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Dirty Jobs: Blood on the Highway

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013 | Posted by

“There’s blood on the highway
So many lives between the lines…”
from Blood on the Highway by
— Ken Hensley

Few people have seen and cleaned up as much blood on the highway as Monte Rio fire chief Steve Baxman — but he’s been able to keep most of his own blood from leaking out.

Gabriela Gibson and Steve Baxman

Baxman is in his 43rd year of having people die in his arms, prying them out of twisted hulks of metal,  lifting floaters out of the Pacific and helping with the occasional child birth. It’s dirty work and it’s not for everyone.

“It brings out the best in people and it brings out the worst,” says Baxman who believes “we’re here to help each other — isn’t that what we’re here for?” and has never once considered retiring. “Fortunately,” he says, “most people do the right thing.”

His dad was an aircraft mechanic at Hickham air base in Hawaii and when he was 13 or 14 years old he’d hang around watching  the action. Eventually the emergency and fire crews adopted him — he was a quick study and he learned by watching.

The Monte Rio fire station gets some 500 calls a year and some are more memorable than others.  He recalls a quadruple fatal where two cars each with two people collided head-on on River Road near Odd Fellows Park Road.

But the messiest, he says,  involved a motorcycle, a truck and a drunk in a station wagon who tried to make a slow u-turn on the highway near Berry’s Lumber Yard. He was hit on one side by the truck and then the other side by the motorcycle — two killed, two injured and blood spattered all over the highway.

The fire trucks at one time hosed it off but now they have absorbent  pads and compounds with which to soak it up. “We wear gloves, of course,” says Baxman but dealing with an unknown’s blood can be hazardous anyway. “You can say you’re used to it and you have to get used to it, but you never do.” Asked if he personally knew people he tended to in wrecks and emergencies, he replied, “Oh yeah — about 8o to 90 percent.”

Talking about controlling himself, “If you break down,” especially when there are survivors, “the whole thing breaks down,” he explains. “We try to send  people who are engaged in traffic control duty who can handle it.”

Baxman has also been in mutual aid situations “from Oregon to the Mexican border.” One fire in Southern California took the life of a Novato fireman, he recalls. If mutual aid is required the situation is serious and may be out of control.

The week-long August 1978 Creighton Ridge fire, sparked by a lawnmower in the hills above Cazadero, had Baxman and his crew taking evasive maneuvers and running for their lives. According to Baxman, 8,000 acres burned in eight hours.

From Neistrath Road they fled to Pole Mountain and then to Munoz Ranch with the fire hot on their heels. Russian River Meadows (aka Rien’s Beach) where Cazadero Highway heads up to King Ridge and Ft. Ross roads served as a staging area where tents and portable kitchens were set up for the 500 people who were fighting the fire in shifts.

Steve Baxman is always on call and lives in a Monte Rio house (known for having the most beautiful Christmas light display in town) with his sweetie, Gabriela Gibson. He’s never been married.

His sister Deanna recently retired from her job as a Cal Fire Division Chief in Mendocino.

For the Baxmans, firefighter blood runs in the family. And as long as it doesn’t run out, they take satisfaction from what they do.

“Don’t look for reasons and don’t ask me questions
I have the plan I don’t need suggestions
I’ve been doing this for a real long time”

— Ken Hensley

  • suzie RJ

    A small typo in this sentence “And as long as it doesn’t run out, THEIR satisfied with what they do”.
    Should be “they’re”…

    • Stephen Gross

      Thanks for reading it and MONDO thanks for pointing out my mistake! Leaving it there would be like walking around with spinach stuck ‘tween my teeth.

    • http://www.mctsbullpen.com Conway

      Mr Steve Baxman didn’t save my life but he did convince me when I was passing a kidney stone that I wasn’t going to die as I felt I was for sure. Steve has a great heart and does a great service for all of us here in the area. My thumbs are up for you Steve Baxman!

  • natasha


  • Teri Foster

    Another great story, Stephen. I’ve been around for most of those events and Steve was ever-present, more often than not first one on the scene. We need a Steve statue somewhere!

    • Stephen Gross

      Thanks so much Teri – I think he’s been a hero to many of us many times over. And he never looks for or expects “pats on the back”.

