"How's it going, Fast Eddie?" I can still hear Paul's greeting in my ear. They tell me he is gone, but I still can see and hear it.
My wife and I became acquainted with Paul and Francie soon after arriving here. At that time we were overwhelmed with the realities of life and particularly construction in the mountains. We felt we had no where to turn for help. Like many, we had assumed we could come here, and everything would be the same as the life we had known in rural flatland Illinois. When our assumptions crumbled one by one Francie took us in hand and showed us the way to establishing life in a high desert. Along the way, she introduced us to Paul who helped reshape our thinking when our initial building plans were dashed after a falling out with our first contractor.
As we regained our confidence, I saw less of them, and our relationship could well have faded. Fate, however, had other plans. In that first summer I reluctantly heeded the call to go to the Fishers Peak V.F.D. station in Starkville where I thought I would be trained to fight a forest fire. Paul was at that session. He had much previous experience. He had been a firefighter in the Service, and had subsequently served fire departments in Aguilar, Walsenberg, as well as now Fishers Peak. It was not hard for him to recognize the rookie in me. He explained individuals do not fight forest fires, and proceeded to explain to me what to expect and what to do.
As a rather reserved person, Paul, Gene Downs, and Lazaro Martinez were great aids to me. I knew every meeting they would greet me warmly and make me feel comfortable in the group. I could count on hearing "How's it going, Fast Eddie?" the moment I stepped into the station. For this reason, I kept coming back.
One night I was awakened in the middle of the night. There was a fire behind Big R. Two trailers were already engulfed. The blaze was visible well before I got off the exit from I-25. I could only stare mesmerized at flames larger than I had ever seen in person. I was not allowed to gaze long, though, because Paul grabbed me and instructed me to stay with him as he took a nozzle on a hose line. "Cover your nose - there could be poisonous gases". "Stay low - that tank may explode". "Don't stand under the electrical wires - the smoke may make contact with the ground". He saw all the dangers of the fireground, and was my guardian through the danger. From that point on, I felt safe when Paul was there. As I looked at the darkened faces illuminated by the flickering dying flames I could see others shared my respect and admiration.
Another night, another late night call came. "Car on fire in a junk yard," Ed Gieske announced. Upon arrival, I searched the fireground for Paul, but could not see him. "Stay low," "approach at an angle," "let the water cool the car before you approach." Someone was calling Paul's advice to me from the darkness. When the mop up was complete I turned and saw someone standing by a Spanish Peaks V.F.D. engine. "Who is that?" I asked Buddie and Rich. "That's Steve Montoya, Paul's son," they answered. I knew then that Paul had done a great job of passing his qualities on to another generation.
My best time with Paul was when the Department sent both of us to the Colorado Wildland Fire Academy for a class on the use of chainsaws. Paul had earned his living at times by cutting fire wood. Currently he built log homes which required extensive use of chainsaws. Gene Downs had to work overtime with me so I wouldn't embarrass Paul at the Academy. Nevertheless, I still couldn't keep up with him, but as usual he was patient enough to sit down, and let me work at my pace, as he critiqued my performance.
I particularly enjoyed this time together in the forest. He talked to me of his love for Francie, about his family who had lived in the area for over a hundred years, of growing up on a Ranch near Aguilar, of the things he knew about the land, and his love of searching for Indian artifacts.
The last time I saw Paul was nearly a year ago when Francie held her annual lobster feast to benefit the SIDS Foundation. At that time, he proudly showed the home he had built, and talked to me about the things he loved. Little did I know that was the last, "How's it going, Fast Eddie?" I would hear.
I now see that the people we know become part of us. Paul gave of himself to me as he did to many. I hope I have learned from him how to share and protect as well as he did.