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Lauderhill Paramedic Cuts San Diego Vacation Short to Help Fire Victims

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla.-- He could see the smoke in the distance, the ashes falling around him in the street and see the pain of thousands of California residents on the local television channels as wildfires threatened their homes.

So Lauderhill Fire-Rescue Lt. Jeff Levy took time out of his San Diego vacation to pull an 11-hour shift working triage at the San Diego Chargers stadium Wednesday for fire victims.

He estimates he helped 100 patients of all ages suffering from such ailments as respiratory problems, itchy and watery eyes from the smoke, broken feet, twisted ankles and burns. He helped decide their priority of treatment and which doctors should see them. There was a sense of pride and satisfaction I was able to help, said Levy, 30, who lives in Pembroke Pines. I don t do the job as firefighter/paramedic for the money. I do it because I want to help people.

Said Tim Hautamaki, the department s assistant fire chief Friday: It doesn t surprise me he would try to do something. He s very, very professional. And he takes his job very seriously.

Levy s West Coast vacation began Sunday. He was tagging along with his wife who was there to attend a work conference. He had planned to go to the zoo and a museum or two.

But the sight of fire on the mountains miles away bothered him. He decided to do something.

I drove down to the QUALCOMM Stadium on Tuesday and sat in line for an hour. I said, Listen, I m a paramedic from Florida and I want to volunteer. They said they were full of medical personnel and didn t need any help and come back tomorrow, Levy said.

Undaunted, he drove to a high school that was being used as an evacuation site for nursing home residents. Again, they told him to return another day.

He returned to the football stadium at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, where he was introduced to LaVerne Minns, a nurse, who had been evacuated from her own home and was running triage. She put him to work as her assistant.

He was such a good right-hand man to me it was amazing, Minns said Friday, speaking by telephone from the Golden Care Academy in San Diego, where she teaches nursing students. I didn t have to double-check what he did. He got his direction and he was off and running. He kept it calm and we were able to process people quickly and efficiently. I only had EMT students with me and I needed somebody who would say, This person needs to go here, this person is next and he kept it going.

Levy will return home from vacation Monday.

I wish I could stay longer and do it longer, he said. To help out people in need, that s my career and why I got into what I m doing.

Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at lhuriash@sun-sentinel.com or 954-572-2008.

How you can help

Agencies collecting money for fire victims include United Way (in Palm Beach County, see www.unitedwaypbc.org); the Jewish Federation of Broward County (checks can be written to the Jewish Federation c/o Western Wildfire Disaster Relief Fund), 5890 S. Pine Island Road, Davie, FL 33328; and Greater Miami Jewish Federation (checks can be written to the Jewish Federation c/o California Fire Victims Relief), 4200 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, FL 33137.

The American Red Cross also has sent volunteers to help fire victims.

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