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Mont. firefighters help girl up hiking trail for family tradition

Missoula firefighters helped Emma Massie, who is unable to use her legs, up the mountain in a running stroller


Photo/Ben Allan Smith, Missoulian

Skylar Rispens
Missoulian, Mont.

MISSOULA, Mont. — Tim Downing stood on the Sentinel Fire Road above the “M” Trail on Mount Sentinel on Monday as the morning sun illuminated the hillside.

Downing, from Spokane, had done the hike countless times with his family and grandchildren over the years. But this time the company at the vantage point was different.

He and his five granddaughters ages 10-11 were joined by firefighters with the Missoula Fire Department, who helped one of his granddaughters, Emma Massie, up the mountain in a running stroller. Emma was born with spina bifida, a condition that affects the spine, and has never had use of her legs.

“It’s been so exciting,” Downing said. “You start to say thank you and it’s not enough. For all of these people to come out like this and be part of my granddaughter’s moment. She’ll remember this for years, as she gets older, she’ll appreciate it more.”

Downing’s granddaughters were so excited to all hike together, they hardly got any sleep the night before, he said.

“She’s kind of felt left out over the years with her sisters and cousins doing this hike,” Downing said. “So we decided, well, it’s time that she got up there.”

Downing and his partner, Jan Tokumoto, decided that he likely wouldn’t be able to climb the “M” while pushing Emma in a stroller, so they set out to contact different groups around Missoula to see if anyone would be able to help. The fire department was the first to respond.

After meeting in the trailhead parking lot, the team started making their way up the mountain. Two firefighters helped push the stroller up, maneuvering around and over rocks in the trail.

Recent trail work helped widen some sections and made some inclines more approachable with the stroller, the firefighters said.

“It was a lot easier than I anticipated,” said Mike Thurlow, a firefighter with the Missoula Fire Department.

Emma said the view from the top was very nice and the firefighters worked hard to get her up there. Overall, she was happy to share the experience with her cousins.

The fire department drove up a utility task vehicle on the Sentinel Fire Road to meet the group above the “M” and then drove Emma and Downing back down to the parking lot.

The hike held additional significance for Downing, though. Earlier this year, Emma’s older sister Ruthie died in a car accident after hitting some black ice in Washington. She was 21.

Years earlier, Downing took Ruthie up the “M” trail as he’s done with all of his grandchildren.

“It’s been a rough year,” Downing said. “But this is a bright spot. We’ve been looking forward to this for months now.”


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