By Betsy Robertson
A pair of Red Cross volunteers spent much of Tuesday, July 17 working alongside the Spokane Valley Fire Department. It should have been a routine day of installs. But by the time Jean Bansemer and her 16-year-old son, Grant, returned home to Sandpoint, ID — it was a night they would never forget.
Around 4:30 p.m. as they were packing up, the Bansemer’s spotted a nearby plume of smoke and decided to offer their help. You see, Grant’s goal is to become a firefighter himself. In fact, he has spent the last few months training with his local fire department and thought it could be a good experience. He was right. In moments, that plume grew into the Upriver Beacon Wildfire. Thousands of evacuation orders were issued and the Bansemer’s were right in the middle of them.
The Sheriff’s department asked them to help direct traffic; screening cars driving through and helping to secure the perimeter.
“People kept trying to come back for things, for their pets, some people were crying, some were angry, others were understanding. And then there were a few who wouldn’t listen to us and sped right by,” says Jean Bansemer, a disaster response volunteer for the Greater Inland NW Chapter of the American Red Cross.
That’s how Grant and Jean spent the next several hours, working together to back up the perimeter as the fire spread. By clearing the road, they made it possible for fire equipment to move through quickly and safely.
“For the past couple of months, I’ve been volunteering at the Sam Owens fire department (in Hope, ID), doing training and stuff. It felt like I was meant to be here, to be doing it,” Grant remembers. “It was kinda cool the way we were able to assemble quickly.”
It was a proud moment for mom, who saw her son start living out the dream he’s had since he was eight. Jean says he was a natural, “He’s got the right personality for it, calm, cool, collected, and was a real asset.”
Reflecting on the events of July 17, Jean and Grant say the whole day was rewarding. Installing smoke alarms in high-risk areas with older homes and elderly people put them in the right place at the right time.
“I find it interesting that emergencies are destined to find people who are destined to man them. It was something that he (Grant) has been destined to do since he was a little guy,” says Jean. “Now we know he’s on the right path.”
The Upriver Beacon Fire burned 115 acres and destroyed one home. No injuries were reported.