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Stories from the front lines: Called to the flames

Inspiring Stories

As the devastating wildfires in Northern California destroyed land and homes, claiming lives in its relentless wake, a few words come to mind: Loss, devastation, fear. Citizens have evacuated their businesses and homes, uncertain what the future may bring. But in this natural disaster also comes the words hope, resilience and strength.

Because what happens when everyone has left for safety? Who are the ones who stay behind to help those who can’t help themselves? And who do you call when the fire department is busy fighting the “big” fires? What do hospitals do when phone lines are down and cellphone reception is unreliable?

As a few Adventist Health employees learned, sometimes all you can do is take it back to basics.

At Adventist Health Howard Memorial, Nick, an IT manager, used his own personal ham radio to aid the communication of emergency services at the hospital. “He’s worked 16+ hour days, commuting 45 minutes to his home and getting 4-5 hours of sleep and doing it all over again,” says Victor Polston, director of customer technology at Adventist Health Roseville. “I am sure that there are many more just like Nick that are working long hours and helping anyone they can.”

And so they are.

During the Honey Fire near Adventist Health Feather River in Paradise, Terri, an RN Admin, had patient calls forwarded to her cellphone when phone lines were down. In a 24-hour timeframe, she answered over 75 patient calls. And Hyung (Danny) An, M.D., and medical director of AHFR Hospice, had his house placed in the mandatory evacuation zone for this fire—but he stayed behind to care for the Hospice and Palliative Care patients. A colleague, Joseph Lee, M.D., relieved him so he could retrieve sentimental possessions in his house.

When a brush fire threatened the exterior of Adventist Health St. Helena, no firefighters were in the area because of the larger fires nearby—so the bystander who discovered the fire called the security team at the hospital and—along with the maintenance team—put out the fire “using a good old-fashioned bucket brigade,” says Dave Scarlet, Northern California regional facilities director. “This brush fire could have ended up being another huge disaster if our hospital team hadn’t been there to respond so quickly.”

As the fires are still being contained in Northern California, Adventist Health employees continue to answer God’s calling to do more, to help provide safety and reassurance to their communities—all while not knowing how their own homes fared in the flames—their stories continue to pour in and provide proof that hope exists. Because sometimes the only thing you can do is get out your ham radio, grab your buckets, and to let God lead you to your calling.

How have the fires in Northern California impacted you? Share your story in the comments below. We’re listening.