Para­medic de­scribes ‘call of her ca­reer’ bat­tling B.C. wild­fires

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY CAPE BRE­TON POST STAFF

Jen­nifer Jesty says it was the call of her ca­reer.

The North Sydney ad­vanced­care para­medic was 10 days into a three-week stint help­ing bat­tle the dev­as­tat­ing wild­fires in Bri­tish Columbia when her dis­patcher told her there was an ur­gent sit­u­a­tion: a fe­male fire­fighter was down with a bro­ken an­kle deep in the woods and couldn’t be ex­tri­cated. Jesty would have to drive into the heart of the fire and tend to the pa­tient un­til a he­li­copter could ar­rive.

“It was lit­er­ally like the scene from a movie. It was hard to be­lieve that this was re­ally hap­pen­ing to me,” Jesty, 42, re­called Wed­nes­day while on call in Miocene, B.C., an evac­u­ated com­mu­nity just out­side Wil­liams Lake.

“There’s a he­li­copter fly­ing over­head. There were lit­er­ally trees torch­ing on ei­ther side of me, so there was open flame. It was the call of my ca­reer.”

By the time Jesty and her driver ar­rived, fire­fight­ers had dragged the vic­tim, who was in con­sid­er­able pain, out of the woods in a makeshift stretcher they’d fash­ioned to­gether by run­ning the sleeves of their shirts through branches. They’d even braced her an­kle with a chain­saw guard.

“When I got there it was kind of sur­real. There’s a he­li­copter fly­ing above and I’m down on my hands and knees, do­ing my as­sess­ment, start­ing my IV. I’m giv­ing mor­phine to make the pa­tient more com­fort­able for ex­tri­ca­tion. And it hap­pened so fast — the he­li­copter is land­ing for me to put her in, and they flew her and I out to the hospi­tal.”

For­tu­nately, most days were far less ex­cit­ing, said Jesty, who re­turns to Cape Bre­ton this week. She said the fire­fight­ers are skilled at what they do and used to the en­vi­ron­ment, so the in­juries are what she’d an­tic­i­pated.

“I would have ex­pected in­hala­tion prob­lems, or burns, or any­thing of that na­ture, but we’re get­ting dust in the eyes, or a lit­tle cut on the hand, with the an­kle be­ing the only thing we’ve had of any sort of ur­gent na­ture.”

Al­though she de­scribes the de­struc­tion caused by the wild­fires

as “enough to make you cry,” Jesty said the sense of com­mu­nity in the “tent city” set up at the Wil­liams Lake air­port has made the ex­pe­ri­ence more re­ward­ing.

“There’s some­thing amaz­ing about it. There are peo­ple lit­er­ally from all over the world. We have fire­fight­ers from Aus­tralia, from New Zealand, from Mex­ico, from all over Canada. I was for­tu­nate enough to run into peo­ple from Nova Sco­tia, and that was great,” she said. “So af­ter we’re done for the day, we go back to camp and it’s mag­nif­i­cent. There’s groups of peo­ple do­ing yoga, there’s peo­ple play­ing hacky sack, there’s some peo­ple play­ing vol­ley­ball. Some­body

usu­ally puts some sort of mu­sic on. It’s amaz­ing. I’ve made new friends from all over the world.”

Jesty has also made many four-legged friends while in B.C. Be­cause the area was evac­u­ated so quickly, many farm­ers left the barn doors and fences open so their live­stock could es­cape if the fire broke through.

Jesty, who owns horses, said she’s been stop­ping to share wa­ter, food and some hu­man in­ter­ac­tion to all of the an­i­mals she en­coun­ters.

“When I came here, I turned up to the road and there’s just horses run­ning free,” she said.

“They’re walk­ing down the high­way, they’re on the sides of the road. I’ve seen every­thing from horses, to goats, to lla­mas, cats and dogs, and my heart went out them.”

Jesty was ac­tu­ally tak­ing care of her horses when a med­i­cal com­pany she’d worked for as a para­medic in the Al­berta oil­fields phoned to ask if she’d be in­ter­ested in go­ing to B.C. to help with the wild­fires.

“I just jumped at it and said ‘Oh my god yes.’ I fin­ished up my chores and booked my flight and was on the plane the next day,” she said, not­ing that it’s been one of the most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences of her life.

“I was a para­medic in Pitts­burgh so there were some dicey calls down there with shoot­ings

and stab­bings and every­thing else that hap­pens in a big city, but this was in­tense. Al­though the level of acu­ity wasn’t that bad — I’ve dealt with much sicker pa­tients in a much more crit­i­cal state — it was just the en­vi­ron­ment around me with the smoke and the fire­fight­ers and the flames on ei­ther side and the he­li­copter in the back­ground, it was an amaz­ing call for me and it is some­thing that I’ll never for­get for the rest of my life.”

Jesty

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO/JEN­NIFER JESTY

Jen­nifer Jesty as­sesses a fe­male fire­fighter who broke her an­kle while bat­tling a wild­fire out­side Wil­liams Lake, B.C. Jesty, an ad­vanced-care para­medic, says it was the “call of my ca­reer.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO/JEN­NIFER JESTY

Jen­nifer Jesty talks to a horse out­side Wil­liams Lake, B.C. Jesty, an ad­vanced-care para­medic, spent three weeks help­ing with the fight against wild­fires in B.C.

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