Nurses Among Heroes in California Wildfires

Nurses at the California Wildfires

Besides the firefighters and police officers, many nurses, doctors, and paramedics also courageously put their own lives on the line for the safety and needs of their patients during the California fires. This was particularly true for those at Adventist Health Feather River Hospital in Paradise, a town that was virtually wiped out by the fires.

Nurses at the California Wildfires
Wildfires spread across California. | AFP/Getty

Allyn Pierce, a nurse and ICU manager at the hospital, arrived at his job struggling to help the hospital’s few dozen patients evacuate by ambulance. After the staff had rapidly evacuated the patients by packing them into every possible vehicle, Pierce also left but was caught in a gridlock and was soon surrounded by fire. He even sent a farewell video to his wife and two children as the flames were licking against the sides of his truck. And when a bulldozer moved another truck blocking his path, he was freed miraculously.

Nurses at the California Wildfires
Pierce’s view as he tried to evacuate the Camp Fire on the 8th of November. | Allyn Pierce

Instead of heading for safety, Pierce decided to turn around and drive back through the flames to the hospital. There he found that a number of residents had come to the hospital for medical assistance. With the help of other hospital staff, they broke into the hospital for equipment and set up a triage center in the parking lot. They moved further away to the helipad when the hospital started burning. Eventually, a path was cleared and everyone could be transported to safety.

Pierce’s Tundra truck, which was his pride and joy, was severely damaged by the heat of the flames and Toyota is replacing it in recognition of his bravery. Pierce does not see himself as a hero and stressed that it was a group effort by doctors, nurses, paramedics, and police officers. “We’re terrible at burning to death,” quipped Pierce. “But we’re amazing at taking care of people.”

Nurses at the California Wildfires
Jolly and other nurses risked their lives to help the hospital’s 60 patients evacuate the hospital. | Associated Press

Nichole Jolly, a surgical nurse at the hospital, also returned to help the patients evacuate. She had to make a run for it when her disabled car caught fire while her family thought she was already dead. Her pants had already caught fire and the soles of her shoes were melting when she was pulled into a fire truck. The firefighters warned her that they might not make it, but eventually, a bulldozer came alongside and cleared a path so the firetruck could return to the hospital. Jolly immediately joined the others in caring for the patients who were there.

Nurses at the California Wildfires
Fires blew up all around Magalia as Jolly tried to escape. | Splash News

“Nichole and I, we stuck together and people go, ‘You’re a hero,’ but when we got back to the hospital after losing our vehicles, we just kicked into that mode. It wasn’t anything heroic, it was just, we have to do this we’ve got to do that,” said Karen Davis, Jolly’s co-worker who had also made it back to the hospital.

Tamara Ferguson, a labor and delivery nurse on duty at the hospital, wrote on a Facebook post that she was telling parents to wrap up their babies and go. Ferguson got into an ambulance to accompany a critical patient they hoped could reach a hospital in a nearby town.

They hadn’t gone far when they heard that an ambulance up ahead was on fire. They turned into a driveway, got out and moved the patients into the garage of the only house that wasn’t burning. Ferguson was terrified and thought that they were going to die as they were surrounded by fire. After calling her loved ones, she looked out and saw a team fighting the fire around the house and went out to help. They were told to accompany the patients back in the ambulance and she was appalled to hear that they were returning to the hospital. Once there, she helped to look after a mother, who couldn’t walk yet after a C-section, and her baby. They gave her pain medication and put the baby skin-to-skin. A short time later, they joined the caravan of transport vehicles taking everyone to safety.

Nurses at the California Wildfires
A photo shared by the Adventist Health Feather River Hospital. | Tamara Ferguson Facebook page

“I will forever be changed by yesterday,” Ferguson wrote on Facebook. “Today and every day 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.”

Frieda Paton, M.Cur, RN
Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.


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