On November 8, 2018, Paradise, CA suffered the worst forest fire in California history. Eighty-six individuals tragically lost their lives and over 15,000 structures burned. In total, almost 50,000 people were displaced. The Paradise Adventist Church was destroyed and the Adventist Health Feather River hospital sustained heavy damage. A few months later, the church requested the support of the Loma Linda University International Behavioral Health Trauma Team (LLUIBHTT). Under the leadership of Dr. Beverly Buckles, a total of 10 team members responded, including faculty, graduates, and students. During a 3-day visit, the team worked with nearly 60 families, couples, and individuals--both from the church and the community--teaching community resiliency skills. The team was also able to teach basic resiliency skills to all of the students from Paradise Adventist Academy who had been displaced by the fire. The skills taught are used to help individuals who have experienced trauma regulate their own nervous systems, which helps support healing. The team supported community members' own natural resilience as a way to reduce complications that can occur after traumatic experiences.
Participant and Clinical Psychology PsyD student Ann White recounts the trip:
Joining the Loma Linda University International Behavioral Health Trauma Team for the trip to Paradise, CA was the highlight of my experience as a Loma Linda University student. It was my interest in trauma that motivated me to apply to LLU's PsyD program--and specifically, my interest in the university's service focus as expressed through their trauma team. So when I was invited to join the team for this trip, I was absolutely ecstatic.
When we arrived in the city of Paradise, it looked like something from a movie set. The destruction from the fires was haunting. Twisted, charred steel beams that would otherwise seem to be indestructible, littered the city. And--most powerful--the occasional home, entirely untouched, sitting next to a neighbor's home that had burned so completely that only a brick chimney remained.
Working with the individuals affected by this fire was an even more powerful experience than seeing the devastation of the fires. Here were small children, the elderly, community leaders--reaching out their hands for tools and healing, willing to do the work of their own personal recovery journeys. Getting to facilitate some of that healing with the trauma team was an experience that served to reinforce the love I have for this field, and the admiration I have for human resilience. I left each day exhausted beyond measure, but with a heart brimming with gratitude for my fellow humans and the beauty of their fight to recover. It reminded me why I love working in the field of trauma--because although the experiences were horrific, the post-traumatic growth was beautiful to behold.