Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.See all posts »
Another Man and a Boy to Admire
I've recently posted twice about the fires in San Diego. As do many natural disasters, they extracted a human toll. I received the following message from my friend Marty Alexander early this week and attempted to put up a post at his request. I thought that the information went out to you on Wednesday, but Google's Blogger service lost everything in the posting process. I apologize to my readers, because I wasn't made aware of this problem until the end of the week. Here is the essence of the lost post, the information for which originated with Richard Halsey of The California Chaparral Institute. I very much hope you will take time to read this now:
"Fifteen year-old Richard Varshock was critically burned during the Harris fire in San Diego County on October 21. He and his father, Tom, were at their home when the fire hit. A California Department of Forestry engine company was on scene when a burnover occurred. Richard’s father died in the flames. Several CDF firefighters were seriously injured. Richard remains in serious condition at the UCSD burn unit in San Diego. His mom, Diane, is by his side everyday.
There are times when it is important to come together as a community to help each other out. This is one of them. The Varshock family did not have fire insurance on their home, which was destroyed by the flames, and their health insurance will not cover much of the costs for Richard’s recovery.
Please consider donating some love. You can do so in a number of ways as described below. I have included two news stories about the incident in addition to attaching a photo of Richard.
This video, created by Richard's friends, will give you some insight into the kind of person Richard is.
Per Mr. Halsey, tax-deductible donations can be made to:
Varshock Family Foundation
PO Box 3484
San Diego, CA 92163
Tax ID No. 26-1307576
Schoolmates help out badly burned boy, 15
By Tony Manolatos
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
November 2, 2007
SAN DIEGO – Tributes and support continue to pour in for the family who lost their home and a loved one to last week's wildfires.
Thomas Varshock and his son, Richard, 15, were overrun by flames in the early hours of the Harris fire while trying to save their Potrero home.
The father died and the son is recovering from lung damage and burns to over more than half of his body. He remains in critical condition at UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest.
Friends and family plan to honor Thomas Varshock, a geological engineer, at a private memorial service today. He was 52, and was one of seven people who lost their lives to the fires, which burned 369,000 acres and destroyed nearly 1,700 homes across San Diego County.
Dr. Raul Coimbra, who oversees trauma, burn and surgical critical care at UCSD, said last week that he expected Richard Varshock and the other burn victims to survive.
“He's doing well,” Coimbra said. “He's a big, strong boy.”
Yesterday, Richard's aunt, Julie Varshock, said he was “improving at a rate greater than what the doctors anticipated.”
Julie Varshock said the family did not have homeowners insurance. The Valhalla High School wrestling team has rented and furnished an apartment near the hospital for Richard's mother, Dianne.
Richard is a sophomore at the high school and a varsity wrestler. A photo of him and two of his buddies is on the team Web site at valhalla-wrestling.cityslide.com/ page/page/177617.htm. A link on the site allows people to make donations.
One of Richard's friends created a video tribute and posted it on YouTube at youtube.com/watch?v= zNscvSBH3Ig.
The 2-minute video, set to a song by Snow Patrol, opens with a grainy black-and-white photo of Richard. More pictures follow, including several that show a smiling Richard goofing around with friends. Others show the flames, and some carry messages.
“Richard is one of the nicest guys you can meet, so please pray for him,” viewers are told.
Burned firefighter anticipated dying
By Tony Manolatos
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
October 27, 2007
Andrew Pikop couldn't outrun the flames that were scorching his back. He heard the helicopter there to rescue him, but he couldn't see it through the blinding smoke and sand. He took cover, first in his fire safety tent and later behind a rock.
As he tried to shield himself, he thought about his family and friends.
“And I thought about how much this is going to hurt – burning to death,” Pikop said yesterday from his hospital bed. “I was absolutely sure I was gonna die.”
Pikop, who turns 24 next month, is one of four Cal Fire firefighters injured while trying to rescue a father and son who fought to save their Potrero home in the early hours of the Harris fire on Sunday morning.
In his first interview, Pikop picked at the white dressings that cover most of his body.
“I'm on a lot of meds, so the pain isn't that bad,” he said. “It hurts when I walk and when I shower. They have to scrape all the dead skin off my back.”
He shares a room in the burn unit at the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest with Capt. Raymond “Ray” Rapue, whose face and hands are badly burned.
“When it rains it pours,” Rapue said.
