This Army Medic Pulled a Bug Out of a Firefighter’s Head
National Guard provides medical support in wildfire fight
by KEVIN KNODELL
“The other night, we pulled a moth out of some guy’s ear — that was pretty exciting,” Sgt. Annie Parrish says matter of factly.
Parrish is a medic with the Washington Army National Guard. She’s one of more than a thousand soldiers supporting the fight against wildfires that are scorching wilderness and rural communities in the western states.
The moth came out of a firefighter’s ear after he returned from battling a blaze in Washington’s Okanogan county. Parrish recounts that the man was agitated, shouting from outside the aid tent that he had a bug in his head.
“This thing was so far in his ear that we couldn’t even see it.” Parrish recalls with a laugh. “I had to pull out my special tools and look in his ear and that’s when we saw it. This thing was in there.”
Parrish and other medical personnel calmed the firefighter, while carefully extricating the insect. “It was very entertaining for us, and he had a good chuckle once the bug was out of his ear.”
Parrish and fellow army medic Spc. Tri Nguyen work out of a tent with several civilian medics at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds. It’s become a command center for the men and women fighting several fires nearby, including the massive Okanogan Complex Fire.
Hundreds of tents housing firefighters from all corners of the state dot the fairground. Pickup trucks and fire engines come in and out as firefighters covered in ash and soot return from the inferno, while those who’ve rested return to the field. “We are functioning essentially as a battalion aid station,” Parrish explains.
“Primarily our biggest customers are [in need of] foot care,” Parrish says. “Just like the infantry, these people are working on their feet, and preserving their feet is the best way to support the firefighting force.”
Though foot care might seem mundane, foot problems if left untreated can easily take firefighters — or soldiers — out of the fight. “Even if it’s ‘booboo’ medicine, it’s still an integral part of the care that we provide,” Parrish says.
Though the moth was a memorable case, it ultimately caused no major problems for its unwilling host. But there have been some serious insect-inflicted problems. “We’ve also had a ton of bee stings, which has been problematic and worrisome for us,” she says. “We’ve had to send a few people to the hospital for bee stings.”
The medics have also treated several evacuees. “We’ve had some civilians come in, mostly cuts and bruises and stuff like that,” she says. “Mostly they’re hurting themselves doing evacuation activities.”
One of the worst was a teenager who got injured as the blaze enveloped his family’s land. “His house was burning and they were trying to save their animals,” she explains. “He was chasing his horse and ran into a tree and had some tree bits in his head. He came into us the next morning looking for care.”
Parrish has gotten plenty of experience over the years, having deployed to Iraq as well as to the Gulf Coast for Hurricane Katrina relief.
“It’s funny because, occasionally, I find myself back inside the wire … I was there in 2004 and 2005 and sometimes I hear noises that sound a lot like what it was like to be in Iraq,” she tells us. “Except I don’t have to worry about people shooting at me, which is nice.”
“My focus is not combat, it’s preserving the fighting force, and my role in Iraq was to do that for civilians, local nationals, the military, whoever,” she says. “I’m still doing that here — preserving the fighting force and helping civilians when they need it.”