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Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

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Pendleton first responders awarded for lifesaving efforts

By Lance Cpl. Haley McMenamin | Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton | December 26, 2017


On December 19th, 2017, Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea, commanding general, Marine Corps Installations - West, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, awarded seven firefighters and emergency medical service personnel a lifesaving award on behalf of Maj. Gen. Vincent Coglianese, commander, Marine Corps Installations Command.

Chief Jeff Moore, Captain David Lewis, Engineer Tom Klein, Firefighter and Paramedics Steve Chavez, Justin Myers, Chris Braun and Lou Santos were awarded for their actions in saving Leeanne Ericson.

Ericson, a mother of three young children, endured a shark attack at the San Onofre state beach, April 29, 2017. She was swimming at a popular surf spot on Camp Pendleton when a 12-15 foot great white shark took most of her upper right leg.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sharks do not usually attack humans; they investigate potential food items by taking a taste, or they confuse them for their natural prey.

“They mistake thrashing arms or dangling feet as prey, dart in, bite, and let go when they realize it's not a fish,” stated the NOAA website. Due to this, most shark attacks are not fatal.

Shark season in this area is usually from the beginning of May to October, before the sharks head down toward Mexico as the oceans begin to get cooler.

The day of the attack a team of firefighters and paramedics were called to the scene where Ericson was suffering from the bite wound and began treating her injures “as a well-organized team,” said Steve Chavez, a firefighter and paramedic who has been with the department for over three years. “All we were told is that it was an animal bite. As soon as I began thinking it may have been a stingray, we were informed that it was a shark bite.”

They applied a makeshift tourniquet with a surfboard leash, packed the wound with large trauma dressings and placed her on a long spine board until they were able transfer her to an ambulance. All seven firefighters and paramedics got into the ambulance with the victim to continue medical care.

“At the end of the day, our focus is getting the patient to a trauma center. From the beginning we provided life-saving treatment until she was able to get to the hospital,” said firefighter, Justin Myers.

 At this point, Ericson was experiencing shock and had received her fourth bag of intravenous fluid. It was determined that the patient would need to be flown to the hospital. She was then loaded into the helicopter accompanied by her boyfriend. Just a few minutes later, they were off and en route to the Scripps La Jolla Trauma Center.

“In most cases, we see the patient off and don’t hear about their outcome; however, we stayed in contact with Ms. Ericson throughout her surgeries and her recovery, and we are still in contact today,” said Myers.

Today, Leeanne is back on her feet and back at work. “I want to express my deepest gratitude for the many first responders who provided care to me on the beach and during transfer to the trauma center," she said in an interview with The Orange County Register.