Stranded California Ambulance Crew Survived the Wildfire (and Saved Their Patients) by Fighting It Themselves

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Author of Be Ready for Anything and Bloom Where You’re Planted online course

The news outlets are making much ado over the fact that a list of celebrities had to evacuate their homes in Malibu due to a wildfire and that some of those homes are lost. But fires are raging in many other areas where there aren’t any movie stars, and regular people like you and me are barely escaping with their lives. And tragically, some are not so lucky.

When an ambulance evacuating critical patients became stranded in the inferno, things looked grim. The crew said goodbye to their families and then sprung into action. Their stories follow.

Current Wildfire Statistics

The Camp Fire, just north of Sacramento, leveled nearly the entire town of Paradise, consuming 6,453 homes and 260 businesses. 29 people have perished in the blaze and many are still missing. The wildfire is raging at 111,000 acres and as of this morning, Cal Fire says it is 25% contained. 15,500 structures are still at risk. The Camp Fire is the most destructive fire in the state’s history.

The Woolsey Fire in Southern California, fanned by the infamous Santa Ana winds, is the one that has threatened Los Angeles and the star-studded outskirts. This fire threatens a much more highly populated area but thus far has been less deadly and destructive than the Camp Fire. 177 structures have been destroyed and 3 people have lost their lives. So far, It is blazing through 85,500 acres and is 15% contained, according to Cal Fire. 57,000 homes and businesses are at high risk from the inferno.

But these are just statistics. For a real story of survival and determination, read on.

Paramedics became stranded by the fire in Paradise

In Paradise, paramedics were trapped by the blaze and had to fight the fire on their own to save themselves and their patients. Ryan Scarborough listened with horror on a radio as his friends and fellow paramedics became trapped by the raging fire.

Well yesterday was a humbling day for many.

I got called into work to help where needed. I threw on my uniform didn’t have time to shave or even do my hair. I came into our briefing room and was given keys and a radio. I turned on my radio and went out to my assigned Ambulance.

While I was checking equipment in my Ambulance, I heard a call for help. Two of our crews were trapped in the grasp of the Camp Fire and had no escape. This is the story that was told by one of the 4 hero’s that saved all their patients.

They were dispatched to Feather River Hospital to evacuate patients. They got their patients loaded and started their transport.

While transporting their patients the fire surrounded them and over heated one of the Ambulances. They drove down a cede-sac. They didn’t have any way to escape. They came on the radio and told BCEMS dispatch, that they were trapped in the fire and they have no escape and that they’re taking shelter in the only standing house on the street with their patients.

They took everyone of their patients out of their Ambulances and carried or drug them, as flames drew closer and hot ambers burned them. They managed to get everyone into the garage. At that point they came back on the radio and gave an update of the address they were located and asked for a update on the response coming to their aid. They were told, we have a engine coming but they can’t get into the area and CHP air 14 is en route for an evac.

At this point listing to the radio we had every unit trying to reach the 4 Paramedics from Police, Fire, EMS and CHP Helicopters but what no one knew is that help wasn’t going to reach them due to impassable roads and fire.

From talking to the Paramedic that was involved in this incident he was talking to one of our Battalion Chiefs and he asked “we’re getting out of here right?” The answer he got was “I’m not sure.”

They came on the radio and stated that they’re making a stand grabbing every hose and they’re actively fighting fire and that they have a specific number of patients in the garage (I don’t remember what that number was). They got on the roof of the house that they were taking shelter in and started making a defensible space from the fire.

This crew spent at least an hour with no help but them selves. Finally they were able to evacuate back to Feather River hospital and got out of the red zone. One of the Ambulances burned to the ground.

If it wasn’t for these two crews heroic actions and decisions yesterday a total of 8 people would have not been coming home to their families. (source)

Here’s what a nurse in the ambulance experienced.

Tamara Ferguson was one of the nurses who was trapped with the paramedics. Here’s her story.

