California Fire & Rescue Mutual Aid Team Makes Two Incredible Saves in Back to Back Wildfire Seasons


Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Members of the California Fire and Rescue Mutual Aid System, coordinated through the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), assigned to the Dixie Fire had just finished dinner after a shift when they switched gears and prevented an entirely different tragedy.

Members of a Rapid Extrication Module Support (REMS) team from the Pasadena Fire and San Gabriel Fire Departments, arrived at their hotel when they heard the screams of a terrified mother whose 10-year old son had just been discovered at the bottom of the hotel swimming pool. The firefighters acted quickly, grabbing their paramedic and EMT gear and hopping the fence, to begin life-saving measures.

Firefighters perform CPR on a young boy

Members of a Cal OES REMS team attend to a young boy pulled from the swimming pool

“We were right there, opening up the gear and handing out the equipment that was needed for the call,” said Captain Robert Sepulveda, head of that REMS team with the Pasadena Fire Department, whose mission at the fire is to rescue firefighters who become trapped, lost, injured, or otherwise incapacitated in hostile terrain requiring physical rescue and/or medical treatment. “We ended up working with the paramedics that were there and we were able to get a pulse back and get him on a gurney and transported.”

“The collaboration of different firefighters from different agencies, all working together on one call is awesome and just shows how good our mutual aid system is in the state of California,” Captain Sepulveda added.

Wildland firefighting is an inherently dangerous profession. That’s why it’s important to have a REMS team providing wildland firefighters a safe, effective and efficient method of egress off the fire line in the event of injury or illness during firefighting operations.

This isn’t the first time this particular REMS team has saved a life under especially critical circumstances. The very same REMS team from Pasadena and San Gabriel Fire Departments had been assigned to the North Complex Fire in September 2020. They carefully evaluated the terrain in the area and determined which spots would be especially dangerous to firefighters if they fell, became burned or otherwise injured, of experienced a medical emergency.  They prepared the area to be able to access the steep landscape of Feather River Canyon, including adding high angle rope rescue systems and paramedic equipment.

Coincidentally after this prep work, they were on duty when a volunteer firefighter suffered a severe allergic reaction and went into full respiratory arrest, 800 feet down in the bottom of rugged Feather River Canyon.

Sure enough, when the firefighter was felled by anaphylactic shock and while nearby firefighters began CPR on him, the REMS team was prepared to quickly descend the canyon via that same rope system with a paramedic equipment pack and medications to reverse the anaphylaxis and reestablish his breathing and heartbeat.

“The only reason why we were able to save that firefighter’s life is because we did recon and came up with a rope rescue plan in case anything would have happened in that area due to the steep terrain and that’s how we were successful,” said Captain Sepulveda.

“We had a rope system laid out ready to go so when it happened, we were able to get our members down there and push the epinephrine into him.”

firefighters load injured firefighter into rescue litter basket

Paramedics load injured firefighter into rescue litter bask

After the REMS team stabilized the firefighter and secured him in a rescue litter basket, they carried him to an area where a helicopter could perform a hoist rescue operation to rapidly remove him from the canyon bottom and fly him to a hospital for further treatment and recovery.

While the development of REMS is ongoing within the California Fire and Rescue Mutual Aid System, REMS teams have already proven their worth, making important saves involving firefighters and the local community.