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When Lacey heard about a large fire in town she immediately thought about the firemen who would be there all night, and what she could do to help.

Feeding the Firemen

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Lacey Mathison heard the sirens as she left for lunch. It was 1:20 PM on a freezing March day in the small town of Walhalla, ND, population 932 — the kind of town where sirens are uncommon. Lacey’s eyes followed the sound past Choice Bank, where she works as a Business Loan Service Specialist. Just a few blocks away, there it was — a growing plumage of thick black smoke, rising towards the sky.

Word travels fast in a small town. Lacey quickly learned it was the North Border Enterprises building, a company run by a man named Rossie Goulet. Mr. Goulet has been a customer at Choice for over 20 years. Born and raised in Walhalla, he found a successful living building and selling pallets all over the region. He owned and operated North Border Enterprises with a handful of other employees.

“Hours went by and we could still see smoke rolling from the sky,” Lacey described. “It seemed there wasn’t any end in sight.”

And now it was up in flames.

“Hours went by and we could still see smoke rolling from the sky,” Lacey described. “It seemed there wasn’t any end in sight.”

Towering in front of the building were stacks and stacks of pallets; the perfect fodder for a fire. This, Lacey learned, was the primary goal of the firefighters. If these pallet towers caught on fire, the fire could get out of hand and spread to other nearby structures.

“It was a major team effort. Firefighters in Walhalla were doing everything they could. Firefighters and water trucks from neighboring communities were later called in to help,” Lacey said.

As with many smaller towns in rural areas, the firefighter squad is made up of local volunteers. Lacey’s husband is on the squad. Her co-worker, LaRae Horgan’s husband is, too. So is Choice Bank’s Business Banking Officer, Travis Berg — along with many other friends and family members from the community. Rarely are they required to come together and fight fires; but when they do, they do so valiantly.

Since their husbands were on the firefighter squad, LaRae and Lacey both knew how exhausting fighting a large fire could be.

“For the firemen to not work together every day, it’s remarkable to watch them work when they are together,” LaRae said.

“They made sure everyone was safe, and that the town was safe,” Lacey agreed. “They put their lives on the line.”

This fire put up a hard fight. It covered the highway, stopping traffic and forcing travelers to re-route almost 7 miles out of their way to Canada or other northern towns. The fire continued to burn through the building, burning into the evening as Choice Bank was closing up for the day. As Lacey packed up and thought about her supper plans, she thought of the firefighters who had been working for hours with no breaks.

“We should get the firefighters some supper,” she said to her coworkers. “They’re working so hard. They need to eat!”

“I knew they were going to have a long night, and I wanted them to know how thankful we are for them,” she said. “It just felt like the right thing to do.”

LaRae immediately agreed, and the plan was put into action. Erin Cook, Commercial Loan Operations Specialist, was heading to pick up her son from school and offered to stop at the grocery store to pick up water and chips. Lacey called the local bakery and ordered 20 pizzas to be delivered to the Fire Hall. What a great idea, the baker said, and threw in some donuts as well. As a cherry on top, Lacey included a handwritten thank-you card from the entire Choice Bank team.

“I knew they were going to have a long night, and I wanted them to know how thankful we are for them,” she said. “It just felt like the right thing to do.”

When the firefighters grabbed a moment to pause that evening, they found pizza, drinks, snacks, and donuts awaiting them in the Hall. LaRae stopped by and was pleased to see firemen from Walhalla and neighboring communities smiling and taking a moment to rest as they enjoyed much-needed nourishment.

“The weight of the gear, the pressure from the water hoses, it takes a real toll on your body,” LaRae said. “They were completely exhausted. I could tell they were really thankful to have a meal.”

A couple days after the fire, Mitch Lee, Walhalla Fire Chief, sent a thank you note to the Choice Bank team for their thoughtfulness.

Along with the meals from Choice Bank, LaRae saw other community members bringing in chicken and french fries, and other treats. She felt her heart swell with pride.

“This town really pulls together when something like this happens,” she said. “You get to see the camaraderie that we have with each other.”

It’s a sense of camaraderie that has become a core part of Choice Bank’s #PeopleFirst culture; one that can be seen in Choice Bank values such as Know when to offer help, know when to ask for help. It was this value that came to mind as Lacey made calls to the baker, and watched as her teammates at Choice Bank happily came together to put her idea into action.

“We didn’t have to ask for approval to do it. We knew we were backed by our leadership 100%,” Lacey said. “In fact, when we told Pat (Chaput, President of Choice Bank in Walhalla), he said, ‘What a great idea! I wish I’d thought of that,’” she added with a laugh.

“We didn’t have to ask for approval to do it. We knew we were backed by our leadership 100%,” Lacey said.

For Lacey and LaRae, it’s a joy to be part of an organization that celebrates the same values they do as a community.

“It’s awesome to see that Choice Bank values even the small things, like feeding the firemen. That thoughtfulness is a core value of our culture,” LaRae said. “There’s no red tape, no loopholes to get something special done for others.”

“Right,” Lacey added. “It’s just everyday life at Choice!”

Epilogue

The building, unfortunately, was a total loss. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

A few days later, the owner of the business, Mr. Goulet, came into Choice Bank. Wooden pieces from some of Mr. Goulet’s pallets had been used to decorate two walls in the bank in previous years. Mr. Goulet stared at one of the walls for a long time.

“You could see it in his face. To think it was all gone, completely gone…” Lacey shook her head.

When Mr. Goulet turned to Choice Bank for help, Lacey was glad to be of service. She helped him send several important faxes.

“I was glad to help him out in some way,” she said.

Lacey doesn’t know what Mr. Goulet’s next steps will be. However, she knows Walhalla, and she knows her team at Choice Bank. Just as they did in response to the fire, she knows the community will come together.