As I lay awake i realize I’m not alone as I read so many others posts about not being able to sleep and how unreal what happened yesterday is …so many of my friends and family have lost their homes , jobs , animals and have family missing ????

When I arrived at feather river yesterday morning it was “my Friday “ I have an orientee and was given a mom/baby-fresh c-sect, And an induction , I assessed them and noticed the orange glow outside ..I walked outside with co-workers and watched ash fall like snow and a huge growing cloud of fire ..was told it wasn’t super close to the hospital..continued working..within an hour or less I was going room to room telling moms and dads to get up , wrap their babies up and we had to time to grab personal belongings …we raced towards the ER and lined up , staff that had cars started filling them with patients ,

Ambulances , sheriff and police lined up and helped Dr’s, nurses and all staff load patients from beds and wheelchairs into cars…I told my co worker Chrissy Foster to stay close to me ..we were scared but not for our lives yet …we planned to go with our patients to Enloe hospital and help there if needed …as the last of the patients were loaded.

We hopped into an ambulance ..with a very critical patient, an awesome EMS staff and another nurse, Chardonnay, we started moving forward as we watched flames around us , it only seemed like seconds but I think we got about a mile when we heard the radio traffic that the ambulance in front of us was on fire ..we turned down a road into a driveway and stopped ..we were told we can’t go any further right now. I looked around as fire surrounded us , transformers were blowing up and the winds were sooo fierce …this is when I looked at Chrissy and realized we might not make it out at alive ….we all got out of the ambulance and moved patients to the garage of the only house not burning, layed them down and tried to reassure their scared faces , while hiding ours …

I wanted to run , just get out and run down the street and dodge flames and get to safety..but reality reminded me I am not faster than a fierce, fast blowing fire . Do I stay in the ambulance ? Hide in the garage with my patients ? I looked around and it just kept surrounding me growing bigger, I saw cars stuck in gridlock trying to leave , fire surrounding both sides of them , I felt so scared , hopeless , and desperate .

I immediately thought of my kids , and the man I love so much family , and I lost it …I called them all and between sobs i said how very much I loved them , how sorry I was for anyway-that I let them down , or made mistakes and asked my oldest daughters to please make sure their younger siblings were taken care of and knew how much I loved them . I desperately called my boyfriend who is a police officer …my hero …my love , he had just got off working all night and I knew he wouldn’t answer , but I kept trying , I called one of my closest friends Julene Cumpton I said my goodbye to her between desperate cries and begged her to go to my house and wake him , so I could tell him goodbye , and beg him to help me ..she did .he called me and I couldn’t contain myself , being a police officer and dealing with crisis he was calm and told me to breathe and that I wasn’t going to die ..I told him over and over as I was surrounded by fire “babe there’s no way I’m going to survive this “ he asked for my address and I looked at the mailbox and told him , he said “I am leaving now I will come get you” I was slightly hopeful …

Then I called my mom ..who was out of town and not only said goodbye but shared how desperately scared I was , that I didn’t want to die, and like all moms have the right answer , asked her what to do ? I could hear she was trying to calm me but she knew by my voice ..and what she could understand as I was so panicked …that I was not exaggerating , she told me to just stay there , I really had no choice so again she was right . I overheard my co worker and other nurse calling their loved ones ..

Then I saw the paramedic , EMT and our pediatrician spraying the house, filling water buckets , and I got out and said what can I do ? A firefighter said clear all this brush so this house continues to keep us safe. Chrissy and I were clearing brush by handfuls , we found a broom , rake, planters , buckets , and didn’t stop . Sure we had our breakdown and felt hopeless and then our jobs and why we do what we do came back to reality. WE need to save our patients and ourselves , if we were going to die today we would at least do it protecting others and do everything we can to live and we did !

