TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – “It started on Wednesday morning when I was driving to work. I noticed things were weird with the thick smoke and all the ash raining everywhere,” he said. “Over the course of the day, things only seemed to get worse.”
This is how Staff Sgt. Christopher Babcock, 60th Medical Operations Squadron emergency room paramedic, remembers Aug. 19, the day Travis AFB evacuated all non-mission essential Airmen, their families and the largest medical facility in the U.S. Air Force.
At about 6 p.m. that day, Col. Corey Simmons, 60th Air Mobility Wing commander, gave the order to evacuate Travis AFB due to an approaching wildfire.
“I drove patients from David Grant (USAF) Medical Center to local hospitals,” Babcock said.
Over the course of several hours, Babcock and his team of nine Airmen transported 20 patients to medical facilities in Fairfield and Vacaville, California.
“We were initially going to shelter in place during the fire because DGMC is fire-secure and has the capability to sustain itself for 96 hours,” said Col. Gwendolyn Foster, 60th Medical Group commander. “But, as the fires got closer, it became apparent that if we didn’t leave, we would be trapped until the fires went down. We weren’t sure how long that would take with how big this fire was.
“We had to make a plan quickly and evacuated the entire hospital,” she said. “We were able to perform this herculean feat in less than eight hours.”
Patients evacuated to hospitals in Sacramento, Walnut Creek, Vallejo and San Francisco.
Foster said DGMC staff had to overcome numerous obstacles to move the patients to safety.
“There was a mother who just underwent surgery,” Babcock said. “There was also a newborn whom we didn’t want to expose to the smoke, so we had to be very careful moving them to other hospitals.”
Getting these patients out of harm’s way filled Babcock with a sense of purpose.
“I’m incredibly proud to have been able to help those who were counting on me,” he said. “My team and I were responsible for getting patients to safety and couldn’t be happier. This was very much a team effort, and everyone involved was eager to do their part.”
As he reflected on the evacuation, Babcock said training and teamwork are the reasons why the evacuation was successful.
“I’m a strong believer in training like it’s the real deal, which builds the muscle memory for when it comes to potential mass-casualty situations,” Foster said. “In this instance, we knew we had to get our patients out of harm’s way, and that’s what kicked in. We didn’t train specifically for an evacuation, but by taking our training seriously, it mentally prepared us all for what needed to be done. That is what helped us pull this off successfully.”
“Throughout my 18 years of service, this was my first evacuation I had to lead, and knowing we had many people relying on us, I knew we had to provide the best care we could,” Foster said. “We are here to support the warfighter, our families and our community.