144th Medics Respond to Creek Fire Rescues

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Drudge, 144th Medical Detachment 1 senior enlisted manager
  • 144th Fighter Wing

The fire season in California has been relentless this year. This became even more apparent Sept. 5, 2020, when the uncontained Creek Fire in Fresno and Madera Counties engulfed the Mammoth Pool area trapping more than 200 men, women and children in a ring of fire.

Lt. Col. Jordan Darnauer, 144th Medical Detachment 1 commander, received a call from Col. Jeremiah Cruz, 144th Fighter Wing commander, asking for the medical strike teams to be activated to assist with evacuees that were to be rescued by the California Army National Guard’s HH-60 Blackhawks and CH-47 Chinooks and flown into the 1106 Theater Aviation Support Maintenance Group located at the Fresno Yosemite International Air Terminal.

“Two Medical Strike Teams (MedSTs) were activated and in place in record time,” said Darnauer. “Our normal required response time is six hours, but we were in place and fully integrated with the first responders, ready to provide critical care, in less than an hour.”

The first fully equipped MedST was in place by 9:00 pm with the second by 9:20pm. Lt. Col. Darnauer had arrived on scene and linked up with the incident commander and operations officer from the Fresno Fire Department. The 144th Med Det 1 capabilities were relayed and members were quickly integrated into the critical care staging areas with the other first responders.

With an expected 50 casualties inbound, this would be putting the MedST’s abilities to the test. The 144th medical footprint was comprised of a medical provider, ER nurses, medics and command and control support from the 144th Medical Group and the Med Det 1. Thankfully, there was only a small fraction of injured evacuees that were brought in. Most of their injuries were burns, which varied by degrees, and smoke inhalation.

Once the evacuees were brought off the helicopter, they were escorted to the triage area where each individual was examined for injuries. The seriously injured individuals were stabilized and transported to local hospitals for further treatment.

Two members of the 144th Medical team were directed to reassess evacuees in the holding area to ensure there was no degradation of physical health and mental status. Capt. Ralph Garcia, 144th Medical Detachment 1 critical care nurse, discovered an individual that had slipped through the triage area with severe burns to her face and arm. He took immediate action and got the victim transported out for treatment.

“I am an ER nurse in the civilian world and know what happens to people after a traumatic event like this,” said Garcia. “Once the adrenaline wears off, that’s when injuries and pain show themselves.”

Due to the diligence of Airmen like Capt. Garcia, the public can rest assured that the 144th Medical Strike Teams are ready and capable to handle any disaster requiring their skills.