GUERNSEY – When you ask Guernsey Rural Fire Chief and board member David Warner how his shooting accident happened, he remains as humble as every other area of his life and very matter-of-factly says, “well, there isn’t much to tell, I just shot myself.”
Warner, a quiet man who spends most of his time fighting rural fires and repairing and maintaining the fire vehicles that are in the Guernsey Fire Barn, has been the Guernsey Rural Fire Chief since 2013.
He has fought many fires in his life, both for the town of Guernsey and now for the rural Guernsey Fire Department. He remembers the devastation of local fires and when the local teams were asked to assist in other areas.
Lately, however, Warner is battling more than fires as he is living through nerve damage due to an accidental gunshot wound.
“It was about 10 p.m.,” Warner said. “I was moving my .22 out from underneath my reloading bench to move it into the gun cabinet. The clip was up on the counter and I assumed it was unloaded. I reached over and it rolled and I caught the trigger and it went off.”
Turns out, there was a shell in the chamber that Warner wasn’t aware of and the blast would change his life forever.
The bullet lodged in the back of his leg right above the knee. He called to his son, Hunter Warner who was at the time taking a shower. When the younger Warner came out of the bathroom he was taken aback as he witnessed his dad full of blood and still bleeding.
He picked up his dad quickly and carried him to the bathroom to clean him up. After that it was a trip to the hospital.
“They had to reconstruct one artery,” Warner said. “The permanent injury is nerve damage. Every once in a while, I’ll be walking and just lose feeling in the leg and take a digger. I can’t stand on it too awful long.”
Standing is something Warner doesn’t do when he’s working on his firetrucks at the Guernsey Fire Barn. Most of the time he is on a creeper viewing the underside of the vehicles. He is not only the chief mechanic for the rural fire vehicles, he says he’s the only mechanic because he can’t get anyone else to work there.
“I have to keep the department going,” Warner said. “I work on anything from five-ton military trucks all the way down to one-ton Ford pickups. I’ve been working on vehicles since 2000.”
With his vehicles, he has proven he can fix mostly anything on wheels. As far as the unpredictability of fires, that is something that concerns him only because Mother Nature has her own way of driving and creating scenarios that you cannot always account for.
Not only does the rural fire department handle rural Guernsey, but he has also had to assist when the training camp goes up in flames on the range.
“They call us out and we cooperate with Camp Guernsey,” Warner said. “As far as my training, I’ve got my red card, I’m structure qualified and a whole list of certifications. We have our local schools that the local State Forestry Division will come in and train us. We have to take a refresher course every year.”
Warner was born and raised in Guernsey and now lives just north of town. He has always lived in Guernsey and graduated from Guernsey-Sunrise High School in 1994. After high school, he worked with his father in road construction and also has worked other jobs such as ranching in the Guernsey area.
Through all his other jobs, he also moonlighted as a volunteer firefighter. He was on the city department for two years before moving over into the rural department. He now handles all fires outside of the city limits of Guernsey.
“The first fire I ever fought was the Arapaho Trail fire,” he said, remembering it as if it was yesterday. “Up on Laramie Peak. I spent two weeks up there.”
For his first fire, he said that he didn’t have any fear, but fighting that fire was not only a challenge, but he said the adrenaline rush was unbelievable.
“That’s why I’ve stayed in it so long,” he said. “The adrenaline just gets to running in me and it’s fun. That first fire, all I can remember is how hot it was and how little sleep I got. Although that was my first fire, the Tracer Fire was the biggest I’d ever gone into. That was the whole north range started by a tracer round. It burned all the way past 270 and almost to Wayne Canyon Road. All of the military ground was burned up in it.”
That was a fire that involved all local firefighting units including the state forestry firefighting crew and the military. They had departments from as far as Wheatland and Palmer Canyon. Warner said that it was almost three weeks before they could contain it and they were on it for a month.
“The Bureau of Land Management has a call list that is in Casper,” he said. “We’ve taken ourselves off that list because we want to fight our fires locally. We’re pretty much paid by the tax payers to take care of private property. Our responsibility it to them first.”
They say that the stress of a firefighter can be fierce, and Warner takes his personal time to hunt and fish and spend time with his family, wife Amber and son Hunter, a junior at Guernsey-Sunrise High School and his daughter Haylee who resides in Green River.