Web Extra! Updated 08/12/08
Former Oak Parker Tony Allabastro is used to working in dangerous conditions. As a Hot Shot firefighter, he’s trained as a first responder to major forest fires. Sunday afternoon, Aug. 3, though, he came face to face with something no amount of firefighting experience could ever prepare him for.
Allabastro, 26, was part of a five-man crew setting a back fire, a controlled burn intended to contain part of the LeHardy Forest fire in Yellowstone Park. Seven hours into his shift, he saw a very large grizzly bear stand up in brush about 50 feet away, surrounded by fire on three sides. It ran right at him.
“Tony was right in the way, blocking his escape,” said his mom, Pat Allabastro.
Allabastro, a 2000 graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School, called his mom late Sunday night after being treated for his injuries.
Pat Allabastro said her son sounded “subdued,” likely due to his harrowing experience and the effects of the pain killer Vicodin.
“This was a full grown male [grizzly], 800 pounds and 11- to 13-feet tall,” she said. “[Tony] had almost no time to react. He dove face down into a pile of brush and timber.”
The bear initially went after Tony, swiping at him and trying to pull him out of the brush. After about 10 seconds or so, she said, it apparently realized Tony wasn’t a threat and lumbered off. Allabastro suffered a lacerated shoulder and scratches to his thigh.
He was likely saved from serious injury by his 100-pound backpack.
“The backpack protected him,” said his mom. “The bear ripped off his clothes.”
Allabastro spent Sunday night in a lodge recuperating, and has been assigned to light duty following the run-in with the bear. He’s reportedly already itching to get back on the line with his colleagues.
His mom, meanwhile, isn’t nearly as enthusiastic. She said her son, a 6-foot-5 former hockey and lacrosse player with a degree in fire science, is doing what he wants to do. So she does her best to practice acceptance of his dangerous profession.
“I always play Scarlett O’Hara,” she said with a slight laugh. “I always wait until tomorrow to think about it.”