Fire Alert

Teamwork averts tragedy on Two Bulls Fire line

Crew carries firefighter, bee sting victim to emergency evacuation

Frightening sting for firefighter

REDMOND, Ore. - This is Ben Van Alstine's first season as a firefighter.  The Two Bulls Fire was his first battle.

"The first day I was out there, I loved it more than anything," Van Alstine recalled Friday. 

But on Tuesday, the fourth day of the nearly 7,000-acre blaze, things went horribly wrong for the father of two.

Van Alstine is a firefighter for PatRick Environmental, a Redmond company that sends fire resources such as crews, engines and equipment out on many different federal and state-managed blazes.

Van Alstine was part of a 20-man crew that was putting out smaller fires, or "mopping up," as Two Bulls began to die down.

"I came upon a tree, and announced to my crew that I found a hot spot, and at that time everybody stopped, and I had a shovel on me," he said.

As the rookie firefighter started digging to extinguish a hot spot near a tree, he felt something crawl up his pant leg.

"I just kind of swatted at it," he recalled. "And I looked down after I swatted at it, and a bee flew out of my pant leg."

The problem? Van Alstine is allergic to bees.

And while he had several epinephrine auto-injectors to reduce immediate swelling, the ‘EpiPen' broke off in his leg.

What followed was a race against time.

"About 45 seconds after I gave myself that first dose, I started having labored breathing, and I could feel my tongue and throat swelling up," he said.

And with time running out, his crew started running.

"It wasn't a walk -- these guys ran me out of this ravine," said Van Alstine. 

Nine men on the crew worked to carry Van Alstine from the ravine to a point from which rescue personnel could access the firefighter.

"The guys that were on my shoulders were running backwards, and the guys at my legs were running forwards," he said.

 "When one guy got tired, he'd say, ‘I need help' -- and immediately there was another guy there," Van Alstine said.

The men carried the 6-foot-5, 215-pound fireman up an eighth of a mile of rocky terrain.  In two minutes, they reached a vehicle that could carry Van Alstine to an emergency helicopter.

"Another man on the line crew was also allergic to bees and administered (an EpiPen)," he said.  "That's what saved my life."

Van Alstine was taken by helicopter to St. Charles Bend..  He was released that evening.

He's now standing by at the PatRick Environmental headquarters in Redmond.  Ready to fight the next fire.

"I may be called out tonight, I may be called out tomorrow," he said. "And I'm going to be the first one out there on that fire."

But with Father's Day this weekend, he still has enjoyed the time to reflect on how teamwork prevented tragedy.

"My boys have their dad today because of the instant response of my crew, my crew boss, my squad boss, and all my fellow firefighters that got me out of there," Van Alstine said.

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