This Selfless Hero Died For All Of Us

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Larry Woolsey died for you — for each of us. We are heartbroken by his death — even as we honor his selfless courage.

Woolsey, a member of the Gila County Mounted Posse, died Tuesday in a fall as he searched through the gathering darkness for a missing man.

When Woolsey got the call to look for an overdue ATV rider, he didn’t hesitate to help a stranger. He saddled up his paint horse, Pickles, and set off to help the rest of the great-hearted posse and search and rescue volunteers.

But Woolsey missed his footing crossing an old dam and fell 20 feet to his death.

This awful loss must remind us how much we owe to our neighbors, who answer such calls every week.

Rim Country is blessed beyond measure by this fine group of people with horses, Jeeps, climbing gear, courage and worn hiking boots, willing to undertake long and sometimes dangerous searches for anyone in trouble.

They have earned the same appreciation and honor from the rest of us sitting safe in our homes, as have the firefighters, police officers and soldiers, who risk so much for us all. If anything, we should honor the contributions of these volunteers even more, since they do it for free — out of the self-sacrificing determination to help others.

But there’s another lesson for us all in this tragic tale as well. The ATV rider Woolsey set out to find showed up eventually, having ridden all the way to the outskirts of Phoenix. It appears that the well-meaning neighbor who reported the man missing didn’t know that his friend intended such a long trip.

This story tragically underscores the importance of letting friends and family know where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone when you set off on such an adventure.

If you neglect that essential responsibility, you needlessly risk the lives of the people willing to set out in the darkness to find you.

Of course, that doesn’t alter for a moment the debt we owe to Larry Woolsey for his willingness to saddle up and answer the call.

We know that nothing we can say here can ease the grief of his friends and family. Still, we hope you will accept our deep gratitude for his sacrifice and our great sorrow in the face of your heartrending loss.

Two-man fire crews pose risks

Payson’s worst case scenario appears to be unfolding when it comes to staffing its brand new fire station. The town council last year voted to go ahead and build a fire station that will cut a minute or more off response times on the east end of town, finally fulfilling a promise made to voters who supported a bond issue to build the new fire station years ago.

We sympathize with the decision to fulfill that promise and the shrewd deal-making that went into the construction of the new station. It remains vital to the town’s long-term future and cost about half what it might have.

However, it seems increasingly unlikely Payson will get a federal grant to pay firefighter salaries in the first five years.

The town’s application hasn’t been rejected, but the feds have started to warn even towns that did get grants not to expect money this year. The SAFER grants seem to have been caught up in the congressional gear shift, from stimulating the economy to cutting the deficit.

Just to make matters a little bit worse, Payson stands to lose an extra $159,000 in state support. That’s way better than the $2 million Payson could have lost under the terms of the Senate budget — but still takes enough money to pay four firefighters.

It takes at least nine firefighters to provide a three-man crew on an around-the-clock basis — which works out to something like $750,000 to $1 million.

We’re worried the town may resort to two-man crews at all three stations to base a crew at the new station.

We hope not. National studies show that firefighters on two-man crews suffer a greater rate of injury — perhaps because firefighters in an emergency will try to lift loads and handle equipment too heavy for one man. Moreover, two-man crews complete critical tasks more slowly — eliminating many of the benefits of an early arrival time.

We would rather see the fire station mothballed than risk firefighter injury.

So we hope the council will consider creative alternatives, before it resorts to two-man crews. For instance, perhaps the town could shift back to volunteers for that third man on the truck or reconsider its relationship with Hellsgate. Alternatively, bolstering the network of defibrillators in public places might actually save more lives than shaving a little time off response times.

We do not envy the council the choice — but we hope protecting firefighters from the consequences of their own gung-ho courage will take precedence.

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