Rapue, 53, was in charge of Pikop and the two other firefighters, whose names have not been released. Both are in critical condition at UCSD.
Information about the firefight has been scarce. Cal Fire has a team of 15 investigating the incident, and everyone involved has been ordered not to discuss the details. But a picture of what happened is beginning to emerge.
Unit Chief Henri Brachais, the lead investigator, said the firefighters were trying to save Thomas and Richard Varshock, whose home is off state Route 94 and Emery Lane in a remote part of San Diego County near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Thomas Varshock died. His 15-year-old son, whose hospital bed is down the hall from Pikop's, has burns to more than 50 percent of his body. On Wednesday, he was covered with a white blanket. His face was bandaged and he was hooked to a ventilator.
Brachais said the fire crew was stopped at the Varshock home when “a burn-over occurred.”
“The fire went up the hill and flames went over the truck,” he said.
Like any other day
For Pikop, the day started like every other Sunday. The crew at the San Marcos station was mowing the lawn and trimming hedges.
Rapue, the captain, was normally based at Cal Fire's Rincon station, one of 18 in the county. He was covering the San Marcos station because the regular captain was off.
The four-member team heard about the fires on the radio, so they weren't surprised when they were dispatched to Potrero, 67 miles away.
The call came in shortly after 9:30 a.m., said Pikop, who started with Cal Fire less than five months ago.
Pikop grew up in the small town of Exeter near Fresno with his parents, Gary and Conselo, and two brothers. An adventure junkie who snowboards and roller blades, he worked as a volunteer firefighter for two years and as an EMS technician for a year.
When Pikop came home from a fire call, his parents sometimes smelled smoke on his clothes, but he always told them he was fine.
“He had a calm attitude,” his mother said. “I think that helped save his life.”
Still, his first call as a volunteer firefighter shook him – he was alone when he arrived at a car wreck that had killed a motorist.
His confidence grew as the calls increased. He sometimes shared his experiences with his 25-year-old brother, Joshua, a U.S. Coast Guardsman.
“I was just amazed at how he handled it all,” Joshua said yesterday. “But he's adventurous. He needs action.”
In May, Pikop finally got the job he'd wanted: a seasonal post with Cal Fire. His contract extended to sometime in November, depending on the severity of the wildfire season.
About two weeks ago Pikop called his brother and told him his first fire season was shaping up to be a bust.
“He thought he was going to get laid off,” Joshua said. “He said, 'There's nothing going on. It's been dead.' ”
Arriving in Potrero
Engine 3387 arrived in Potrero at about 11 a.m. It pulled up to the Varshock residence about an hour later.
What happened next isn't entirely clear, but at some point all four firefighters and the Varshocks took cover in the firetruck.
By then, the fire was raging and Santa Ana winds were knocking down power lines.
“At first I wanted to help my crew get out, but once the fire blew up it disoriented me,” Pikop said.
Somehow he became separated from the firetruck. He heard his colleagues yelling his name, but he was running from flames and couldn't find them.
“I ran through flames. I ran from flames. But the fire caught up to me,” he said.
He figured he was on his own. He assumed the rest of the crew was dead.
Other firefighters working in the Potrero area heard their colleagues radioing for help. They tried desperately to reach the engine, but they couldn't drive through the flames.
A helicopter pilot with the U.S. Forest Service was nearby, dropping water on the fire. The pilot heard the radio calls for help and located the engine from the air.
The pilot, whose name hasn't been released, landed and picked up the three firefighters and the Varshocks from the firetruck. He flew them to a Cal Fire station about a half mile away, then returned to look for Pikop.
About half an hour later, the pilot spotted Pikop and airlifted him to the station. An air ambulance flew everyone to UCSD, where they were admitted at 1:30 p.m.
A few hours later, Conselo and Gary Pikop were making the 6½-hour drive to San Diego. A hospital official was waiting for them in the lobby. It was just after midnight when they saw their son.
“We held his hand, we hugged him and we cried together,” Conselo Pikop said.
Andrew Pikop was listed in fair condition yesterday with first-degree burns to his back, arms and legs. He has second-degree burns on his nose and ears.
When some firefighters came over to his bed to pay their respects, he immediately asked for an update on the wildfires. He is eager to get back to work, he said.
photo of Richard Varshock
Tags: wildfire, fire, Richard Varshock, Andrew Pikop, wilderness medicine, outdoor medicine, healthline
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