INTERIOR, S.D. — Christmas Eve, 2016.
It’s the night Chief Cliff McClure of the Interior Fire Department was at home with family on a blistery South Dakota winter night. In what he calls one of the worst he’s been in.
“The storm came in, power went out, you know, and it got dark,” said McClure.
As the night wore on, a call came in. Stranded motorists were trapped on Interstate 90, which was closed.
“I spoke with the dispatcher,” McClure said. “You know, pretty much tellin’ her, I don’t know how we’re going to get up there. I mean it’s, it’s plumb white out.”
After a few more calls, McClure learned that the motorists had open their car door only to have it ripped off by the wind. Snow was piling in during below zero temperatures.
McClure made some calls, which activated Badlands National Park Rangers Daniel Baker and Christopher Mengak, who agreed it was time for action. But there was another problem.
Chief McClure’s tractor, which would be used to plow snow, had a tough time starting during a normal day. Nonetheless, he made his way to the tractor.
“Got in there and you know my thoughts was is ‘this thing ain’t gonna start or just we just ain’t gunna get up there’ and I hit the key and it started right up,” McClure said. “It was like ‘ok. You know, now we’re now we’re probably going to have to go’.”
He met with and set out with the rangers on an 11-mile trek that took four and a half hours, that normally takes 15 minutes.
Eventually Chief McClure and the rangers located the motorists and brought them to safety.
For his efforts, McClure was awarded the Citizen’s Award for Bravery by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Honoring a hero for something he’ll never forget.
“You know I had that conversation with my wife and my kids and you know somebodies out there and they’re going to die. You know we had to try to do something,” McClure said.
Both Badlands National Parks Rangers are set to be honored next year.