By Correctional Sgt. Eddie Gamez
Sierra Conservation Center
Photos by CDCR Photographer Scott Sabicer
While battling the King Fire, two California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation fire crews found themselves helping save someone’s life.
Working a 24-hour shift, two Mountain Home Conservation Camp fire crews used chainsaws and axes to cut a pathway for a firebreak down a steep, rocky, brush-choked mountainside. The day had grown dark and at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 15, they heard someone yell “rock.”
While working in the rough mountainous terrain near Placerville, the inmate firefighters often shouted warnings to others down the mountainside about falling branches and rocks.
CAL FIRE Capt. Ryan Wallace and his inmate crew spotted the object tumbling down the mountainside – and it was no rock.
“They observed what appeared to be a body falling end over end down the hill 50 feet from their position,” according to a report issued by the CAL FIRE captains supervising the inmate fire crews. “It was an inmate firefighter falling down the hill, about 200 feet, in full protective equipment.”
Wallace grabbed his radio and reported the fall. Despite the lack of sunlight, he began making his way toward the area where he thought the firefighter might have landed.
CAL FIRE Capt. Tyler Attebury, who had been working with another inmate fire crew as they cut pathways (known as hand lines), made his way to the injured inmate to assist.
The two found the inmate firefighter and he was badly injured with “several visible lacerations and contusions,” according to their account.
Capt. Wallace radioed for both fire crews to respond with first aid kits. As Capt. Wallace and several other inmate firefighters assisted in treating the downed firefighter, Capt. Attebury had the chain saw teams make their way back to the accident site to begin clearing brush. Other inmates, under Capt. Attebury’s direction, began clearing a path toward a road.
Unable to fully assess the firefighter’s injuries, and fearing he might have suffered severe life-threatening internal injuries, Capt. Wallace and the crew used ropes and blankets to move the patient down the steep hill in the dark. They made their way to the road along the newly cut path.
“The injured inmate firefighter was moved down the steep hill, being passed down between crew members … for several hundred feet of steep, dark mountainside,” the captains reported.
Once to the bottom, an awaiting ground ambulance drove the injured inmate to an air ambulance. He was then flown to an area hospital.
The two inmate crews then went back to work and finished their 24-hour shift.
“These inmate firefighters acted in a manner of selflessness, placing themselves in danger and they still acted as needed,” according to fire camp officials.
Pine Grove also had a busy fire season: