Vail firefighter hit by car on I-70 ‘overwhelmed’ in wake of injury
Scott Bridges faces six to nine months of recovery from his accident injuries
VAIL — Scott Bridges didn’t know how many friends he had until he needed them.
Bridges, a Vail firefighter, was badly injured March 1 in an early-morning accident on Interstate 70 in Eagle-Vail. Bridges was eastbound on his way to work that morning, just past 6 a.m., and was thinking about driving past the scene of a two-vehicle crash.
But as he slowly rolled by, Bridges rolled down his passenger-side window and heard screams of pain.
“I had to stop,” Bridges said.
That’s what helpers do. Being as careful as he could, he parked in front of the crash and got out of his car to provide what help he could.
That’s about all he remembers about that morning.
According to the Colorado State Patrol, a third vehicle, then a fourth, lost control and crashed at the scene of the original accident. That fourth vehicle struck Bridges.
Also on his way to work that morning was Steve Simonsen, an operating room nurse at Vail Health hospital. Simonsen saw people gathered around Bridges’ motionless body and immediately jumped in to see what aid he could provide.
You aren’t supposed to move an accident victim before that person is evaluated, but Bridges was in the middle of the road, with cars passing just feet away. Simonsen nudged Bridges once, then twice before Bridges moaned.
Another car passed, and Simonsen made the decision to move Bridges. He was able to get Bridges up, sort of, and half-dragged him off the road.
Nidia Villalobos, another operating room nurse, was also at the scene that morning, also on her way to work. Villalobos had bandages in her car and helped control Bridges’ bleeding. Both waited at the scene while an ambulance crew arrived and took Bridges to the hospital.
All the while, Simonsen told Bridges, “I’m not going to leave you; I’m here for you.”
Simonsen didn’t know what had happened at the accident scene — he presumed the person in the road had been ejected from a vehicle.
It wasn’t until everyone was in the emergency room that Simonsen learned Bridges was a fellow helper.
Simonsen was going to help anyway — that’s how helpers are wired — but he was surprised when he learned who he’d helped on the interstate that morning.
“You don’t even think about what you’re doing — you just do it,” Simonsen said.
A long trip from Fiji
Scott and Fiona Bridges have been married for 15 years. For the past eight, Fiona has been teaching art in her native Australia. That means she’s gone for 10 weeks and back in Colorado for four. Using FaceTime helps bridge the distance between them while Fiona’s gone.
This year, Fiona had a chance to teach in Fiji. That’s where she was when her phone started pinging with text messages from Vail Fire Lt. Jim Rabidue, a friend of Scott’s. She knew this was serious.
On a voice call, Rabidue explained what had happened and what he knew so far: Scott had been injured, badly. He’d suffered a concussion, at least, and had facial and lower-body injuries.
Fiona next started calling for flights — this was early in the morning, Fiji time. By midafternoon, and after a five-hour bus ride, she was at the airport, waiting for an evening flight.
Fiona stayed active and tried to remain calm both before and during the 5,500-mile flight to Los Angeles. There, weather in Colorado — this was the weekend of the state’s worst avalanches in decades — caused a flight delay. Fiona was able to catch a different flight to Denver.
In Denver, she was met by a Vail firefighter, who drove her to Vail. By the time she got to Scott’s hospital room, it was the night of Sunday, March 3.
Time to heal
Bridges was in the hospital for about a week. Before Fiona arrived, a small group of firefighters — among them Rabidue and Vail Fire Chief Mark Novak — never left their comrade’s side.
Almost immediately, firefighters set up a GoFundMe page for Bridges. The town of Vail has excellent benefits and insurance, but even that won’t cover all the expenses. Others did whatever they could.
By the time Bridges was released, he walked out of the hospital — with a limp. Now he’s in healing mode. There’s more surgery on tap — a cracked femur has to heal before he can have ACL surgery, and there will be dental surgery to replace some broken teeth. Then there’s the concussion and its aftermath.
Through it all, the Bridges have been stunned by the response from both colleagues and the community. Scott joined Vail’s fire department in 1998, and a lot of people know him.
“People were so emotional,” Fiona said. “People have been coming out from behind cash registers, people out in front of the dental office… a lot of people have been impacted.”
There’s a broad sense of relief that Scott’s OK, Fiona said.
“Because of his time in the valley, people may have connected in ways he doesn’t know.”
It’s all been a bit overwhelming.
Scott describes himself as a “very private” person, and the accident and its aftermath have affected both Scott and Fiona in profound ways.
“Moving forward, we’re paying this forward,” Fiona said. “We’ve donated to other GoFundMe pages. … We’ve realized how therapeutic it is — it’s healthy for both parties.”
Scott is healing well so far, but his doctors estimate his recovery time at six to nine months. In that time, Scott will work hard at his physical therapy, and Fiona will tell him to back off when it’s needed — downtime is an odd concept for someone that active.
They’ll enjoy time with old friends and new, with an appreciation that helpers have when they’ve been helped themselves.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2930.