Scanning the horizon for smoke and lightning, it’s another hot, uneasy summer in Wenatchee, Washington. Known as the Apple Capital of the World, Wenatchee is home to 45,000 people who live perched above the Columbia River, among fruit orchards surrounded by desert. In recent years, the city and three neighboring counties have seen unpredictable wildfires destroy hundreds of homes, not to mention hundreds of thousands of acres, creating a nagging fear of sparks and the loss of power and cell service.
Ron Lawrence has learned to keep fear in check while balancing his career with a passion for the land. Ron is a Verizon cell site technician, and it’s his primary job to keep dozens of Verizon cell towers in Chelan, Okanogan and Douglas counties running smoothly, come fire, wind, snow or power outage. When conditions are at their worst, cell phone customers need service the most, especially during a wildfire.
Like many locals, Ron owns an orchard—160 acres of heirloom apricot trees that he bought with his wife in 1980, just before the dawn of cell phones. Following a few trial and error harvests, Ron’s apricot business took off, with his family assisting in picking fruit and selling it at Seattle farmers markets. Now, Ron takes his Verizon vacation time during the harvest to hand-pick the fruit with his wife, team of sons and grandchildren.
Unfortunately, wildfires are painfully common during the summer picking season. With a lump in his throat, Ron recounts his personal brush with destructive flames. “This year’s fire season was early and explosive. It’s always hard when I have to prep our grab-and-go boxes that are full of personal belongings I can’t replace, like my wedding photos.”
In 2012, a wildfire burned through Ron’s land, destroying 43 trees and damaging 80 percent of the orchard. His home and barn were saved just in time by local firefighters. This year, fires crept within 2.5 miles of his property. Ron understands the tremendous concerns of the community when wildfires burn close to homes and businesses, and the importance of reliable cell service.
“My main concerns are always my family, fruit, property and community,” Ron explains.
During the nearby Methow Valley fires in 2014 that cut power and cell service for miles, Verizon Wireless service was restored within hours. The company also sent a Wireless Emergency Command Center, a large trailer packed with laptops, printers, phones, chargers and Wi-Fi for complimentary use by the community and emergency responders, regardless of their wireless carrier.
Whether he’s tending trees or towers, Ron Lawrence looks for performance and reliability. He’s the leader of Verizon’s local network team that mobilizes at the hint of service disruption to ensure that customers have consistent, reliable connections. Verizon deploys portable cell sites known as Cells on Wheels (COWs) or Cells on Light Trucks (COLTs) to increase wireless coverage and capacity for first responders battling fires, as well as for affected residents.
With the nation’s largest and most reliable 4G LTE network, Verizon is ready when crisis hits to maintain or quickly restore service as local teams across the country, including those led by Ron in Central Washington, jump into action. During active fires, every moment matters.