ALS claims life of true civil servantThe first time I covered a forest fire as a newspaper reporter, the U.S. Forest Service gave me a T-shirt. Actually, a forest ranger gave me the shirt, and it wasn’t until a few weeks after I returned from the fire west of Custer to the newspaper bureau in Pierre. The bureau was in the same office building as the Forest Service’s Fort Pierre National Grasslands office. A gem of a guy named Tony DeToy was the ranger in charge 10 years ago.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
The first time I covered a forest fire as a newspaper reporter, the U.S. Forest Service gave me a T-shirt.
Actually, a forest ranger gave me the shirt, and it wasn’t until a few weeks after I returned from the fire west of Custer to the newspaper bureau in Pierre. The bureau was in the same office building as the Forest Service’s Fort Pierre National Grasslands office. A gem of a guy named Tony DeToy was the ranger in charge 10 years ago.
Tony was a career Forest Service employee. He wore western shirts and no-nonsense blue jeans, and the cowboy boots he wore to the office were always polished and buffed to a high shine. He was a sturdy guy, not overly but tall enough, with wide shoulders and a broad face. He had thick, dark hair, glasses and, for a while, a bushy mustache that turned up whenever he smiled. The mustache turned up a lot.
Tony died the other day. He was 58 years old and he spent his last few days in a hospice in Sioux Falls as ALS slowly broke him down. Hard to believe a guy as solid and physically active as Tony would gradually weaken and wear away. When we used to be tenants in the same office building, he was always on the move.
If he wasn’t making a swing through the Fort Pierre National Grasslands south of the capital city, he was traveling to Brandon for a weekend at home with the folks and a bit of tending to the red Angus cattle he and his dad used to raise. Tony dearly loved to brag up his red Angus herd.
Tony had been in the Black Hills — Hill City, if I remember correctly — before taking the Grasslands assignment, so he had seen his share of wildland fires. Although I had been a newspaper reporter for more than 30 years at the time, the Jasper Fire back in 2000 was the first actual fire I’d ever covered where people wore yellow shirts and green pants, hardhats and heavy gloves, sturdy boots and safety packs. I was pretty impressed, both with the behavior of that huge fire and with the actions and skills of the men and women who gathered to challenge it, bring it under control and, finally, put it out.
Tony and I spent a few minutes most mornings hanging around the water cooler talking about this and that. When I got back from the Hills after the Jasper Fire, I had a whole bunch of new experiences to share. Tony listened more patiently than a lot of folks with his experience might have.
He’d had his share of time around fires, both in the Hill City post and earlier as a member of a Hot Shot crew, those firefighters who hike through incredibly rugged terrain to reach a raging fire. He just grinned and nodded when I talked about my fire.
I came to work one morning and he was waiting at the back door. He opened the door and pitched a paper sack my way. Inside was a T-shirt, emblazoned with the words Jasper Fire 2000 and some images of flames and trees and a helicopter.
“Anybody doubts you were out at the biggest fire in the recorded history of the Black Hills, you just show them the shirt,” he said, grinning.
I didn’t do all the talking. Tony kept me up to speed on red Angus, fishing success on area ponds and the latest rescue of a hunter mired in a wet spot out in the grasslands. Sometimes he’d talk a bit about the tricky business of managing a piece of national land with a multiple-use designation. It often seemed to me some users thought the acres and acres of land were their personal property, and Tony had to walk a fine line among the various interest groups. It isn’t an easy line to walk, and he did it pretty well for at least 17 years as grasslands manager.
Tony was a civil servant who took that designation seriously. We’d all be ahead if there were more like him.