In August 2007, a fire that began near Castle Rock in the Smokey Mountains, three miles west of Ketchum, created a significant amount of chaos. But for local firefighters, it wasn't all destruction. While fires wiped out forests and vegetation, there was creation at work too.
"Welcome to the world, Castle Rock babies," was how the birth announcement of Ketchum firefighter Matt Filoon and his wife, Jessica, read. Their twins Rhys and Teagan are now 13 months old. And those were just the first.
In the Wood River Valley, more than half a dozen children were born before and after the Castle Rock Fire, which added to the camaraderie as well as the stress.
The Filoons were evacuated from their Board Ranch home up Warm Springs just days after the twins were born at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center.
"We went to my in-laws in East Fork, and were evacuated again," Jessica said. "I had to go to Boise for about 10 days. Matt was working on the fire so he stayed here. It was exciting but having two little tiny beans made it challenging."
Friends arrived with trucks and trailers and "chucked everything in bags," Jessica said.
"I had requested the basics like gear, computers. It was nuts. There were Hefty garbage bags with random things—a pacifier and a butcher knife. It all got dispersed throughout the community. I was so grateful and it was awesome. But the timing was hectic. Like everybody else we had bad smoke damage in the house. We had to have it professionally cleaned and redone. We didn't get back into our house until the end of September."
At the same time, Wood River Fire & Rescue Capt. Rich Bauer and his wife, Summer, a real estate agent, were already six months along with their baby, Carson.
"My mom, Heidi Baldwin, lives in Clear Creek, up the canyon, and she was evacuated down here with her fiancé and all the pets," Summer said. "We moved stuff out of her house. Rich was gone a lot working on the fire. People were calling here, and Rich was working his normal shifts and more. It was pretty crazy. No one thought it was going to go that close to Baldy."
By then some news was seeping out. Others announced they were expecting too. There was the Hoveys' first baby, the Davitts who had their third son, and Max and Amber Bailey whose son Noah was born in March.
A month earlier, former volunteer firefighter Sonja Huntsman and her husband, Wood River Fire & Rescue Lt. Mike Huntsman, had twins, Alyssa and Hank.
"I had an amazing pregnancy," Sonja said. "Most of us did prenatal yoga together so we saw each other a lot. What I didn't do was come to Ketchum during the fire. I kept trying to get way from the smoke. It was funny, all these kids. Nine babies from the fire department will be in school together. When they talk about what parents do they'll say, 'My dad's a fireman,' 'Well, my dad's a fireman.' Then the Elles' kid will say, 'Mine's the fire chief.'"
Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle was under tremendous pressure during the fire. His wife, Amy, a certified public accountant, was expecting, but no one knew.
"It was quite the time," Elle said. "I think it was something in the air. It was pretty amazing to hear, 'They're pregnant, and they're pregnant, and they're having twins and so are they.' Oh my. It was that time for a lot of couples. It just happened to fall at a time when a lot of stuff was going on. We somehow worked out a schedule for everyone. I think 13 public safety babies were born in the last seven months, including law enforcement."
Rory Elle was born April 4, with 11 days left in tax season, not something the couple had planned. Mike took three months of paternity leave, but Amy was in her busiest season.
"All that meant was I didn't put on my uniform or drive to the office," he said. "I worked at home and worked on things like fire code, and went to meetings. The job didn't go away. Amy went back to work two days after getting out of hospital. She's amazing for putting up with me and having a baby during tax season. We were really hoping the baby would be late but she came on her due date."
Owen Tuohy, now six and a half months, was born in March. His parents, Jennifer and Brian, are both Wood River volunteer firefighters.
"Each announcement was a surprise to us," Jennifer said. "They all came in pretty quick succession. It was a lot of fun and very exciting that it happened in the same period. It's been a nice bonding experience for us.
"My first shift was the day Castle Rock blew up on that Sunday. I was eight weeks at that point. I had to tell my shift leader I couldn't do anything. I spent all day at the station answering phone calls from worried people. I helped with staging at one point but everyone knew by then, so I was able to help without putting myself at risk. It was quite frustrating to not be able to do more. Ultimately everyone was blessed by having happy and safe births."
The only full-time firefighter couple is Rachel and Seth Martin, who are both on the Ketchum Fire Department. Their son Grayson was born in April.
"I didn't tell anyone, so during the fire I just worked in the stations," Rachel said. "The funny thing was the only baby in the fire department was Miles and Tory Canfield's at that point. We have a good group. Summer Bauer and I and Seth are friends from high school. We all graduated from Wood River High School in 1993."
Though they have worked on getting together outside of work, it's not easy.
"We've only gotten together really once at a barbecue at the Bauers'," Sonja Huntsman said. "It was a blast."
However, this summer some of the parents took their babies to swim at the Y once a month and they met weekly at Jimmie's Garden in Hailey.
"The schedule for us is different than any other working parents because we have 24-hour shifts," Rachel said. "Our husbands do the same thing, so we really know where the other is coming from. Rich (Bauer) and Seth do ski patrol in winter and are paramedics, in addition to fire department. I'm back on full time now and Seth is on paternity leave until Oct. 1."
Summer agreed. "There's something special about being on, or in my case being married to someone on, the fire department. It's a unique environment. It's family-like."