Nels wasn’t planning to be home today. He had been so excited to begin a new ‘coffee ministry’ at our little church in Portsmouth and was planning to spend the day there after he was off duty at the FD. The plan was that we would eat lunch together, then he would leave. I would go back to bed since I had worked most of the night.
We got a call from Dusty around lunch. He was on his way over to move his tree stand out of the property behind our house. If we were home he would stop by. Last season, he had set up a spot where both he and Logan could hunt from. He came just as we were pulling the pizza pockets and tater tots out of the oven. He talked about P90X, plyometrics and sore quads, about hunting and the FD. And Nels’ Under Armor camo pants that resembled pjs.
Nels offered to help him with the stands and they went up the hill. I went to bed.
Less than two hours later I woke up to Nels frantically calling for me. “Amanda, you gotta get up. You gotta get up. Dusty fell out of the stand. He’s not breathing well. He can’t feel his legs. You gotta call Mayer, get Mantz’s wife’s number and call her. We gotta get him off of the hill.” After calling dispatch and requesting Air Care to fly East, Nels had calmed him down promising to take care of his son, praying with him, then had to leave him there, drive down to the house and get more help. But God was with him.
The local FD came, the squad arrived, the neighbors came up the hill to help. I talked with Borneman and with Jeff Moore, and attempted to call Kerri. Meanwhile, over the radio I could hear the urgent call for additional manpower and that Air Care was 8 minutes away. The LZ would be our neighbor’s yard. But first we had to get him out of the woods and off of the hill. About an hour after Nels had initially woken me up, the stokes basket came down the hill supported by Nels on the four-wheeler and carried by the FD and neighbors. It took only a few minutes to get him into the squad and to the LZ where Deb and the 2nd year resident were waiting. Within a few more minutes, Mantz and Nels were lifted off.
I spoke with Kerri once before I left, letting her know that he was still alive. Still breathing. Still talking. But still not able to feel anything below the waist.
Then I took the long way to the hospital.
I arrived about an hour after the chopper did. There were already 10 guys from the FD there, as well as his wife and family. He was stabilized, scans completed, scheduled for immediate surgery.
The next hour there were another 10 guys from the FD. Then another 10.
We moved up to the SICU waiting room. Pizza and soft drinks arrived.
Buken walked in. Nearly two years ago he was the one in the SICU and Mantz and his brothers were in the waiting room, not knowing if he would pull through. Today he walks in.
A few of the guys were able to see Mantz just before surgery. Then he asked for Nels to come back and pray with him, just as he had done nearly 5 hours ago. There were 6 or 7 of us in the room. And God was there.
Nearly every seat in the waiting room was filled for most of the night. Nearly every one there was there for Mantz. There was pizza. There were hourly updates from the surgery team.
The surgery went well. There were no internal organs injured. Minimal blood loss. Extensive spinal cord and soft tissue damage. 8 screws and 2 plates. They would extubate him and as soon as his pain was controlled they would allow family back. Then his brothers.
Nels and I left at 5am. We were exhausted. Nels more than I. Mental, emotional and physical catecholamine washout had taken its toll. But he had gotten Mantz off of the hill in time. And God was there.
If there is anything more difficult than being a firefighter, it has to be being a firefighter’s wife. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t pray for safety for Nels. For his crew. I know what you are faced with. I know what is asked of you. I know how you respond on duty. It is the same way that you respond when you are off duty. When Nels told me to call Jeff Moore, he said, “He’ll take care of it”. I knew what he meant. The MayDay would go out, the guys would stop whatever they were doing and the brothers would be there. Today, tomorrow, the following weeks. The following months. The way Mantz was there for Buken.
And God will be there.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart. For taking care of my Man. For taking care of Mantz. For taking care of all of our men.
There isn’t a group of men that I respect and admire more than the Men in blue.
And thank you to God, who makes all men brothers in Christ. And who brought Mantz off the hill. In time.