When the plane landed and Dan Steffensen’s feet hit the ground in Red Lodge Tuesday afternoon, the small town and its first responders took another step towards trying to heal from the summer of 2021.
Steffensen’s return to a crowd of more than 100 community members and first responders waving American flags along the tarmac at the Red Lodge airport came after he spent more than two months being treated at the University of Utah Burn Center in Salt Lake City.
The 65-year-old Red Lodge Fire Rescue firefighter was flown to Utah in mid-July after he was severely burned while fighting the Harris fire north of Joliet. His near-death experience came in the middle of a tragic summer for Red Lodge Fire Rescue and other local first responders.
In early August came the death of Red Lodge Fire Rescue member Ryan Ples, who was fatally injured during a skateboarding accident in late July. Ples had started as a firefighter in 2006 and worked over the ensuing years as a lieutenant, EMT, fire association president, and fuels crew member. He was a father of two, and was remembered for his positivity, smile and generosity.
Amy Hyfield, a public information officer for Red Lodge Fire Rescue, said the summer was a tough one.
Asked how the hug felt, Booth said it was “the best.”
Steffensen briefly addressed the crowd using a microphone. “I’ve been thinking about this day since when I came out of the coma. And here I am,” he said. “And I know your prayers were there.”