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Ex-firefighter finds similar duty in helping drive St. Luke's patients to important treatments

Tom Everson, a former Baker City firefighter, drives patients from the St. Luke's clinic to St. Luke's Cancer Institute in Fruitland.
By Chris Langrill, News and Community
March 2, 2021

Tom Everson worked for the Baker City, Ore., fire department for 33 years. During that time, the importance of helping others was always front and center.

“When people were going through their worst possible times they were calling the fire department,” Everson said. “We knew it was a bad situation when they called us.”

Everson has since retired from the fire department, but the desire to help others has stayed with him.

Thankfully for the residents of Baker City and its surrounding area, Everson has found a way to continue to perform a valuable service in his community. In November, he took over the job of driving the van that transports patients 75 miles from the St. Luke’s Clinic in Baker City to the St. Luke’s Cancer Institute in Fruitland.

“He’s been great,” said Corinne Ramsey, nurse manager at SLCI. “I overheard one of the patients saying, ‘Oh my gosh, he is the best driver. Did you know he used to be a fireman? We feel really safe with him.’”

It’s a part-time job for the “semi-retired” Everson, but it’s not one that he takes lightly.

Mark and Ann Schneider have both taken advantage of the St. Luke's van that connects Baker City, Ore., to Fruitland's St. Luke's Cancer Institute. "It's a wonderful service," Ann Schneider said. "It really is."

“(The patients) are going through enough challenges without the stress of driving bad roads,” Everson said. “I’d rather take that on for them.”

Baker City resident Ann Schneider appreciates the value of the van, a longtime part of the clinic's offerings. She and her husband, Mark, have both used it to get treatment.

“I was a patient in 2012 and 2016, and I rode the van at both of those times,” Schneider said. “Now, my husband is going through some radiation treatments and he is riding, and I’m going down with him.”

Ramsey said the van delivers an invaluable service – literally.

“Some of these patients may end up going through 42 radiation treatments, and traveling back and forth can be a financial strain,” Ramsey said. “The van makes a world of difference for them.”

Schneider said one of the benefits of the van is that she – and other passengers – can spend their travel time not worrying about driving.

“I like to use the drive for prayer time,” Schneider said. “And I like to look for animals. We’ve seen bald eagles and elk. Tom is a really good spotter of animals.”

Whether animal watching or “just visiting,” Everson said he’s found the van is a microcosm of the Baker City community.

“I’ve known or been familiar with about half the people who are riding with me,” he said. “It’s a small town … so we always have something to visit about.”

Ramsey said that has been an added benefit of the van: It truly brings St. Luke’s patients together.

“These people may or may not know each other, but by the end of their treatments they get to know each other and they’re all supporting each other,” she said. “They build a bond … and I’ve heard that some of them have continued their relationships.”

For his part, Everson said he looks forward to driving the van for the foreseeable future. He enjoys seeing those relationships forged – and he enjoys doing his part for the Baker City community. 

“It’s not the same as my job at the fire department,” Everson said. “But I do feel like I’m helping people out and I’m helping them get through a really difficult time.”

About The Author

Chris Langrill is a writer and copy editor for the St. Luke’s Communications and Marketing department.