When two Payson paramedics were injured in a head-on collision on Highway 87 last week that nearly paralyzed one of them, local firefighters and friends immediately rushed to their side.
While still pinned in the ambulance, Lifestar EMT Paul Rife II, 28, told one of the first responders to the accident and friend Matt Highstreet that he could not afford to be injured — he had wood to chop for his family before winter hit.
Luckily last weekend, more than a dozen firefighters from Hellsgate, Payson, Pine-Strawberry and the Fort McDowell area got together and cut seven cords of wood for Rife’s family during a winter storm.
Most firefighters in Rim Country have worked with Rife and paramedic Todd Plues, 46, who was also in the ambulance at the time of the accident, for many years, said Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch.
“They are both great guys,” he said.
However, on Wednesday, Nov. 24, the unthinkable happened.
As Rife and Plues were driving back to Payson from the Valley about 8 p.m., a 68-year-old woman was heading southbound in the northbound lanes of Highway 87 near the Bush Highway turnoff.
Rife told Hatch at the hospital that all of a sudden he saw headlights coming toward them. He swerved the ambulance, which was not transporting any patients at the time, but they hit Sharon Delahanty’s beige 2008 Honda Accord head-on.
Arriving officers found Delahanty dead in her car. An investigation into the crash is ongoing, but there is no mention of impairment at this time, DPS said.
Rife told Hatch that he learned the woman may have been involved in an accident earlier in the day and was following her husband home when she became lost or disoriented.
Firefighters had to extricate Rife from the ambulance. He was taken to a hospital with a spinal cord injury.
“I so happened to be the first paramedic on scene to treat Paul while at work at my primary job for the Fort McDowell Fire Department,” Highstreet said. “We’re also good friends, so you can imagine the shock of rolling up on a fatal accident and knowing the people who are injured. I took it upon myself to organize a wood cutting party for Paul.”
On Sunday, Rife was up and moving at the hospital. However, when Rife woke up Monday morning, he could not feel or move his left leg. Doctors told him a bone spur had penetrated his spinal cord. He was taken into surgery and the spur was removed Monday night.
On Tuesday, Rife was able to stand again. Hatch said Rife has a long road of recovery in front of him.
“I have since spoken to Paul and he is very gracious for our dedication and can’t wait to come back home,” Highstreet said.
Plues was released from the hospital soon after the accident. Hatch said he is extremely sore and “black and blue from head to toe,” but otherwise OK.