California Doctor Pulls Woman From Burning Ambulance Amid Wildfires

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
November 16, 2018US News

A California doctor is being hailed as a hero for pulling a woman from a burning ambulance and helping save others amid the powerful Camp Fire in northern California.

David Russell was working as a pediatrician at Feather River Hospital in Paradise on Nov. 8 as news of a nearby blaze began to emerge. Suddenly, everyone was forced to evacuate, and the hospital staff and patients joined the thousands of other residents who hit the road to try to escape the flames.

But there was too much traffic and too little time as the fire was bearing down, and Russell wasn’t sure he was going to make it.

“It got darker and darker and darker and then [I] started seeing more fire,” Russell told KCRA. “Not just patches, but fire and a burning house on my right, some fire not too far off on my left. Started hearing kind of the explosions.”

Russell got out of his truck and started to run. But then, he saw an ambulance.

burnt vehicles in Camp fire in Paradise, northern California
Cars destroyed by the Camp Fire sit in the lot at a used car dealership in Paradise, California on Nov. 9, 2018. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“I thought, ‘Oh, man.’ I had to make a decision. You know, keep running or do I stop and help the ambulance? I had a little bit of a sigh, but thought, ‘We need to probably take care of the patients that are there,'” he said to KCRA. “There was a patient in there that was calling me, ‘Come over, come over! Get me out, get me out!”

Russell approached the ambulance, which he realized was already on fire. The doctor and a paramedic escorted the woman to a nearby home, where a firefighter, two nurses, and other patients from the hospital were gathered.

With the flames bearing down, they didn’t have time to escape. Instead, they turned on all the hoses they could find and fought the fire themselves.

“I think you just do it. There wasn’t time to call people. There was just time to say, ‘You know, if we don’t do this now, if we don’t do this now, there might not be a next time,'” Russell said.

The group ended up surviving, even as nearly the entire city burned to the ground.

The Patient Speaks Out

The patient Russell helped save was Heather Roebuck, who had just given birth to her new baby Hallie via c-section. It was the last baby to be born at the hospital.

“It was sheer terror,” Roebuck told ABC 10. “They just stitched me up really quickly.”

While Roebuck’s husband took their newborn daughter in his car, Roebuck was rushed to an ambulance. But after driving a half mile, the ambulance caught on fire.

“I realized, ‘I’m not going to make it,’” Roebuck said. “I told [my husband] on the phone, ‘I’m really sorry’—that I just loved him, and that [I] wasn’t going to be there with the kids.”

That’s when Russell appeared and helped pull her out of the ambulance. “He grabbed my backboard, dragged me out on to the street,” she said. “Everything was pitch black.”

She said after the ordeal, she’s just grateful to be alive.

“They saved our family, and if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here,” Roebuck said to CBS 13 about the people who helped her, including Russell and the nurses.

They later found out the home belonged to Desiree Borden and her family.

“They said, ‘Your home was a safe haven for us. Your home saved our lives,’” Borden told CBS.

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