Volunteers help victims of Camp Fire, even when losing their own homes
The Paradise hospital where she has worked as a nurse for more than a decade was damaged by the Camp Fire last Thursday and her home burned to the ground, but Birgitte Randall and her colleagues weren’t in the mood to feel sorry for themselves.
Within days, they were part of a growing team of medical personnel and volunteers who flooded into the East Ave Nazarene Church in Chico, setting up a medical triage unit and shelter for hundreds of refugees from the blaze.
“My dogs and my husband are alive, and there’s a need for this,” Randall said Monday from the makeshift clinic, one of about 22 pop-up shelters that have been created near the fire zone without government or Red Cross assistance.
“I’ve worked at Feather River Hospital for 11 years, and we know the patients, the types of people who have had to leave their homes,” Randall said. “They have chronic medical needs, and they need help.”
Randall said the effort started with four volunteers, and “became an entire medical team.”
In the face of the most destructive fire in California history, the need for medical attention for thousands of fire victims has led to volunteer nurses, doctors and others flooding into such centers to diagnose patients or write prescriptions for people who fled without their medicines.
“We have several patients that are on psych meds, and if you go off psych meds there’s going to be a problem,” Randall said.
Medical experts displaced from Feather River have ended up treating patients at the church, Randall said. Among the volunteers are the hospital’s medical director, Dr. Ted Muller, who escaped the fire, then performed triage on patients in a Kmart parking lot in Paradise immediately after the blaze erupted.
The church is not on Cal Fire’s list of evacuation centers and is relying solely on volunteers and donations, Pastor Ron Zimmer said, adding that donations can be made through the church’s Facebook page.
“When we heard what was going on, I just posted on Facebook that we’re going to open our doors and volunteers rolled in,” Zimmer said. “We had it set up by noon, and our first people – guests – came in about 30 minutes later.
“This is what we’re supposed to be doing,” he said.
The church is now providing volunteer services around the clock, and on Monday was housing about 200 people, he said.
Patients who are deemed too medically fragile are being sent by ambulance to Chico’s Enloe Medical Center.
“We have an ambulance here about every three hours,” Zimmer said.
Many of the people displaced by the fire are elderly, the pastor said, and are patients who used Feather River regularly.
“A lot of the ER staff from Feather River Hospital will say, ‘Oh, yeah, we know several people here because they’re frequent fliers just because of their medical history,’” Zimmer said. “They’re down here taking care of their their own, really.”