NH firefighters build ramp for amputee

Crews volunteered their time to build a ramp so a man with a recent leg amputation can get in out of his house with more ease

By Kyle Stucker
Foster's Daily Democrat

ROCHESTER, N.H. — As Davis Boulevard resident Raymond Olson battles both a recent leg amputation and Stage 3 lung cancer, home mobility issues are one fight he won't have to wage.

That's because 15 community members, led by members of the Rochester Fire Department, volunteered their time Friday to build Olson, 53, a ramp so he can get in out of his house with more ease.

The gesture was completely unexpected for Olson and his fiancée, Carolyn Hyde, who contacted the department to see if they could recommend some resources for Olson. Less than a week later, off-duty firefighters were there, using materials donated by a local business to construct a wheelchair-accessible ramp.

"The firefighters did a totally awesome job putting it together," said Olson. "It was a total surprise for me to have them come out and do this for nothing."

Olson's right leg was amputated just above the knee in mid-April after a clot cut off all blood flow to his foot.

"I was walking one day and all of a sudden it went numb," he said. "I took my boot off and my foot was completely white and ice cold."

During evaluations and testing at Frisbie Memorial Hospital, a scan revealed cancer in Olson's lungs. The shock came just as doctors explained that due to the dying nerves in his foot, an amputation was necessary to survive.

Olson and Hyde weren't sure what to do after Olson completed four intense weeks of rehabilitation for his leg. With the unknown costs of the leg and cancer procedures looming, Hyde contacted the Rochester Fire Department on a whim. And she said she's glad she did.

"It was amazing," she said. "Their cars were lined up and down the street, and more and more kept coming throughout the day. These are the types of stories people should hear more about."

Rochester Firefighter Sam Morrill was the individual who fielded Hyde's call. Olson's story hit home with many members of the department, especially due to the recent rise in firefighter cancer rates and deaths due to cancer. Even without that connection, Morrill said it was great to be able to help someone in need.

"A lot of guys in the department do construction on the side, and we just kind of took the idea and ran with it," Morrill said on Friday. "Anything we can do to help the community out in a positive way, we'll definitely fall all over it."

A member of the department used a connection at a local lumber distribution company, which wished to remain anonymous, to secure roughly $1,000 in wood and other materials to build the ramp. A local contractor also helped with the design and construction of the ramp, which began around 7 a.m. Friday and concluded around 1:30 p.m. the same day.

"Everyone had a blast," said Rochester Firefighter Chris Stevens, who along with Morrill and other members of the local firefighters union participate in a number of other charity and volunteer efforts throughout the year, including the annual holiday toy bank.

"It felt great personally," Stevens said. "The best moment was seeing him come down the ramp on his own without any help."

The firefighters were initially reluctant to have any publicity for their efforts, although Morrill and Stevens said they changed their minds in order to share the positive community story with others.

"We don't do it for the press," said Stevens. "It's just something we like to do. It felt good to help somebody out who needed the help. We do what we can and we'll continue to do so when we can."

As for Olson, he said he's adjusting to the amputation and that so far his cancer treatments are going well.

He's unable to do chemotherapy or radiation due to the weakened state of his body after the amputation, so his doctors are using a less invasive method. Insurance will cover some of the costs, although the former carpenter and factory worker expressed some trepidation while talking about the bills because he is currently unable to work due to the recovery from his amputation.

Hyde said Olson's cancer is spreading, but called her fiancé a "trooper."

Olson and Hyde said they owe a great deal of thanks to Frisbie staff as well, for if they hadn't been so thorough in their attempts to find the clot, the cancer may not have been discovered until much later.

"If the clot was never there, I would still be walking and I would have never seen a doctor," said Olson. "That's just the way I was brought up. As long as you're feeling good, you don't need to see a doctor."

In addition to Rochester firefighters, Hyde said she and Olson owe a great deal to family, friends and neighbors who have cooked meals, taken Olson to his appointments, mowed their lawn and helped out in a number of other ways.

"All of these people have added much comfort in our daily lives for a little less struggle," said Hyde.

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