Rally rolls through Orange County fire stations to help burn survivors

By Shawn Price and Greg Hardesty

A smiling Bill Jensen told the guys around the picnic table “lunch is on me.” Everybody laughed, because everybody got the joke.

Jensen was one of the reasons Anaheim Fire & Rescue Station 3 recently was packed with dozens of current and former firefighters from the station and around Southern California, their friends, UC Irvine Medical Center staff and burn survivors, including Jensen.

The taco-themed lunch on May 9 was a quick stop on a five-day fundraising rally marking the 20th anniversary of Firefighters Quest for Burn Survivors.

The O.C. caravan went from Brea to Fullerton, then Orange and Garden Grove before stopping by Station 3 in Anaheim for lunch and for Quest to receive a check for $1,001 from the Anaheim Firefighters Association Local 2899.

After pulling out of the Anaheim station, the caravan rolled on to Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley and Costa Mesa before finishing the day at John Wayne Airport to visit with members of the Orange County Fire Authority.

Pebbles grabs some of the attention as Firefighters Quest for Burn Survivors makes a stop at Anaheim Fire Station No. 3 last week.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

More than 1,000 miles of traveling through several counties is expected to raise between $100,000 and $125,000 that will go directly to burn centers. Each fire department visited raised money to give to Quest.

“We realize how valuable burn centers are and we want to support them in any way we can,” AFA Local 2899 Vice President James Ramirez said. “One of the worst things we see as firefighters are burns.”

Jensen was a firefighter for 28 years before he and five other members of his crew worked their way up a hillside during the Calabasas/Malibu fire on Oct. 26, 1996.

“The fire turned on us,” Jensen said. “No time to put up the shelter.”

The blaze charred 14,000 acres, injured 16 people and destroyed 10 homes.

Jensen suffered burns over 73 percent of his body and endured a harrowing but remarkable recovery that has since taken him through 3,600 skin grafts. Jensen received top care through his insurance and pointed to great support he received from his family and fellow firefighters.

Firefighters from various agencies as well as supporters of Firefighters Quest for Burn Survivors are treated to a lunch prepared by firefighters at Anaheim Fire Station No. 3.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Others aren’t so lucky.

Quest was founded while Jensen and other crew members spent months in the hospital recovering. Tom Propst and three coworkers quickly discovered that not all burn patients have a support network. The four firefighters spearheaded the effort to ensure that all burn victims, as well as the facilities that treat them, could have access to a support network designed to assist an often forgotten population: the burn survivor.

Propst said 100 percent of the money raised goes to help survivors and their families. Quest buys groceries, provides hotel rooms near hospitals, transportation and medical supplies to make recovery easier.

“If they need their rent paid for a few months, we’ll do that,” Propst said.

Sponsors include Galpin Ford and Warner, Disney and Fox studios, and fundraising events over the years have included ski, golf and fishing tournaments.

Fire engines and trucks from various agencies, including Garden Grove Fire, arrive at Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s station No. 3 for a fundraising program for burn victims.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Quest works with 10 burn centers in California and more than 100 law enforcement, fire service and corporate agencies, said Propst, who served as a firefighter with the Glendale Fire Department for 34 years. He retired as a battalion chief in June 2016.

Often, burn survivors are children, according to UC Irvine Medical Center’s Burn Clinic Erica Magnuson. About 30 percent are 3 years old or younger, creating a ripple effect through the family.

“When you look at surviving a burn, you’re looking [at] a lot of long-term issues,” Magnuson said.

Such issues are just as complicated as the medical treatment that saves lives.

“It’s just another resource we wouldn’t otherwise have,” said Julie Stefan, clinic social worker. “I know that Quest will help.”