MESCAL — When Cary Golden was stung by more than a thousand bees on Aug. 16, the 69-year old Mescal man says he would not have survived the attack had it not been for the quick action of Mescal-J6 Fire District emergency responders.
“They were there within two minutes from the time I called 911,” Golden said in an interview a couple of days after the attack. “I owe my life to how quickly they and the ambulance crew from Benson (Healthcare Innovations) responded. I had thousands of bee stings and my throat started to swell closed right away. I was having trouble breathing and I really thought I was going to die.”
Five members of the Mescal-J6 Fire District responded to Golden’s call that day: Captain Josh Olander, Firefighter and EMT Tapinana Lucio, Lt. Garrison Ratcliff, Grant Fuller, and Darren Markley.
“We were on our way to a training exercise when the call came through, and we immediately turned around and headed to Mr. Golden’s address,” Olander said. “As soon as we arrived, my crew got into protective gear, they located Mr. Golden, and quickly started scraping stingers from his back. He was not wearing a shirt when the attack happened, so he was completely covered with stingers.”
They loaded Golden onto a gurney and handed him over to HCI ambulance.
A medical helicopter had already been dispatched and was enroute to a helipad on the J6 side of the fire district. Golden was placed in the helicopter and flown to University Medical Center in Tucson where he was hospitalized.
“The Mescal-J6 firefighters and EMTs are amazing,” said Golden, 69. “I owe my life to all the people who helped me. It was an incredible team effort.”
Mescal-J6 is an all-volunteer fire district with a core group of volunteer firefighters that have been with the district for years, along with a few newcomers, said Fire Chief John Moran.
“Our newcomers are usually in their twenties, with experience levels that range from a fire science degree to no experience at all,” the chief said. “They typically are looking for experience or training that will help them gain an edge when it comes to testing with career fire departments.”
Moran said that while he would like to keep new volunteers on the roster for a few years, he typically loses a few of them to career fire departments with salaries and benefits.
“We have a great group of volunteers,” he said. “The variety of incidents that rural fire departments respond to, combined with a limited number of volunteer personnel, provides opportunities for hands-on training and real-world experiences that will not be found in most metro fire departments.”
In a service area that consists of 11 miles of highway and approximately 22 miles of railroad, emergency calls include vehicle fires, motor vehicle collisions, patient extrications, roadside brush fires, wildland fires, and the occasional railroad engine fire, Moran said. Snakebites, lost hikers and aircraft crashes are other emergencies the firefighters have responded to.
“On top of those calls, we receive a variety of EMS (emergency medical services) calls. Because of our distance from a trauma center, we’ll end up flying many patients to Tucson, as was the case with Mr. Golden,” Moran said.
Like most rural, volunteer fire departments across the country, Moran said that Mescal-J6 is always short of volunteers.
“So, we’re often responding to, or requesting mutual aid help from neighboring fire departments,” Moan said.
It equates to more on-the-job training and hands-on experience.
“It doesn’t matter what day or time it is, or where the incident occurs,” Moran said. “If we receive an alarm, everyone that is able, will respond. So, an inexperienced firefighter can spend a week here and obtain more on-the-job training than a career firefighter in that same timeframe.”
Mescal-J6 has two people staffed 12 hours a day, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for dedicated coverage, along with volunteers on standby, Captain Olander said.
“We have not missed a call in eight years,” he added. “We have a lot of good people making it happen.”
The district has 10 active volunteers, of which five are EMTs.
When he learned that Golden survived the bee attack, Olander said it’s not often that they hear about outcomes.
“For us, we do our job and move on to the next call,” he said. “Firefighter safety is our first mission. We’re cautious, but quick, so this is a lot of thinking on your fee,” he said.
Olander, who has volunteered with the fire district for nearly eight years, summed up his experiences with: “I do this because I like helping others and making a difference for the community. Being a volunteer firefighter is definitely rewarding volunteer work.”