“Eighty eastbound…four four nine…ten sixty two…occupied,” went the call over the radio. 60 Plus in Omaha was only a little more than a mile out from base in a ride-along with the volunteers of the Metro Area Motorist Assist program, and 65-year-old Wayne Fry was calling in the first incident report.
A vehicle—the “1062” in the cop-talk lingo above—was pulled over at mile marker 449 of Interstate 80, and a young man named Kenny was about to make the mistake of pouring engine coolant into the wrong receptacle of his overheated and smoking junker.
“I obviously had no idea what I was doing,” says Kenny. “Those guys are lifesavers.” The red-faced man was more than happy to have his last name shown in print as simply “Occupied,” the designation from Fry’s radio report indicating that the car had at least one person in it.
Over the last 13 years the Motorist Assist program has come to the rescue more than 85,000 times. Based on the most recent census report, that’s the equivalent of coming to the aid of one out of every 10 people in the metro area.
“It started as a public safety initiative so that law enforcement can concentrate on what you pay us to do—enforce the law,” explains Lt. Kevin Bridges of the Nebraska State Patrol. “It doesn’t take a trained officer to give a lift to someone who is out of gas, so that’s where our great Motorist Assist volunteers come in.”
Omaha’s State Patrol Troop A office has 21 Mobile Assist drivers, but Lt. Bridges has a duty roster that calls for twice as many. Volunteers go through 12 hours of training and are required to have a current CPR card. All ages are welcome to explore becoming a Motorist Assist volunteer, but the normally wide-open schedules of a retired person, Lt. Bridges says, is the most common profile of the volunteer he seeks.
Mobile Assist uses the buddy system, and 84-year-old Gene Tschida was riding shotgun the day of the interview.
“It’s a lonely, helpless feeling to be stopped by the side of the road with all that traffic buzzing past you, so people are glad to see us,” says Tschida. “The big thing is the personal satisfaction we get in helping people.”
“Especially because so many of the folks we encounter are maybe less fortunate than we are,” adds Fry. “That young guy, Kenny, was an excellent example of a great stop. He was polite. He gave us a nice ‘thank you’ and a big smile,” one that broadened when he learned that Assist services carry no fees.
Tschida is a veteran of 15 years volunteering behind the wheel of a Motorist Assist vehicle. “I’m still kinda feeling out this job,” he quips. “The pay is pretty lousy, but I figure it might improve with seniority.”
Fry returned to the radio to call in a “1098,” the code for “all clear.” Fry and Tschida were back on the road, once again looking for trouble.
To learn more about volunteering with the Metro Area Motorist Assist program, contact Lt. Kevin Bridges of the Nebraska State Patrol at 402-331-3333.