What seemed like forever was interrupted by being told “to get our patients back into the ambulance and someone’s truck since the other ambulance burned .” We were an Awesome team of mostly strangers doing whatever we could as HAD to and we did phenomenal ! Our hope was shattered when we’re told we were going BACK to the hospital, not Chico out of the fire . We got there and staff was setting up chairs, gurneys , IV’s, water, snacks , warm blankets , hospital administration, anesthesiologists , doctors , police officers , paramedics , sheriffs , fire personnel nurses , managers , and anyone present was running , triaging , making sure everyone had what they needed .

Chrissy and I sat in a car with a new Mom who couldn’t walk yet post c-sect, put her baby skin to skin, checked his vitals and helped him breastfeed and gave another fresh c-sect (whose baby went with daddy to Enloe ) pain medication .

As the fire continued to grow , I did get fearful but not enough to stop what I was doing the fire grew closer and into the hospital we were told to move everyone and the equipment to our helipad area , again everyone is rushing , running , pushing gurneys , wheelchairs , and we sat up everything again , and triaged patients again as gave water and warm blankets and reassurance . A short time later , we were told we would be escorted out of Paradise to local hospitals. Sheriff vans, police cars and ambulances loaded everyone up and we left …not one person behind . I looked out the back window at the devastation , while I conversed with the sweetest 95 year old woman , we watched the flames beside us , burnt cars in the road , power lines down ,and fresh homes burning , it went on for miles.

I honestly couldn’t believe I was alive , that I would see my family , kids , and boyfriend again . I called them and told them I made it …they were all crying before I even told them because they couldn’t reach me and thought I was gone . We got to Oroville hospital and I helped staff unload lots of patients and get them inside , then I saw the EMT and paramedic I spent hours with before, and we hugged so tightly . I sat with my elderly friend as she waited and watched for her husband . I held her hand and said I will never forget you , these moments , this ride to Oroville AWAY from the fire. She told me the same , thanked me and said she has a diary and I was going to be in it today , about today. I teared up , I will never forget her and there is a picture of me and her below , before I spent that ride with her, doing what I love …being a nurse , a friend , a hand to hold , or an ear to listen.

I will forever be changed by yesterday , as so many thousands of others are , but not by what was physically lost , but the reminder that life changes quickly . Today and everyday i urge you to live with no regrets , do what makes you happy, make sure your loved ones know how much you love them and how much they mean to you and NEVER take one second for granted .

Thank you to my friends , family , and complete strangers who have reached out to me , people from states far away , so much love , I am beyond thankful for each of you ….and to be laying next to the man I love writing this …..with a house of 16 adults , 4 kids , 8 animals ..our family from Paradise who likely lost their homes , and the opportunity to be even more than I was before . (source)

I think what Tammy went through is very important. Most people would panic in the situation she found herself in. But her ability to reign in the panic helped to save not only her life but the lives of others.

Knowing how to fight a fire is an essential survival skill.

Let me be 100% clear: in the event of a wildfire, YOU SHOULD EVACUATE. Absolutely, without a doubt, do not attempt to fight a wildfire on your own. Your things can be replaced. You cannot. I am by no stretch of the imagination recommending that you stay when you should evacuate.

But if you end up trapped like the people above, understanding defensible space and some basic firefighting techniques could save your lives. Particularly if you live in an area prone to wildfires, learning these skills is essential.

I’m very impressed with the courageousness and will to survive that the people above showed in fighting the fire and saving themselves and their patients. What do you think?

Hat Tip to my Prep Club peeps for sharing these stories!
Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • You failed to mention the two Ferrari’s they saved in LA. How do the Kardashians feel about the fire?Where the “Camp Fire” is; that’s considered “fly over country” in CA. When the East winds kick-in in California, all bets are off. Go to “Fire Safe California”. If it can burn how badly do you want it next to your house. Very good first person accounts by the way. Well worth reading.
    PS fellow Preppers ; All this happened with the electricity on; water, communications, transportation etc., what would it have been like with no power?

  • I grew up in Folsom, CA, not far from where this fire is raging. We had several experiences with wildfires when I was a kid. One bad one in particular we evacuated our wood home for the neighbor’s Quonset hut (steel building). We always thought his place was odd. After that fire we thought he was the smartest guy in town.

