California Nurses Brave the Flames to Save Their Patients
These brave nurses and firefighters ran into the flames to make sure their patients were safe.
Photo source: Facebook
Just before Thanksgiving, California was on fire. Almost a quarter of a million people have lost or been displaced from their homes, and up to 80 people have lost their lives. As of November 10, 2018, over 90,000 acres were burned, and 52,000 people evacuated. Since then we hear that the entire town of Paradise, California is a charred remembrance of people’s lives.
Tamara Ferguson, a labor and delivery nurse from Chico, California, part of Butte County, lived through these fires. She was working at Adventist Health Feather River Hospital in Paradise, California the day the fires destroyed the town.
The hospital released a statement on November 9th stating that the facility was closed and that the hospital sustained damage, but the full extent was not known. However, on November 9th, Ms. Ferguson shared on her Facebook a post detailing the unbelievable story of what she and the other workers at the hospital went through to save the lives of their patients.
Their Brave Rescue
“Ash like snow and a growing cloud of fire,” is the statement by Tamara Ferguson that describes the town of Paradise during the recent Campfire devastation. Ferguson memorializes her day on her Facebook post relating how she took care of a mom and baby fresh from a C-section and was getting another patient ready for induction. She looked out the window and noticed an orange glow.
She described in her post, “I walked outside with coworkers and watched ash fall like snow and a huge growing cloud of fire.” Despite the scene outside, Ferguson noted that she was told that the fire was not close to the hospital and instructed to continue working, which she did.
Not even an hour later, Ferguson ran to every room on the labor and delivery floor telling patients to get up, wrap up their babies and flee. There was no time to even grab personal belongings. Ferguson and her co-workers ran toward the ER and helped fill up personal cars with patients.
Ambulances, police and sheriffs worked along with doctors and nurses and other healthcare workers to load patients from their beds into waiting vehicles. The plan was to take the patients to the nearby Enloe hospital, but only a mile later, the radio in the ambulance Ferguson was riding in, broadcasted that the ambulance in front was on fire. Her ambulance was forced to turn down the nearest road, stop in a driveway, and not go any further. They were surrounded by the fire and trapped.
Ferguson, co-workers and the ambulance crew moved their patients into the garage and tried to keep them safe and reassured.
“I looked around as fire surrounded us,” she went on. “Transformers were blowing up, and the winds were sooo fierce ...this is when I looked at [my co-worker] Chrissy and realized we might not make it out at alive.”
Ferguson tried to think of options for her patients, co-workers and herself. She masked up and looked around at the oncoming devastation. Her first thoughts were about her kids, and her boyfriend, who was a policeman in Paradise. What was going on with her family? Ferguson naturally lost it.
She began calling her loved ones to say goodbye. Can you imagine being in a smoky garage with fire all around, crying patients and co-workers saying their goodbyes to loved ones? It was almost like being in a hellish movie.
Paramedics, EMTs, and a pediatrician from the hospital were spraying the house with water and filling water buckets. Ferguson offered to help, and her next job was to clear the brush away from the house.
“Chrissy and I were clearing brush by handfuls,” she described. “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 to come 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!”
The house they were in was in the once-full and green forest, and the bushes and trees were right next to the house. The beauty of the area was being destroyed, and someone’s home was nearly destroyed.
When the fight to save this home and their patients succeeded, and the team was ordered back to the hospital to do what they could, staff, strangers, and volunteers were setting up IVs, water, gurneys, blankets, and snacks. They were helping anyone that needed help.
Ferguson and her co-worker remained with their C-section patient who was unable to walk. As they sat in a car with pain medications and breastfeeding her newborn son, they watched the flames destroy the once-filled hospital. Ferguson said that she was scared but not enough to stop what she was doing.
Her story is a testament to the nursing profession. Even under a life and death situation, Ferguson was true to her career and saved lives.
The fire roared faster, hotter, and closer and it soon became apparent that the hospital would not be saved. The entire hospital team, volunteers and strangers rushed to move equipment and patients to the helipad area to be evacuated from the area. Ferguson looked back and marveled at the devastation that stretched everywhere she could see.
Later that night, Ferguson was safe and reunited with her family. She was one of the lucky ones.
Ferguson knows that the wildfires forever changed her life in Paradise, California. Things were physically lost, but the thing that Ferguson most remembers is life changes quickly. She says, “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.”
Her Facebook post ended by saying thanks to her family, friends, and the strangers who held her and the patients at the hospital.
Like so many families, most people had no idea that their world would be so different this Thanksgiving. Rowdy and Shanna Shaw had just moved into their dream home to be close to resources for their daughter with Down's Syndrome and close to Mr. Shaw’s employer. They stocked up for Thanksgiving, got ready for the holidays, and then watched their home burn to the ground.
Instead of their traditional Thanksgiving dinner in their Paradise home, the Shaws celebrated their Thanksgiving at a closed Sears store in a mall in nearby Chico. Like thousands of other families who lost their physical homes, annual traditions were changed, but all still found warmth and Thanksgiving in knowing their family was safe and being fed
World Central Kitchen set up a relief kitchen in Chico and fed about 10,000 to 15,000 people. Volunteers included famous chefs like Guy Fieri, who were there to cook and serve food.
Included in the Thanksgiving party was a crew from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Thirty brave firefighters had been on the front lines for the last couple of weeks saving what they could.