EXCLUSIVE: EMS Crew Endured Wildfire With Garden Hoses, A Rake And Their Bare Hands

Jenna Lane
December 21, 2018 - 9:37 pm

As the Camp Fire charged into Paradise on November 8, crews who were racing in two ambulances to evacuate hospital patients became, instead, firefighters. 

One ambulance went up in flames while carrying patients. To stay safe, they broke into a home and staved off the flames with little more than garden hoses, a rake and their bare hands. 

In an exclusive conversation with KCBS Radio's Jenna Lane, the Butte County EMS crews talked about the fire's ferocity. They described their sense of responsibility for the patients and each other. They recounted the phone calls they made when they felt they would not survive. 

Butte County EMS
Paramedics Sean Abrams and Mike Castro and their EMT partners Shannon Molarius and Robin Cranston were guests on KCBS Radio's "In Depth," airing on Sunday, Dec. 23. This is an excerpt of that interview, along with photos taken by the emergency personnel. 

SEAN ABRAMS: The fire had moved in on us, started catching the fence line and the brush, so we were getting hit with a lot of fire and embers. I took a windful to the face, as did my patient. I remember just grabbing the backboard, turning and running with the patient, and that's the point that we got to the driveway of the house.  

JENNA LANE: How many people are we talking about? You said you had loaded up the ambulances with as many as would fit.

SEAN ABRAMS: We had five patients total between the two ambulances, four EMS personnel, three nurses, and eventually a pediatrician that I called off the road, just a random -- his truck caught fire as well. 

In that driveway as well was the fire chief of Paradise. Of course we immediately went over to his window and were just like, 'What's going on? What are we going to do?' He said he only wanted to talk to one person. Who's in charge? So Mike and I look at each other, he's like, 'You!' So I was like, 'I'm in charge.' And so [the fire chief> said, 'Break into the garage, put the patients in there, one person or two people just need to walk around the house and make sure nothing catches fire.' Those were his instructions. Nothing else. We are not trained fire personnel. 

The nurses had jumped in his vehicle. Everyone's having their moment because to be quite honest, it didn't look like we were getting out of there. In my mind, I wasn't ready to stop working and roll over and die, but the realization of your mortality is coming into play here. We are not going to make it out of this, but we are going to go down fighting.​

An EMS crew from Butte County barely survived the Camp Fire. Their ambulance burst into flames and had to be abandoned. They broke into a home and used garden hoses, a rake and their bare hands to keep the flames at bay while also looking after hospital patients they had been trying to relocate to safety. They share their tale in an exclusive interview with KCBS Radio on this weekend’s In Depth program.

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