CHEYENNE — It didn’t take long for Tiffany Gruetzmacher to start choking up.
The 29-year-old Rawlins first responder was honored at Cheyenne Frontier Days on Thursday afternoon as part of its “Hometown Heroes” campaign.
An emergency medical technician, Gruetzmacher was critically injured while responding to a crash on Interstate 80 last December during one of the worst storms of the year.
Also honored was her EMT partner, Tyeler Harris, a 29-year old EMT from Saratoga who was with Gruetzmacher when a semitrailer plowed into their ambulance while they were helping victims of the crash. He was killed, leaving behind a wife and three young children.
Photos of Harris and his family were shown on the arena’s giant video screen.
The crowd of more than 10,000 people at Cheyenne Frontier Days Arena gave Harris and Gruetzmacher a standing ovation for their service and sacrifice. Being recognized by that many people at a public event she’s attended her whole life gave her chills, Greutzmacher said.
“It means the world, it means a lot,” she said.
Gruetzmacher still talks with Harris’ widow Ashley Harris, who was unable to make it to Thursday’s event.
By her side Thursday was her friend and fellow EMT, Heather Stafford.
“It’s nice to see an EMT honored,” Stafford said. “Obviously, Ashley lost her husband and that’s terrible. But with Tiffany being honored, that’s good to see.”
Gruetzmacher said her only disappointment on the day was that Tyeler Harris wasn’t with her to enjoy the moment. The two were close friends and often worked together at Carbon County Emergency Medical Services.
“I just wish Tyeler was here. I just wish it didn’t have to happen to us,” she said. “Unfortunately, things happen, and I wish he was still here with us.”
Still with her in spirit, Gruetzmacher said Tyeler was probably looking down on the arena from Heaven and smiling.
When longtime Cheyenne Frontier Days announcer Garrett Yerrigan mentioned how becoming an EMT was Harris’ dream job because he wanted to help people, she broke into tears.
“It was very hard and emotional,” she said.
With his booming voice and Western twang, Yerrigan encouraged the audience to give Gruetzmacher and Harris a second standing ovation, a call the crowd quickly answered.
“God bless you, Tiffany, and thank you for letting us share your story today,” Yerrigan said.
Moving On With Life
Gruetzmacher suffered a brain bleed, broke her back in three places, had her wrist crushed, suffered a skull fracture and broke her neck in the crash.
Many of Gruetzmacher’s injuries have since healed and she is now back at work, but still hasn’t been cleared to get back in an ambulance and respond to emergencies around Carbon County. She hopes to return to doing her previous EMT duties someday.
“I’m not trying to rush it,” she said. “I’m just happy to be where I’m at.”
It was a particularly heinous year on I-80 this past winter, closing 55 times. In an interview with Cowboy State Daily in March, Gruetzmacher said she wants the public to pay attention when driving and to always move over and slow down when they start seeing EMS lights on the interstate.
This is the third consecutive year Cheyenne Frontier Days and Wyoming-based Cowboy Skill — a company under the Pace-O-Matic umbrella that’s the leading developer of legally compliant games of skill in the United States — have teamed up for the hometown heroes event.
Cowboy Skill hosts the heroes in its sponsor box and provides them with lodging, dinner and concert tickets.
“The bravery and selflessness that our first responders exhibit each day is something we should all take inspiration from,” said Paul Goldean, CEO of Pace-O-Matic. “Tiffany’s story, the sacrifice of her partner, and her dedication to giving back in his memory have more than earned her the title of hero. We are proud to be hosting her today.”
Also receiving Hometown Hero honors this year were four wrestlers from Northwest College in Powell who successfully fought off a grizzly bear, and a Cheyenne man who donated 39 gallons of blood and is credited with saving more than 900 lives.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.