Coworkers honor heroic firefighter
Chris Caywood might think twice about following orders the next time his boss tells him to pick up some truck parts.
Tuesday at noon, Caywood pulled his RAC Transport truck into the Tomahawk Truck Stop parking lot in West Glenwood, searching for the parts, but instead found a barbecue picnic being held in his honor.
Boyd Hooper, the Basalt terminal manager at RAC Transport, said Caywood doesn’t much like the spotlight. Truck stop manager Denise Burts added, “If he knew, he’d run for the hills.”
Caywood, a 34-year-old Glenwood Springs Fire Department volunteer, helped battle the Coal Seam Fire at three locations when it exploded June 8. While Caywood was fighting the fire, his own residence in the Storm King Trailer Park burned to the ground.
When asked if he had the urge to check on his trailer or try to protect it, Caywood said that when he is called to a fire he has three priorities: his own safety, the safety of his crew, and the community’s safety.
“I heard radio reports and had an inkling my house was gone,” Caywood said, as other Tomahawk workers started circling the picnic table. “But until I’m relieved, nothing enters my mind.”
Caywood is a part-time employee at the truck stop, and Tuesday’s picnic was held in Sister Mary Lucy Downey Park east of the parking lot. Across the Colorado River from the park, Red Mountain is blackened from the fire.
Tomahawk President Calvin Hada was in town to honor Caywood and fellow workers who made it through that chaotic night.
“This is a thank you to the employees,” Hada said.
One of those employees, Char Walker, received phone calls from others urging her to evacuate with the rest of West Glenwood as the fire started circling to the north. “Then the phones went dead,” said employee Cathy Stauffer.
Hada was unable to reach Glenwood Springs from Grand Junction the night of the fire because Interstate 70 was closed. “I’ve never watched so much CNN in my life,” Hada said.
As the next few days unfolded, residents were allowed back in their homes, and businesses reopened. People like Caywood who lost their homes sifted through the remains, arranged for temporary housing and met with insurance claims adjusters.
Before the fire erupted on that Saturday afternoon, Burts had asked Caywood to drop by on the following Tuesday and haul heavy cases of oil and antifreeze upstairs where it is stored. Burts forgot about the request until Caywood showed up that Tuesday, three days after the fire, ready to help.
“Even after all this, he showed up,” Burts said. “That’s quite amazing.”
Caywood is soft spoken but straight talking. When he first approached the park on Tuesday, the first thing he asked Burts was, “Does my boss know about this? How the heck did you organize it?”
Later, when Hada presented Caywood with a $600 check from donors and Tomahawk, he shook Hada’s hand and said, “Thank you, sir … I was just doing my job. Everybody pulled together and did what we had to do to get it done.”
Caywood was born at Valley View Hospital, and graduated from Glenwood Springs High School. He’s been a fire department volunteer for five years. His mom and dad, Howard and Elaine Caywood, moved to Grand Junction after Howard retired as the city’s postmaster.
Caywood has been staying with his sister, Brenda, for the past few weeks. He won’t know where he’ll live next until he settles with his insurance company.
“I don’t plan on leaving here unless they want to kick me out,” he said of his hometown.
Based on the letters to the editor praising Caywood’s actions on that hot, Saturday afternoon and evening, and the smiles at Tuesday’s picnic, it looks he’ll be around for a long, long, time.
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