Veteran with hearing loss saves woman during park fire

A veteran and camp host with hearing loss was undeterred when fire threatened his campground in Montana’s northernmost park.

Alan Deegan is a Marine Corps veteran who served from 1964-68, with a tour in Vietnam in 1966-67. Deegan has service-related hearing loss. During the war, Deegan worked in aviation ordinance, which is munitions for planes. Doors of the four turbo-prop planes were often open, so sound inside the planes was amplified and loud. He thinks this likely contributed to his hearing loss.

Alan Deegan stands in grass in front of mountain.
Alan Deegan at the Rising Sun Campground. Photo credit: Christina Goebel

After the military, Deegan worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 34 years, serving in numerous capacities, including as Postmaster of Marshall, Minn. and Junction City, Kan.

It wasn’t until 2007 that Deegan realized he had hearing loss. An emergency room visit for something else in Canada led to a series of doctor’s appointments and the pronouncement, “Mr. Deegan, your left ear is dead.”

“No wonder you were so damn loud on the telephone,” Deegan says a friend told him.

Close up of Alan Deegan in camp host attire.
“I don’t think anything has ever, ever held me back from anything I wanted to do,” Alan Deegan said. Photo credit: Christina Goebel

When asked if hearing loss ever affected his career, Deegan said, “Never had an issue in my entire working career. I don’t think anything has ever, ever held me back from anything I wanted to do.”

Deegan is an avid traveler who has visited all 50 of the United States. This past summer, he volunteered as camp host at Rising Sun Campground in Glacier National Park, Montana.

Volunteering as camp host at the national park was a way Deegan and his wife Ellen earned a free campsite for their recreational vehicle, or RV, and also free electric, sewer, and propane. He and Ellen worked 40 hours a week, with two days off. As hosts, they recorded information for the 83 camp sites, answered questions, helped new campers learn about camping, and ensured camper safety from hazards such as bears and fires.

Deegan said that he might have missed some information when visiting with people because of his hearing loss, but the ranger he worked with “never gave me any problems” about his hearing and was accommodating with any radio difficulties.

He had already adapted to his environment by the time of his interview, cupping his hand around his hearing aids to block out the interference caused by the wind.

Adult black bear close up
Black bears and grizzlies are frequently sighted by tourists in Glacier National Park. One of Deegan’s duties at “Bear Central” was notify rangers of bear sightings and to make sure bears and tourists didn’t get too close to one another. Photo credit: Christina Goebel

According to Deegan’s wife Ellen, the Rising Sun Campground was what the Glacier National Park rangers called ‘Bear Central.’” “Apparently we have more bear activity here than any other campground in the park,” Ellen Deegan said.

When bears got too close to the campers, Alan Deegan took action. Ellen Deegan said that one time, a visitor reported a lot of noise around his campsite. When her husband arrived, he found it was a bear. Ellen said, “He immediately called for a bear ranger. He had the visitors present to all stand back and clap and yell. He had his bear spray out and ready. The bear was only foraging for food and went back into the forest. He came back a bit later into another camp site. The bear ranger arrived and took charge of the bear. We had 4 bears that day.”

Fire and smoke above trees on a mountain.
The Reynolds Creek Fire threatened Glacier National Park–and Deegan’s campground. Photo Credit: Alan and Ellen Deegan

Deegan’s greatest contribution as a camp host occurred during the Reynolds Creek Fire at Glacier National Park. The fire began in the park on July 21 and the perimeter was contained by late September. According to the National Park Service, the fire burned 4, 850 acres.

During evacuation from their camp ground, Ellen said that Alan “went around both loops again shaking tents and trailers yelling to evacuate. He found one girl asleep in a tent. Good thing he did, because she would have been left. He did the loops twice and we were sure everyone was gone.”

In the meantime, Ellen packed items they would need into their truck and waited for Deegan to check the camp sites again.

Tour vehicle leaves smoke cloud behind.
Everyone had to evacuate from the areas around the Deegans’ campground. Photo Credit: Alan and Ellen Deegan

The scene around them was hectic. Ellen said, “The helicopters are flying dipping water out of the lake with their buckets and dropping it in the hot spots. There were fire trucks from towns, U.S. Forest Service, other government agencies like BLM, and more men and women in green and yellow clothing than I could count.”

Travel trailer in the midst of mountains.
Despite the vast amounts of smoke in their campground, the Deegans’ camper was unharmed and they continued their travel itinerary with few changes. Photo credit: Alan and Ellen Deegan

Later, the Deegans and others evacuated. Fortunately, they and their RV were fine and they finished their summer trip. The Rising Sun Campground remained closed for the remainder of the summer.

Alan Deegan stands against large tree.
Alan Deegan has visited all of the United States. Photo Credit: Alan and Ellen Deegan

Ellen Deegan said that in four months this year, they

  • “traveled through 12 states,
  • drove 11,300 miles,
  • took 13,500 pictures,
  • rode the quad (ATV) 550 miles,
  • visited 12 National Park sites,
  • 2 National Forest recreation sites,
  • and 1 Canadian National Park.”

After his summer travels, Deegan contacted Christina Goebel of Sign Shares, Inc. to learn about more assistive technology they had discussed during their interview in Montana. He’s seeking to share information with friends.

Woman signs I love you to mountain.
Sign Shares’ staff member Christina Goebel promotes Deaf and Hard of Hearing awareness, education, and advocacy during her travels. Photo Credit: Gerald Goebel

If you’d like to travel and volunteer like the Deegans, you can learn more at Volunteer.gov  or Usajobs.gov.

If you’re a veteran with hearing loss needing to apply for benefits to help purchase hearing aids, you can learn more at this link to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

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