PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Hotshot firefighter returning home from working a wildfire in eastern Oregon and central Idaho considers himself lucky to be alive after he hit a deer and was knocked unconscious along the side of the road.
Dustin Rhodes, 25, was riding his motorcycle down Oregon Highway 203 on July 6 when he hit the deer.
“The deer jumped right out in front of me, and that’s pretty much all I can remember because, upon impact, I got knocked unconscious,” he told KOIN 6 News.
This firefighter from Seaside, Ore., is at a Portland hospital Wednesday evening — arriving here on Saturday. As he recovers Rhodes also mourns the loss of another Oregon Hotshot. And he tells KOIN 6 News he always wanted to fight dangerous fires.
“It’s one of those things,” he said. “You have to do it to understand it.”
But those fires aren’t what put him here, with a broken leg, a shattered pelvis, two broken arms and a busted knee.
“It was the wrong place at the wrong time,” Rhodes said, “for the deer and me.”
He had just finished three days on the fire lines. He was headed home on his motorcycle when the deer jumped in front of him, on the highway between La Grande and Union, Ore.
He woke up badly hurt and in a ditch alongside the road. His cellphone was still in his pocket, but he couldn’t dial out.
“I had no phone service,” he said, “and so I realized I have to get to the side of the road to get medical, to get help.”
In excruciating pain, he scooted on his back 75 feet to the side of the road and partly up a 6-foot embankment.
“I look at my phone and I had one bar, if that,” Rhodes said. But it was enough to send a text message to a friend. And then he waited.
“I was laying on the side of the road for two and a half or three hours,” he said.
Taken by LifeFlight helicopter to Oregon Health & Science University Hospital, he said he’s thankful to be alive. But now there’s another worry.
“I don’t have health insurance,” he said. “I’m only insured if I get hurt on the job.”
He’s determined to pay the bills, after he recovers. It’s more motivation, he says, to get back out there and fight fires again.
“I can,” he said. “I will definitely.”
But his friends and fellow Hotshots have started an account to help him pay those bills. It’s at the Community Bank in La Grande, titled the Dustin Rhodes account.