(Pictured: Jon Essley, Tie Siding fire department; David Waylander, Cowboy Skill Games; Sean Davis, Centennial fire department, Harry Whitlock, Vedauwoo fire department; Guy Cameron (speaking), Cowboy Skill Games; Brett Wadsworth, Vedauwoo fire chief, Rhonda Waylander, Cowboy Skill Games)
In a brief, brisk, cold, outdoor, socially-distanced, and masked ceremony, Cowboy Skill Games of Wyoming on Wednesday donated $15,000 to the volunteer fire departments in southern Wyoming which fought the Mullen Fire earlier this fall.
The organization, made up of Wyoming-owned amusement and vending companies, donated the funds to thank the volunteer firefighters in the area who fought the 177,000+ acre fire and to draw attention to how critical volunteer fire departments are in Wyoming.
“When the Mullen Fire first broke out, the volunteer fire departments in the area were the first of the scene. They were the first responders,” David Waylander, owner of Wyoming Amusement and member of Cowboy Skill Games, said.
“These people — volunteers — risked their lives for everyone who lives in the area and they should be commended,” he said.
Waylander, a founding member of Cowboy Skill Games, said the idea for a check presentation came about when the group met to discuss how they could help.
“We’re from Wyoming. We raise our families here. This is where we live our lives. Volunteer fire departments are critical to each community in the state. Our goal is to help raise the awareness of just how critical they are,” he said.
During the ceremony, Tie Siding Fire Chief Jon Essley said many volunteers took time-off from their full-time jobs and were working 14 hour days to fight the fire.
“These people spent a lot of time away from their families to help other families,” Essley said. “They were camping out a lot and weren’t able to go home at night.”
That these people are volunteers who give freely of their time with no pay is what former firefighter Guy Cameron said is so important for Wyoming citizens to understand.
Cameron, who now serves as compliance director for Cowboy Skill Games, said the overwhelming majority of Wyoming communities are served by volunteer fire departments and their financial needs are real.
That sentiment was echoed by Vedauwoo volunteer firefighter Harry Whitlock who said the donated funds are “very, very valuable” as money from the county tax levies are tight.
“Our department will use the funds from Cowboy Skill Games to buy additional needed equipment for our fire trucks, our EMTs, and additional training,” Whitlock said. “We certainly appreciate it.”
Wyoming meteorologist Don Day, whose family has had property in the Mullen Fire area for five generations, said he joined the presentation to help raise awareness to the value and the needs of volunteer fire departments.
“These men and women are the unsung heroes,” Day said. “It’s a complete labor of love for these people. And if I can use my microphone to further the awareness of the importance of volunteer fire departments and to promote donations to these critical establishments, it’s the least I can do.””
The $15,000 check will be split evenly among the Centennial Valley, Big Laramie Valley, Central, Vedauwoo, Tie Siding, and Mountain Home volunteer fire departments.
Waylander said the hope is that Cowboy Skill’s donation can spur more donations to volunteer fire departments across the state.
Cowboy Skill Games of Wyoming is a group of Wyoming-based amusement and coin-op vending companies who offer legal skill games to restaurants and bars across the state.
These legal skill games have breathed new life into neighborhood bars, taverns, clubs, VFWs, American Legions, and other fraternal organizations across the State of Wyoming.
Earlier this year, Cowboy Skill Games purchased a new van for a Sheridan family whose van was stolen while they were receiving medical treatment for their child in Denver.
The organization also donated $10,000 to First Lady Jennie Gordon’s Wyoming Hunger Initiative, and hosted a free lunch for first responders in Casper.