When the Dolan Fire burning in the forests above Big Sur doubled in size on Sept. 8, it trapped 13 Los Padres National Forest firefighters and two dozer operators defending the Nacimiento Fire Station 16. Faced with a desperate situation, they deployed their individual fire shelters. When they emerged after 40 terrifying minutes, they radioed for help.
Radio silence was called to allow their emergency messages to get through, then a dispatcher summoned an ambulance from the nearest emergency response station at Fort Hunter Liggett.
The Dolan Fire had encroached onto Fort Hunter Liggett’s northwest training areas the night before, and the installation’s Emergency Services was all hands on deck. Shortly after the first ambulance was called, it became apparent this was a multi-casualty incident (MCI) involving the personnel from the Monterey Ranger District. Firefighter-paramedic Noah Munds followed with a second ambulance. A Type 3 fire engine was sent to prepare a helicopter landing zone, and Mercy Air 20 was put on alert.
“We had three medics on that day and we were also fortunate that the air was clear to launch Mercy Air 20 to get the patients out as quickly as possible,” said FHL Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Minetti, who was the incident commander. “My job was to do a quick triage of patients, find the critical patients, and get them to the air ambulance as soon as possible to get them to a burn center within an hour or less.”
Munds arrived just as the first ambulance left to rendezvous with the helicopter. “The site we were at was at risk for further burnover,” he said. “The fire was right there.” He took the two remaining seriously injured patients in his ambulance to meet Mercy Air 34, called in from Paso Robles, while the rest of the firefighters were moved to a casualty collection point and tended to by a paramedic.
The one critically and two seriously injured patients were flown to Fresno Community Regional Medical Center’s burn unit. One patient is still hospitalized as of Sept. 22.
In all, FHL deployed two ambulances, two chief officers, two Type 3 engines, and a Type 6 fire patrol, along with Mercy Air 20. Mutual aid was rendered by American Medical Response in Monterey County which sent two ambulances and a paramedic supervisor.
As a reminder of the dangers faced by wildland firefighters, a black mourning band stretched across the badge Munds wore. A firefighter was killed the previous day, fighting the El Dorado Fire in the San Bernardino Mountains. As is tradition, mourning bands are worn to honor a fallen comrade.
“The incident is one of the better-run MCIs that I’ve ever been on,” said Munds. “It went really well and I’m proud that our agency was able to provide that service to the firefighters.”
“Nobody wants to see a burnover type situation occur on any fire,” said Shawn Sullivan, Director of FHL Emergency Services. “However, firefighters train for such situations and are very proficient in deploying shelters. We train on it every year at FHL, and we are lucky everyone survived this scary situation. This is our second MCI type incident at Fort Hunter Liggett in recent years and our fire crews did an outstanding job handling this one, just as they did the last and it makes me very proud to serve with a great group of firefighters here at Fort Hunter Liggett.”
For video story, see: https://www.dvidshub.net/video/767213/fhl-multi-casualty-response-dolan-fire