If not for the table saws and wood chips, Jerry and Neita White’s neighbors might have thought they were throwing an early morning block party.
Nearly a dozen trucks stretched for a half block around the White’s Las Vegas home by 8 a.m. Thursday, as well over a dozen Clark County, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas firefighters chipped, sawed and hammered their way toward a $3,000 painted wood wheelchair access ramp in the 83-year-old’s backyard.
They planned to stay until the handrails on the World War II veteran’s new ramp were sanded, finished and painted, probably not more than a day, according to Nevadans for Equal Access founder Paul Martin.
Martin, who has overseen construction on 12 similar wheelchair ramps since starting his Las Vegas-based nonprofit last year, said only one of those projects — a multi-tier ramp to an area mobile home’s back door — took more than a day to build.
It’s a good thing because the nonprofit has already built up an almost unwieldy backlog of disabled seniors and veterans with nowhere else to turn for free wheelchair access ramps, he said.
“There’s hundreds, if not thousands of people who need a ramp in the (Las Vegas) Valley,” Martin said. “It’s just us nonprofit guys out there building these ramps, but it comes natural to these (firefighters). They want to be out there helping people like Mr. White.”
White, who spent more than 20 years working at the Nevada Test Site, uses a wheelchair and is confined to his home, having suffered a series of emergency surgeries and strokes over the past few years.
He hasn’t been able to access his backyard in decades, according to wife Neita. She expected that to change by Friday, thanks in large part to the Home Depot-funded, firefighter-staffed volunteer efforts of Martin’s group.
“(Martin’s) been very generous. He even brought us a metal ramp for the front door,” Neita White said. “I remember when I first called him, I told him I lay awake at night thinking ‘I don’t need this house to catch on fire,’ because if it did, there would be no way for me to get Jerry out.”
She said she’s sleeping a lot better since reaching out to Nevadans for Equal Access a few months ago.
Within weeks, she had set up a construction date and met Las Vegas Fire Department’s Brad Iverson, a regular group volunteer and one of the first on site in White’s backyard Thursday morning.
Iverson said he got off to a simple and obvious start with the group: He was standing on a set of rickety stairs somewhere, trying to spread the word about an upcoming pancake breakfast, when he realized that he was teetering on a terrible excuse for a fire escape, especially for a homeowner with disabilities.
“It was a hazard and it occurred to me that I’d like to build him a ramp,” Iverson said.
“We can’t meet the demand (for ramps), but today we’re at least making a difference for Mr. White.”
Contact View reporter James DeHaven at 702-477-3839 or firstname.lastname@example.org.