By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
Tyeler Harris’ death is a heroic and tragic example of the danger first responders face in their duty to help others.
Harris and Tiffany Greutzmacher, both EMTs for the Carbon County Emergency Medical Services, were responding to crash near Rawlins on Interstate 80 last week when a semitrailer smashed into the original crash scene and the ambulance they were working from.
Harris, 29, was killed and Gruetzmacher was seriously hurt.
“One of the things they experience as first responders, they have to put themselves at risk to assist other people, that’s why I really consider them heroes,” said Ken Harman, chief executive officer for Memorial Hospital of Carbon County. “We’re tremendously proud of them.”
In a small community like Rawlins and Carbon County, first responders are more than coworkers, they’re family, he said.
They are “obviously devastated by the loss of Tyeler and the injuries that occurred to Tiffany, but still very very proud of them and the work that they do and the work that other first responders do,” Harman said.
Both were honored Monday as a long line of emergency vehicles had lights and sirens blaring as they accompanied Gruetzmacher along I-80 as she returned home from the hospital.
‘A Tremendous Heart’
Harris, a father of three children from Saratoga, was beloved by staff at MHCC, Harman said.
“Tyeler just had a tremendous heart, he could always be counted on to pick up extra shifts, to stay after, to help coworkers,” Harman said. He was “willing to do the little things that made a difference in patients’ lives.”
Greutzmacher, a 28-year-old Rawlins resident, was originally taken to MHCC but then was transported to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center for treatment. She was stabilized and released from the hospital on Monday.
A Hero’s Welcome
First responders from the Rawlins community gave Greutzmacher a hero’s welcome on her return home Monday, with about 25-30 emergency vehicles and a helicopter flying overhead, following her in with their sirens on.
They met the Greutzmacher family on I-80, and then drove on past the hospital and on to her house.
“I cannot tell everyone enough how thankful I am for everyone!” Gruetzmacher posted on Facebook on Monday. “I am happy to say I am home! I do have a long road to recovery. Thank you to each and everyone of you! It truly means alot.”
Gruetzmacher’s friend Amber Yardley, a member of the Rawlins Police Department, was part of the procession. Yardley said the greatest gift she got this Christmas was giving her friend a hug during the parade, which she described as an “amazing” event.
“It was the best Christmas gift one could get,” she said through tears.
Yardley said her best friend’s accident has been one of the most emotional events she’s ever been through.
Greutzmacher is still in serious condition, having suffered a recurring brain bleed, which Yardley said has medical staff worried could have a long-term effect on her memory. She also broke her back in three places, had her wrist crushed, suffered a skull fracture and a neck injury.
A number of MHCC employees now have the logo of the hospital with a black band across it as their Facebook profile pictures, showing solidarity with the victims of the tragic accident.
Gov. Mark Gordon called and spoke to the families of Harris and Greutzmacher, expressing a belief that Tyeler, Tiffany and other first responders are heroes.
Emotional And Physical
Harman said Harris’ death has had an immense emotional impact on hospital staff.
“When you lose one of your own and have another valued employee be hurt and be out for a significant amount of time, there’s certainly an emotional toll that everyone has that impacts them,” he said. “For us as an organization to lose someone … who is just a go-to person.”
Tyeler’s ‘Dream Job’
Harris started working as an EMT in November 2021, inspired to serve after he helped a man suffering a heart attack a few years earlier.
“Tyeler was able to jump in and start doing CPR and assist in saving that man,” Harman said. “From that day on, Tyeler knew he wanted to be involved in the health care environment and to help people.”
Harris’ cousin Kirklyn Crawford told Cowboy State Daily last week that working as an EMT was Tyeler’s “dream job.”
“He wanted to study to become a paramedic and go further with it. He was always a very caring individual, goofy and loving guy,” Crawford said.
Coworkers Also Hurting
Memorial Hospital brought in counselors to help their staff cope with the grieving process, and the hospital is continuing to provide outreach services.
Harman said Monday’s welcome home for Greutzmacher also helped his staff with the grieving process. Staff also met with Tyeler’s widow, Ashley Harris.
“That was a healing moment as well,” Harman said, adding that it helps “nytime we can try to make a difference in someone’s life.”
Harman said despite the traumatic nature of the accident, his staff continued to focus on the task at-hand and provide care to those who needed it in the immediate aftermath. Not until all emergency needs were effectively covered did staff gather in a room together and cry.
“Folks are struggling and they’re going to continue to struggle,” Harman said of his staff. “We can, as a team, come together and cry and laugh and help others.”
A Small Crew
In addition to the emotional strain felt by staff, Harris and Greutzmacher were two of the seven full time EMT staff at Memorial Hospital of Carbon County.
“We worked with our team and our partners in the Carbon County area,” Harman said. “We put together a solution through partnership while we’re working through these problems.”
The hospital has been able to lean on its 13 part-time first responders and has received help from the Rawlins Fire Department.
“Even though we’re hurting, we still have to find ways to rally the troops and keep taking care of people,” Harman said. “The focus on other people is what we try to do, and I absolutely have never been more proud of the heroes that work in our first responder teams and those that work in this hospital.”
I-80 Dangerous For Responders
Memorial Hospital staff frequently respond to crashes and other incidents on I-80, which sometimes has some of the most treacherous winter driving conditions in Wyoming.
Harman said last week’s fatal crash has weighed on the minds of his staff as they’ve continued to responded to accidents on the highway.
“In the back of their minds, they’re a little worried,” he said. “It’s something that people thought about before, but now it’s kind of top of mind.”
Seeing Greutzmacher recover from being critical to going home was a big emotional lift for his staff, Harman said.
“Being able to talk to her and talk to her family provided a lot of positive experiences,” Harman said. “We feel grateful that Tiffany is going to be able to heal.”
A GoFundMe account has been set up for her, with $28,205 raised so far. Yardley said many other people have reached out to send money through the mail.
“It’s been amazing,” Yardley said. “I can’t believe how many people have helped out.”
There also is a GoFundMe effort for the Harris family, which has raised $80,055 since Thursday.
Harman said Wyoming Highway Patrol is still investigating the crash that killed Harris and caused Greutzmacher’s significant injuries, but said the hospital is certain the EMT staff involved in the crash Dec. 21 did nothing wrong.
“Tyeler and Tiffany were responding appropriately,” Harman said. “They parked the rig as they were supposed to, they were in the places they were supposed to be, doing what they’ve done many times.”
He also said the tragic crash should be a wake-up call for everyone driving Wyoming’s highways, especially in inclement weather.
“If people don’t slow down and aren’t more cautious, people will continue to be hurt,” he said.
A funeral for Harris, who lived in Saratoga, will be held Jan. 14 in Riverton.