Building a ramp to freedom

When Claude Wirkus left the hospital July 24, he realized he had a problem – once he was home, he couldn't leave. Having his second leg amputated recently, Wirkus realized his home was not wheelchair accessible.

Claude Wirkus is pushed by Hunter Chumbley down the ramp for the first time.

When Claude Wirkus left the hospital July 24, he realized he had a problem – once he was home, he couldn’t leave. Having his second leg amputated recently, Wirkus realized his home was not wheelchair accessible. Fortunately for him, the East Pierce Firefighters Benevolent Fund and Lowe’s Home Improvement was able to help.

The East Pierce Firefighters Benevolence Fund is a non-profit organization, and is operated separately from East Pierce Fire and Rescue. Hunter Chumbley, the chair of the Benevolent fund, received an email on July 16 from a MultiCare facility that Wirkus needed a ramp built to enter and leave his home.

Chumbley said that the benevolent fund evaluatea both the financial cost and the individual community need before it begins a project. Money used by the fund is raised through charity events and donations from firefighters to “benefit the citizens when they are in need,” he said.

For this project, however, Lowe’s donated all the materials needed to make the ramp, minimizing the cost to the fund. Derek Oliver, the store manager of Lowe’s in Bonney Lake, said they do a Lowe’s Hero Project once a year. This year, they decided to “do something a little more hands-on for a member of our community,” he said.

The ramp took the firefighters, who were off-duty and received no compensation, and Lowe’s volunteers two days to build. “I could never afford to do this,” Wirkus said as the ramp was being built. “I didn’t even have access to leave my house to go to medical appointments.”

Wirkus said because he didn’t have a ramp, cabulences (a cab-ambulance hybrid for transporting medical patients) would not come pick him up.

Even though Wirkus used to race hydroplanes and drag cars, he said he was never injured while racing. He lost his first leg after he was hit by a car three years ago in Auburn, and lost the other due to an infection earlier this year.

“These people gave me a ticket to freedom,” Wirkus said, acknowledging that the ramp meant he can continue to live independently and not in an assisted living facility.

When the ramp was finished, Chumbley wheeled Wirkus down the ramp across a makeshift ribbon of caution tape, high-fiving all the way.”That was the best finish line crossing ever,” he said, thanking all of the volunteers.

More in News

Helping build a better world for women

“Life Beyond #MeToo” is a book that not only examines the reality of sexual harassment and violence and the reach of the social media movement, but also move forward into a New Normal.

Enumclaw mayor elected to Sound Cities Association board of directors

Jan Molinaro now represents the cities of Enumclaw, Black Diamond, Pacific, Algona, and Milton in the county-wide organization.

Matt Marshall, leader of the Washington Three Percenters gun rights group, addresses a crowd rallying for Second Amendment rights Jan. 17 at the state Capitol in Olympia. Marshall condemned Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, which expelled Rep. Matt Shea from the Republican Caucus. Marshall announced his candidacy for the 2nd District seat held by House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox. Photo by Cameron Sheppard, WNPA News Service
Gun rights advocates rally at Capitol

Criticism levied at Matt Shea investigation, Republican leadership.

Enumclaw, White River pushing school levies

EHS wants to renew its tech levy, while WRHS’ levy is the same one that voters declined in the last general election.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (center) announced a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson in a press conference Jan. 2. Debbie Warfield of Everett (left) lost her son to a heroin overdose in 2012. Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki (right) lost her son to an overdose of OxyContin in 2017. They are joined by Rep. Lauren Davis of Shoreline (second from right), founder of the Washington Recovery Alliance. (TVW screenshot)
AG Bob Ferguson talks lawsuits, gun control

Washington state Attorney General stopped by Sound Publishing’s Kirkland office.

Enumclaw, Black Diamond police blotter | Jan. 1 – 9

Unauthorized stickers removed, women threatened at a party, and a suspicious package delivery.

St. Elizabeth nurses sign new contract with CHI Franciscan

The new agreement helps ensure safe staffing levels and increases in pay.

In November 2019, Washington voters approved Initiative 976, which calls for $30 car tabs. Sound Publishing file photo
Republicans try to guarantee $30 car tabs amid court hangup

Lawmakers sponsor companion bills in the House and Senate.

King County Metro’s battery-electric bus. Photo courtesy of kingcounty.gov
King County could bump up Metro electrification deadlines

Transportation generates nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

Most Read