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Sonoma fire crew to the rescue


A Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue crew that was recently sent to Quincy in Plumas County as part of a strike team to battle the Minerva Fire, instead possibly saved the life of another firefighter at the incident.

The crew, consisting of Capt. Ted Hassler – who’s also a paramedic – plus engineer/paramedic Jason Campbell, firefighter/paramedic Ryan McCracken and firefighter Ismael Gonzalez, were waiting for their daily assignment on Aug. 4 when Hassler noticed that the division they were attached to didn’t have a line medic.

About five minutes later, they heard a radio report: “Emergency traffic, firefighter down, medical, firefighter struck by snag, Division Oscar.” According to Hassler’s report, “It took a second for my brain to realize – hey, that’s our division!”

Hassler checked with other captains to make sure he heard the transmission correctly. He couldn’t raise the strike team leader, so the SVFR crew dispatched themselves to the incident.

When they got near the fire, they drove down a fire road until it turned into a bulldozer trail that was too soft for the firetruck.

The engine was a fully equipped Advance Life Support (ALS) vehicle, so the crew grabbed everything including a backboard and monitor and started walking toward the injured firefighter.

“We walked at a very fast pace down the ’dozer road and I remember some of the firefighter’s crew ran back up the trail, took the backboard and sprinted back down the trail,” Hassler said. “It made me believe that this was a serious incident, seeing their panic. I moved with pace, but thinking back on it, I was trying to pace myself so when we arrived, we wouldn’t be so tired and out of breath that we couldn’t do our job. We finally arrived at the accident site which was quite a ways down the very steep hill.”

The injured firefighter was part of a Hotshot crew and his crew was huddled around him. Hassler asked, “Hey guys, we’re paramedics, can we get in there to assess him?”

Before he saw the patient, Hassler heard a radio report that the injured firefighter was not critical, but after seeing him, Hassler knew that wasn’t so.

The firefighter was injured by a falling tree and was unconscious for somewhere between 15 and 30 seconds.

At that point, Campbell took over as the main medic and checked the patient’s chest and abdomen.

While Campbell was running tests, Hassler told the division personnel that the firefighter would need to go to a trauma center.

But they were limited to transporting him out on a small 4X4 vehicle or calling in a chopper and evacuating him with a long-line.

They decided to transport with the 4X4, but it wasn’t without peril. They came to a spot that was very steep and very soft. And at one point, both Campbell and Hassler jumped off the vehicle because they thought it was going to roll.

When the truck got stuck on a rock and they had to remove the firefighter until they got the vehicle unstuck.

They reached a landing zone, and upon learning that nobody aboard the Huey helicopter was ALS-trained, Campbell hopped on the chopper to aid the victim during the four-minute flight to Quincy where Campbell handed the injured firefighter off to an ALS helicopter and he was transported to Reno.

Later, the crew found out the firefighter had a closed head wound, multiple cervical fractures, a pelvic fracture and some internal bleeding.

“It was a terrible accident, a critically injured firefighter,” Hassler said. “I won’t say we saved his life, I’d just like to be humble and say I’m glad we were there.”

Sonoma Valley Fire Chief Steve Akre is proud of his crew. “It was very special to know that we have people who are trained and equipped,” he said. “This reinforces our service level.”

Akre wasn’t sure how the injured firefighter is doing, but he does know that the man will survive.

“We had the right people with the right equipment in the right place at the right time,” he said.

Email bill.hoban@sonomanews.com.