  • Daisy, my husband and I moved from Paradise 3 years ago. We have between 40 and 50 family members still living there. Most of our kids, grandkids, brothers and sister, my parents. This story brought tears to my eyes. The stories we’re hearing from family members of narrow escapes and the hours of not knowing if they were safe were perhaps some of the worst hours of my life. Cell service was either overloaded or down for much of the time. We couldn’t find my parents who are elderly. Miraculously, everyone made it out safely. Nearly everyone lost their homes. I think the count is up to an even dozen. Most left with the clothes on their backs. My grandson didn’t even have both socks. But they’re alive and safe! I’m so grateful! I pray for the people who were not as fortunate as our family, there are still hundreds of people missing and multiple deaths.

  • The concept of defensible space is very very important. When we bought our cottage on a wooded acre in 2010 the first thing I did was cut down all the evergreens within 10′ of the wooden cottage then moved out progressively to clear 20′, 30′, 40′ etc until we had cleared all brush & evergreens from 60′ around the wooden buildings. My wife & our friends were upset with me. But our neighbours were all supportive as the previous owners had let the place go & in turn that made it a threat to our neighbours on each side. Most fires up around Parry Sound (Ontario, Canada) come from human carelessness or lightning. I also kept the Woodstocks for our stove & campfires far away from the buildings, sure it’s inconvenient but they wud fuel a fire if it came. Many cottages on islands have gasoline-powered firepumps with adequate hoses as volunteer fire companies in sparsely settled areas do not have the 3 minute response time of city brigades. Out there we are often on our own so knowing basic first aid & fire prevention & basic firefighting is essential for life.

    • Such devastation and loss. You can clear the bush from around your house; however, won’t the flying embers land and ignite the property.

  • A very moving story of a absolutely horrible experience. Not overly surprised on the outcome as they were nurses and paramedics doing what needed doing. Kept their heads on when most would panic.

  • Australian bushfires are as bad as these fires, I have lived through two. Once you can see smoke on a bad fire day, the research indicates that evacuation is the worst option. Over and over again, even encouraged by authorities, people ‘evacuate’ in the face of visible fire or even through active flame zones as described in the story. Roads inevitably block and, even unblocked, wildfires travel faster than it is possible to drive on most roads. So, people are inevitably caught in the worst possible place to face a fire – in the open or in a vehicle. The fact people so often survive these late ‘evacuations’ is pure luck – the wind changes or as in the story they stop trying to flee and there happens to be adequate nearby shelter. Almost always they would have been safer to stay put in their original structure and prepare and defend it as best they could.

    Despite the stories, houses don’t ‘explode’ during wildfires. Unprepared houses mostly burn from embers catching door mats, decks and wood trim or blowing into roof spaces or broken windows, a few catch fire from plants or fences against the house. If the house is prepared by protecting windows, clearing flammables away, blocking gaps into the roof space and there is 5,000 gallons or so of water gravity fed to hoses, two ordinary fit adults can easily defend a normal house even during a firestorm in a wooded area. Even if the house is unprepared, at least one person in each of the roof space, main rooms and garden putting out embers can generally preserve the house until the main fire front arrives. At that point the intense ember storm can overwhelm defenders of an unprepared house, but the house still gives shelter for the few minutes necessary for the front to pass and then everyone escapes to an already burnt area as the house burns.

    It is very tempting to stampede with the mob and ‘evacuate’ during a firestorm. The air itself seems to be on fire for a hundred metres into the air as volatile oils vaporise and burn, cyclonic winds detach burning treetops and fling them around as massive fireballs and the roaring means you can’t hear yourself screaming. And yet, the Australian research shows that even firestorms are very survivable. In suburban areas, at least two streets back from thick forest, most unprepared and undefended houses only burn down due to embers, often hours after the main front passed. Even if you’re alone and unprepared, putting out embers and then sheltering in place during the front still gives a much better chance than getting caught in a car. If you are actually well prepared, you save your house.

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