OROVILLE -- Emergency medical technician Robbie Berge is used to saving people, but on Saturday night, the roles were reversed when he needed to be rescued after his race kart caught on fire.
Berge, 38, was competing in an Outlaw Kart race at Cycleland Speedway on Highway 99 west of Oroville, at about 11 p.m. Saturday, when fuel began to spill from his kart.
He noticed a cold, wet feeling on his hands, but was unsure what it was. After a couple more caution laps, he felt his right pant leg was soaked.
He patted his pants and placed his hand inside his helmet so he could smell it — it was fuel.
Berge attempted to stop, but he was unable to shut off his kart's motor, he said during a phone interview.
As the kart was running, he reached out and "did what most people would do," he said. He pulled the spark plug wires off, which caused the kart to ignite.
It took about two seconds of sheer terror, until he reacted, he said.
He tried removing the steering wheel to get out, but it wouldn't come off, he said. He undid his belt and took off his harness.
"I started panicking a bit and I grabbed for the steering wheel," he said. "... I think I went into shock because I blacked out."
He was trapped in the burning kart for 15 to 30 seconds. This year, Berge didn't wear a fire suit.
Berge has been racing since he was 25, and he said the biggest concern in Outlaw Kart racing is losing. This is one of the safest types of racing and what happened was a freak accident, he added.
When he opened his eyes, he was laying on the track as paramedics were cutting off his clothes.
Chad Black, who was working as a medic at the race, was one of the people to treat Berge. He's also a close friend and co-worker; both work for Butte County EMS in Chico.
Seeing familiar faces made Berge feel safe, he said.
Berge's 64-year-old father was also nearby, so he yelled out to him to say he was OK.
Having his dad and 10-year-old son, Cayl Berge, is a tradition, he said. However, Cayl didn't make it this time, "thank God," he added.
Berge, who was transferred by LifeFlight helicopter from Enloe Medical Center to the UC Davis Regional Burn Center in Sacramento at about midnight Saturday, underwent surgery Thursday.
He needs skin and muscle graphs to heal the third-degree burns he suffered on his right leg and hand, and abdomen. Berge will likely stay at the hospital until Wednesday.
Soon after the accident, Black began fundraising efforts to help Berge with medical expenses.
Black established an account at Rabobank and a fundraising drive on Queststart, he said. As of Thursday, they have raised more than $3,200 — the goal is $10,000.
There are also plans to organize a fundraising event, but that's being worked out, Black said.
Berge found out about Black's efforts as he was browsing Facebook while at UC Davis, Berge said.
"I read it and I told him — with a few cuss words — you made me cry," he said.
It was amazing for him to do that, Berge said. The friendship Black has shown him is "astronomical."
The support he's received from family, the racing community, co-workers and old friends has also been amazing, he said.
Berge can't wait to get out of the hospital and back to being with his three kids and work, he said. Getting back to racing will also be on the agenda once he's healed.
"It's in my blood," he said. "Once you're a racer, you're a racer."
Anyone interested in donating can go to www.queststart.com/funds/104. Donations can be made at any Rabobank branch under the name Robbie Berge
Copyrighted article reprinted with permission.