Rural Powell, Wyoming farm fire has unlikely ramification

(Note: This was written for the Powell, Wyoming Tribune)

One of reasons I have such affection for Powell, even now more than two decades since our departure, is your local fire department.

First, perhaps a bit of background.

I arrived in your fair city as a new (not to be mistaken with ‘young’) addition to the Powell Tribune newsroom. One duty of any community newspaper worth its salt is to cover local emergencies and at the time four of us shared the scanner in shifts of a week.

Those duties put me out there among the firemen in the wee hours of darkest night, weekends, holidays … whenever the siren sounded.

In time Chief Calvin Sanders, who would become a dear friend, called me aside to tell me the firemen had voted to invite me to join the department as something of an honorary member/pet/mascot to shoot on-scene photos for them, too. This despite the inherent suspicion of a westerner for a known flatlander.

I was much pleased and said yes, after which they presented my own pager. I was then and remain fully honored by their gesture of acceptance, even all these years later.

One happy upshot for my three newsroom colleagues was they were immediately excused from any and all future scanner duty. I offered this up because it would have been silly for them to trundle themselves off to a 3 a.m. wreck in blinding Badger Basin snow when I was going to be there anyway.

So, I equipped myself with two cameras: slide film in one for firemen to project on-screen for training or public presentations, regular film in the other for the paper.

Another happy surprise was having full run of the fire station whether in emergencies or simply to hang out socially. Good Wife Norma and I were warmly welcomed at all department functions including the annual PVFD Christmas Party.

We came to learn these boys knew how to toss a proper party and I’d bet the farm (if I had one) those skills remain today.

So, I was in the midst of these new friends during good times and bad. The many calls were wildly diverse; each one a valued learning experience for me.

One of those wee-hour calls forged a mostly unlikely parallel between a towering blaze on a Powell farm and my present nightly dedication at age 74 to a CPAP machine.

After getting all the blazing inferno photos I needed, I stood in the yard out of the way as the firemen snuffed the blaze in a large, chock-full machinery building.

The couple who lived on the place stood with me in remarkable calm watching a large chunk of their life be incinerated.

Now the weird part.

The gentleman made a sympathetic remark about me having to crawl out at such a miserable hour to cover his fire for the paper. I said something like, “No big deal. I can’t sleep anyway,” and mentioned I snored so thunderously as to wake myself.

He and his wife quickly launched into a lecture about how I must get a sleep study and then a CPAP machine. It had made an incredible lifestyle improvement for him, they both related with preacherly passion. I can’t describe how bizarre it was for these nice folks to turn their backs to their own calamity and express such deep concern about a stranger’s sleep apnea.

Did I take their advice? Well, yes … after a fashion. A long fashion. I was still young enough to think myself bulletproof in those days.

A few years later, however, now back in Nebraska, I became aware how my severe snoring was grinding down Norma’s health, one sleepless night at a time. So bad was it she would take extreme measures to be asleep before I climbed in on my side of the bed. She could not possibly nod off if I were already there ruffling the curtains.

This realization of how severe my shoring had become was an epiphany. Almost immediately my mind cast back to the message on that smoky night in Powell.

My motivation for finally getting the sleep study was so she could sleep. I expected nothing would change for me save stifling the debilitating noise for her.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. I have come to learn about stages of sleep, about achieving REM sleep and staying there through the night. You cannot do that when apnea jars you awake, but not quite conscious, dozens or hundreds of times a night.

We are both better rested than for years and wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (comparatively speaking adjusted for age) than before.

And here’s the part that makes me giggle. Over the years she morphed into a chronic snorer herself who now must be tethered by straps and hoses and nose pillows to her own CPAP, in part so I can sleep.

I love poetic justice. Don’t you?


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