Tahoe native, FDNY firefighter heads to Nepal to aid earthquake survivors
Special to the Sun
Would you like to help the NYC Medics respond to disasters around the world? Visit nycmedics.org to learn more.
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — While many of us watched in horror and wondered what we could do when we heard of the devastation of the recent earthquake in Nepal, Jake Dutton joined a group of medical professionals and flew to the center of destruction.
Dutton, a Tahoe City native and current New York City firefighter, left for Nepal on Saturday with the NYC Medics, an all-volunteer organization that deploys medical professionals to disasters around the world.
Dutton says a key difference between NYC Medics and other organizations working in disaster areas is his group goes right to the source of the problem.
“Often times local infrastructures are destroyed, making it extremely difficult for those living in remote communities to receive medical care,” he said via email before boarding the first plane on his journey to Nepal. “We will be attempting to access the many remote villages of the Gorkha region by any means necessary.”
Once they get there, the NYC Medics will set up a self-sustainable mobile medical team — sort of like a M.A.S.H. unit — in order to quickly help difficult-to-reach locations.
The 7.8-magnitude earthquake, also known as the Gorkha quake, struck April 25 in the village of Barpak, Nepal. More than 7,300 were reportedly killed in its aftermath, with as many as twice that injured.
The American Red Cross is committing $1,000,000 and mobilizing disaster specialists to help provide emergency humanitarian assistance. Visit redcross.org to learn more.
A HISTORY OF HELPING
This is Dutton’s third deployment with the NYC Medics. He went to help at Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, and then journeyed to the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu less than two months ago to help after the ravishes of Cyclone Pam.
“In the Philippines, we spent our days being flown by the United States Navy to remote Islands off the shore of Guiuan to provide assessments and medical care,” Dutton said. “In Vanuatu, there were only a handful of helicopters in the country requiring us to sail 10 hours to the Shepherd Islands, then hike to the remote villages to provide assessments and medical care.
“Many, if not all, of these communities would have otherwise been unserved.”
Even after those experiences Dutton states that this trip to Nepal might be his most challenging experience in his emergency career.
“The main international airport in Kathmandu was badly damaged, limiting the amount of flights in and out of the country,” he said. “Continued aftershocks and landslides have made roads and paths impassable. There are many communities that have yet to be heard from, and that are believed to be entirely destroyed.”
Dutton continued: “What was once the infrastructure of Nepal has been completely decimated, and the death count and injury count are still continuing to climb by the hour. Entire communities are being forced to live outside in the streets. Nearly all of the food sources were destroyed leaving many hungry and malnourished.
“We will do our best to save the people of Nepal.”
Dutton, 29, was born at Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee and grew up in Tahoe City and Olympic Valley.
Part of a renowned Squaw Valley skiing family, he began skiing as soon as he could walk. He spent his days at Mighty Mites and Camp Skylandia, or exploring hiking, biking and swimming in the Tahoe woods.
His brother, Timy Dutton, was a pro skier and adventurer who died a year ago in a skydiving accident. Jake Dutton has a half-sister, Madeline.
In high school, he developed an interest in the fire service, one summer helping out at the North Tahoe Fire District Station 51 in Tahoe City.
He also interned for the Meeks Bay Fire Department under former Chief John Pang.
“I was immediately hooked and knew that I wanted to spend my life working in the fire and emergency services,” said Dutton.
After graduating from North Tahoe High School in 2003, he went to the Butte Fire Academy in Oroville, Calif., and then received a part-time job at North Tahoe Fire, while also working for California Department of Forestry fighting forest fires.
But then, “I did a little bit of traveling and soon noticed myself growing out of Tahoe,” Dutton said. “On a whim, I left my jobs and moved to New York City. I started in paramedic school in September of 2005 at Saint Vincent’s Hospital, and shortly after started working as a paramedic for the New York City Fire Department. Two years later I was promoted to firefighter.”
He said he likes the variety and excitement of the job in New York City.
“In a single day, you can go from doing CPR on an elderly person to running into a burning building then back to delivering a baby,” Dutton said. “The gratitude and job satisfaction you get from a day’s work is irreplaceable.
“Most of all, I do this job because I love it. It is my passion and almost more like a hobby than a job.”
And to round out a theme of helping others, Dutton’s wife, Stephanie, is studying veterinary medicine in New York. Soon, the Dutton family will have the opportunity to rescue both humans and animals.
Tim Hauserman, a nearly lifelong resident of Tahoe City, is a freelance author and cross-country ski instructor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.