  • Richard Chadwell

    I had the privlige of working with Steve for many years when I was a Monte Rio Volenteer and a Paramedic for Guerneville Fire Dept. (Now known as Russian River Fire Protecton) I alaways said to evryone in town, ” Steve Is my Hero”.

    • Stephen Gross

      Thanks for the comment – when did you work with him and do you have any tales of heroism you’d like to share?

      • Rich Chadwell

        I worked with Steve in the 80’s at Monte Rio Fire Dept. and in 1992 to 1995 when I was with Guerneville Fire. I have so many stories of when I worked with Steve on Medic 72 and 74. In the most difficult calls he was always cool, calm and collected and always had a great sense of humar. He would amaze me on calling things before they happened. I would say ” how in the world did you know that ?” His usuall response was ” you forget who your working with. He would know what we would have before we ever got on scene. We do need a statue of him in town. I work now in Yellowstone National Park and brag about him to co-workers here.I wish he worked up here with the NPS Rangers, they could use his expertise.

        • Stephen Gross

          Thanks so much for your comment. People who know him love hearing stories about him and learning more about the “real” Steve. He never toots his own horn and it’s great to hear from people such as yourself who have worked with him. Thanks for sharing!

  • Mary Agneberg

    Baxman is da bomb!

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  • Kayte G.

    Steve Baxman is our local hero!

  • Turkan Family

    We will always appreciate Mr. Baxman’s quick response to our then four year old son’s head trama. He was the first to respond and quickly took charge. We felt very safe and confident in his professionalism.

    Thank you

  • Lorie Silver

    Steve’s the BEST! He helped & guided me when I was a newbie fire lookout on Mt. Jackson in 1980. He also assisted in a winter water canoe rescue which was especially memorable. I was in the canoe. Thanks Steve. And thanks Stephen for writing about this great guy.

  • Susan Upchurch

    Steve is a true American hero…there are not many on par with him…he is truly amazing and selfless…though am sure imperfect like all of us humans, I am in awe of his service to the community. A special person indeed, and unfailingly in good humor.

  • Ken White

    Steve is the Poster Boy for public service in our lower river community. He is there day and night for all of us and usually the first on scene when there is a problem. Any kind of problem. When he is not in the thick of it fighting fires, dealing with wrecks, taking a leadership role at drownings, etc. he is STILL there doing things like setting up the town for the annual Monte Rio Water Carnival (Fourth of July), taking care of public areas, or, in one unusual instance, burying a black bear with a back hoe, which had been hit by a car near Tyrone. “Above and beyond the call of duty” seems to be Steve’s mantra. He takes your breath away with his energy. Plus, Steve is a role model and very nice guy. Thank you Steve.

    • Stephen Gross

      Thanks so much. Very well said and absolutely true. I think he’s positively touched the lives of all of us here on the River and it would be appropriate to have a “Steve Baxman Day” in recognition of all he’s done and the example he sets (especially for young people). Every community should be blessed with a Steve Baxman.

  • Kathryn

    I have the privlage to call Steve Baxman my uncle. He is my moms brother and he is the coolest uncle anyone can have. :)

  • Old Timer

    If more cirizes showed only a fraction of the level of care and concern for the community as this man does, the world would be a better place. Thank you for all you do in the area we all love so much.

  • Ginger H

    If I may say, with tongue in cheek, your last name is perfect for many elements of this story., That said, Steve surely is a hometown hero. Deanna’s pretty groovy too.

  • Jeff

    Thanks, Chief 5400.

  • Valerie Munthe

    Fantastic and gruesome storytelling, Stephen. And to Mr. Baxman, don’t ever spill your blood for it is more valuable than our own wine.

    • Stephen Gross

      Thanks for your input.
      Not nearly as gruesome as it must be in three-dimensions. And the hard part is he knows so many of us and it must be emotionally wrenching to have to deal with a neighbor – and keep it all together, to boot.

  • Mark

    “floaters”? Pretty tasteless journalism, sorry.

    • Stephen Gross

      It’s the term commonly used by fire, rescue and law enforcement personnel. From the National Forensic Academy: “Bodies that have been found in water are called

  • Richard Chadwell

    Steve Baxman has always been my hero.

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Stephen Gross, The River correspondent

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