North San Juan, March 7, 2018 – Last Friday evening, snow was coming down fast and piling up in Nevada County. At 7:11 pm a 911 call came in for the North San Juan Fire Department. A patient needed transport from the 4,200 ft elevation of Cruzon Grade, outside of North San Juan to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley. What followed is a story how a community’s generosity, firefighter teamwork, training and persistence saved a life.
Friday had been a busy day for the NSJ Fire Department. The medical call that evening was the latest in a series of incidents the volunteer fire department responded to. Earlier in the day, a car accident had taken down a pole on Tyler Foote Road, blocking the roadway – the normal access road to the outlying area.
North San Juan Fire EMR Graham Collins, EMT Angela Flores, Firefighters Judy Stead, Rich Mead and Chief Jason Flores started to respond to this call and an ambulance was requested. Heavy snow was hampering the ambulance and even the fire truck from getting through 2 feet of snow to reach the patient.
Radio traffic between the trucks and the ambulance confirmed the hazardous road conditions. The ambulance made it to the North Columbia Schoolhouse and staged, awaiting progress reports. Firefighters assessed the situation, including the heavy snow, a steep driveway leading to the home and the need to reach the patient quickly.
Chief Flores turned his vehicle around and headed back to the fire station to pick up Rescue 61, a snowmobile acquired thanks to the NSJFD Auxiliary and community donations in 2012.
The snowmobile, equipped with a rescue toboggan, was able to make the 10-mile trip from Station 3 at a decent speed, heavy snow and wind notwithstanding.
Meanwhile, firefighters reached the gate at the foot of the patient’s driveway and started shoveling out the gate to gain access to the property. Chief Flores and a medic made the trip up the steep driveway on the snowmobile, reaching the home where the patient and his spouse were waiting.
The medic assessed the patient and decided transport to the hospital was warranted. Chief Flores ran the snowmobile up and down to compact the deep snow in the driveway, while Firefighter Judy Stead reached out to a neighbor with a grader/snowplow to make the road passable. The ambulance chained up at North Columbia and started making their way towards the address.
The patient was bundled up in the toboggan and brought down the steep incline towards the waiting firefighters and medics.
A caravan consisting of the grader, the NSJFD trucks and the ambulance made their way back down towards North San Juan. By 11 pm, the patient was in the ambulance on his way to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley and the firefighters returned to their station, ready to respond to the next call.
This was the first time the department used Rescue 61 for a patient transport. Without the community’s generous donations through the Auxiliary and most importantly the firefighters’ relentless efforts the outcome could have been very different. We are very happy to report that the patient successfully underwent brain surgery on Monday, is doing well and will return home shortly.