The Hero on the Bridge

The date was March 1971. I was 11 years old. My mother came into the house in a panic screaming that the “River Bridge” had collapsed and three men had fallen into the river as a result.  Our neighbor Harry Buttons was one of them.

My mother loaded us into the car. We went the back way to the Post Falls City Park on the other side of the Spokane River. Despite the darkness, we could see just how devastating  the collapse of the old wooden bridge had been. The entire middle section was missing. How would those living on the far side of the river get into town?  Then, the news of a life lost overshadowed all other concerns.

Two of the three men who fell into the frigid water had survived. Post Falls Police Officer Buttons (our neighbor) and his ride-a-long, Allan Chaffin, were inspecting the bridge when it collapsed, plunging them and the patrol car into the river.  Officer Buttons was able to exit the car–his Eveready flashlight in hand. Tragically, Chaffin could not clear the car. Using his flashlight, Buttons searched for Chaffin. However, he located Bill Jones Jr in the cold murky water and directed him to a stable timber in the water where the two clung for an hour, using the flashlight’s beam to direct rescuers. Chaffin’s body was found downstream hours later.

Later, Eveready used the story as a commercial which was aired during the half time show for the 1976 Super Bowl.  Now, the flashlight is displayed in the lobby of the Post Falls Police Department.

Mary Buttons with the flashlight (Used with permission of The CdA Press

Questions naturally arose. Why hadn’t the bridge been replaced years before? As a child I recalled my fear of the creaky old bridge. Once while crossing, the creaking was so loud that half-way across, I turned and ran back home.

During the 18 months needed to rebuild the bridge, my mother offered her home to students who were in need of temporary housing, since we lived near the school. Post Falls citizens rallied in many ways to lessen the damage done by the tragedy, giving our city that small-town flavor which continues.

Tammy Rose Evanson

Post Falls