091520-First Responders-CPT

Christopher Tomlinson/The Daily Sentinel

Blanca Vargas with St. Mary’s Medical Center delivers a gourmet box lunch to Delta County EMT Jeff Sacra in the St. Mary’s ambulance patient area. St. Mary’s is providing free breakfast, lunch and dessert to first responders on a rotating basis for a week.

Firetrucks and ambulances from across the valley stopped by the emergency department at St. Mary’s Medical Center at around noon on Tuesday. They weren’t there to drop anybody off, but rather to pick up free lunch being handed out by the hospital.

Paramedics, aircraft flight crews, police officers and firefighters from around the area were given the choice of turkey sandwich or a beef and cheddar wrap in a show of thanks.

Grand Junction Fire Department firefighter Zach Leyda, who began his shift at 8 a.m. on Tuesday and will clock out at 8 a.m. today, was excited to pick up lunches for himself and nine other firefighters at the fire station.

“What’s nice about this community is the fire service, EMS, police ... we all support each other in different way,” said Leyda, who’s been with the GJFD for five years.

Typically, Leyda will bring lunch from home, but for dinner he and others at the station tend to cook together.

During COVID, one of the firefighters, typically the youngest, will be sent to the store to pick up dinner supplies for the crew.

“They cook dinner as a crew and eat dinner as a crew and meals often get interrupted,” GJFD spokesperson Dirk Clingman said. “A lot of times firefighters will have to abandon carts at the grocery store to respond to a call.”

GJFD spokesperson Ellis Thompson-Ellis said she’s seen crews cook dinner and get called out three separate times before being able to eat.

One of the favorite photos she’s ever taken was an empty truck bay with shoes everywhere (firefighters will take off shoes when returning) and in the middle of all the shoes was a plate with a few scraps on it.

“Someone wanted to get in a few more bites before heading out,” she said with a smile.

“You have to learn to be a quick eater as a firefighter,” Leyda added.

Firefighters were hardly the only first responders to be fed by St. Mary’s during the weeklong food fest.

On Friday, as ambulance from Fruita and Palisade and Grand Junction Police Department vehicles have been spotted at the hospital this week. On Monday, they were treated to breakfast burritos and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today first responders will be served dessert.

St. Mary’s executive chef Dustin Deprospo said 120 breakfast burritos were made on Monday with another 120 box lunches put together for Tuesday. Any extra meals were given away to St Mary’s staff or a nearby homeless shelter.

“This is something we started a few years back. The idea originally came post-9/11 and wanting to better show support for our first responders and the amount of work they do and we’ve really wanted to continue it,” he said

Supporting first responders is something that can be seen in communities across Mesa County. Earlier this month, the Grand Junction Police Department received gift baskets and homemade cards from several businesses and members of the community and last week Nisley Elementary School students wrote thank-you cards to the Grand Junction Fire Department.

Throughout the Pine Gulch Fire operation ‘Thank You Firefighters’ signs could be seen in De Beque and across Mesa and Garfield counties.

“Having (these celebrations this week) allows us to show our appreciation for what they do every day,” Deprospo said.

Flight crew paramedic Luke Vigil, who was celebrating his four-year anniversary at St. Mary’s on Tuesday, picked up lunch just before noon with fellow flight nurse Lorre Cutts.

“Free food is always appreciated. It feels nice to be recognized,” Cutts said.

Similarly Josh Burns walked by in scrubs as they were handing out the lunch boxes. A paramedic emergency tech at St. Mary’s Hospital for the past nine months, Burns assists nurses and doctors with patient care and said the hospital has definitely started to pick up over the past few weeks.

“I was a paramedic in Kansas City before coming here and during EMS week they always did something different, but we’d always enjoy it,” he said. “It’s always nice to be supported.”

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