FRENCHTOWN – In the middle of December, a terrible multiple-vehicle pileup outside of Superior left two men dead and two injured.
In the midst of the chaos in the early morning hours, a firefighter, Kyle Rauch of the Frenchtown Rural Fire District, was severely injured and taken to the hospital with critical injuries.
On the early morning of Dec. 19, Rauch, a 19-year-old volunteer, and his fellow firefighters were among the first responders to arrive on the scene of the large crash on Interstate 90.
“We were taking it slow, I was probably only going 15 (mph). We happened to slide down the whole off-ramp and almost onto the other on-ramp on the highway. So, at that time we knew that the roads were very icy, and it was all black ice,” Rauch said.
Rauch began preparing just like any other scene he had responded to in the past, but what seemed like a normal call soon turned into a nightmare.
“So, I had gotten out of the truck and put on my gear. We were walking and there was a big bunk of wood. I was walking right next to the jersey barrier and the bunk of wood, just kind of walking along. And next thing I know is my right leg slipped out, my left knee buckled, and as I was falling I tried to catch myself on the jersey barrier and I had fallen off the bridge,” he said.
Rauch managed to curl into a ball in mid-air before free-falling 37 feet to the bottom of a ditch. At first, Rauch was in shock, but soon realized how serious the injury was.
“Fell a good amount of distance, nothing hurts. Let’s get up and see if we can get up. So, I got up, tried to walk up the embankment but my leg buckled and I fell down further.”
From there several responders spent minutes getting down to Rauch before getting him in a Stokes basket and pulling him almost 40 feet up to the top of the road.
Rauch was sent to St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, where he had surgery on his broken femur, and, two weeks later, surgery on a newly discovered broken wrist.
Rauch is only one month into an estimated 10-12 month road to recovery, but his spirits are high.
“Being able to walk is just..one of my worst fears was not being able to walk. As time progressed we eventually progressed with going from a walker to crutches. It’s just, we’re getting there. We’re pushing through,” he said.
As for the future? Rauch said it hasn’t deterred him from any of his dreams or ambitions and hopes to be back out there soon.
-Reported by Jack Ginsburg/MTN News