that maybe is never thought of as first responders — the men and women who put their lives on the line on a daily basis, the snowplow truck drivers for the Montana Department of Transportation and county road departments.

This came to light for me on Christmas Eve, when we were sitting around enjoying a beautiful family event, that is suddenly interrupted by the phone, yes, a call for my son Brian to put his work clothes and boots on and get to the Montana Department of Transportation shops. Yes, on call at all hours for the MDT, where you drop whatever you are doing, leave your family, get out of nice warm bed, to get into a large complicated multi-geared multi-faceted highly technical piece of equipment and put your life on the line, so that we all have the chance to arrive to our destination safely.

This job is fraught with stress, hours upon hours at the highest level of tension, critical decision making which has to be done on the move, without any time to analyze conditions, because the conditions change minute by minute.

Montana has some of the most treacherous road conditions in the country with over 1,000 miles of Interstate highways and tens of thousands of miles of secondary routes that have to be maintained 24 hours a day.

These outstanding individuals put their lives on the line every hour they are out there making our lives safer. They are taken away from family events or dragged away from much-needed sleep that was necessary because of spending the last many hours behind the wheel.

Sure, many people say, as with other first responders, that ‘that’s their job, they picked that profession.” That may be so, but if there weren’t individuals full of courage, with nerves of steel, willing to risk so much for so many, where would we be.

Do they ask a lot for this? Well they are probably somewhat well paid, but not enough. They have good benefits, but not enough. But basically, as my son has told me, they really only want people to respect what they do.

If you drive much in Montana you will see the reader boards informing that as of this date there have been over 25 collisions involving snow plows.

The boards tell us: “Don’t crowd the plow, slow down.”

For most drivers it is not necessary to inform them about this common sense theory, but according to Brian, who has been doing this for years, “there are an amazingly large number of drivers that lack that common sense.”

There are also the drivers that are in such a hurry that they look at the snow plows as a nuisance, interfering with their travel time plans, blaming the plow drivers if they are 30 minutes late because these plow drivers are impeding their lanes or moving to slow.

Then there is this one, that I have a hard time understanding. There are numerous drivers on a daily basis that will finally get around the plow and shake their fist to express how inconvenienced they were, noted Brian.

“They really believe that I get out of a warm bed, leave my family at the dinner table, work long hard difficult hours, just to ruin their day.”

I sincerely think that we should all give them a thumbs up, letting them know that we know that they give our family members who travel on our roads the best chance to arrive safely. Stop by the shop, bring them some donuts and hot coffee, and let them know that we appreciate their efforts.

(Dan Killoy is publisher of the Miles City Star.)