After saving life from fire, responders meet with recovered Norco man

Cliserio “Chucky” Colmenares (center) with family and the first responders who saved his life in 2021.

Were one to go by what the odds would tell you, Cliserio “Chucky” Colmenares of Norco would not be alive today.

But there he was at the Norco Volunteer Fire Department, alongside family and also the men and women who came together to save his life against all odds.

EMS, fire department, University burn center personnel were there as Colmenares and his son arrived to offer thanks to the team of responders who rescued him from a major fire at his trailer in December of 2021, as well as those who nursed him back to health. Colmenares, 54, was considered to be at a high mortality risk following his injuries from the fire, but today he is healthy, happy and even back at work.

Firefighters Blake Estevez and Michael Wright and medical officer Natalie Wright were each honored with a Life Saving Medal for their efforts that night, the firefighters for their rescue operations inside the burning trailer and the latter for her rapid application of critical medical treatment.

“I feel very well,” Colmenares said. “I want to say thank you to every single one of them. To have gone through all of this and to be able to be here now … it’s an amazing second chance.”

A successful rescue is a rare event, especially when concerning a trailer fire. For Colmenares to survive was particularly unlikely. Several circumstances had to align for this positive result.

Norco Fire Chief Kenny Wenning Jr. arrived first onto the scene, finding a fire that was erupting from the home.

The Wrights and Estevez were driving by the fire station when the call went out and were able to quickly respond. Initially, it was thought that nobody was in the trailer – a language barrier between the non-English speaking residents gathered nearby and the responders made gathering initial information difficult. The responders determined they would treat the scene as a rescue until the possibility was ruled out.

Estevez performed a sweep of the area and found Colmenares laying in the trailer’s living room, burned on his arms, chest and face. He and Michael Wright were able to remove him from the trailer and Natalie Wright began to administer medical treatment.

“It was really just happenstance that (Estevez), Natalie and I were all driving by the station when the call went out. Kenny just got off of work and he was able to respond quickly,” Michael Wright said. “A lot of things just happened to make this come together. The ambulance that arrived – it wasn’t even dispatched yet, they just saw what was going on and said hey, let’s make sure everyone’s OK – because they cared, things just worked out.”

Wenning said quick decisions had to be made.

“When I pulled up, the fire already breached through the front of the trailer,” Wenning said. “With a trailer, you honestly have about three-to-five minutes … we’re very fortunate to have two gentlemen like (Estevez and Wright), to make that call that you can make entry and (rescue).

“In what we do, you see some bad things. And when we left that day, it didn’t look promising.”

But every day, they learned Colmenares was getting better and better.

“I’ve been in the department for 14 years,” Estevez said. “Many times, you know they’re not going to make it. But this went from, ‘it doesn’t look good, it doesn’t look good’ … he’s doing better and eventually ‘hey, he’s gonna make it.’

“We always try our best to do our part. Even if they do survive, it’s rare you get to see them.”

That’s what made this a special day.

“It was very frightening,” said Colmenares’ son Armando. “I’ve been wishing for this, to finally be able to see the people who rescued my father and to thank them.”

Said Wright: “What wouldn’t we give to spend a few more days with a loved one? This … if you don’t believe in divine intervention, I don’t know what to tell you. His mortality percentage was very high. He beat the odds. Even after getting him out, how many times does that person survive? You were just hoping, and what does hope do? A lot, apparently.

“To see him here with his family and to know we were able to help, it’s what life’s all about. Helping the next guy.”

Natalie Wright said the day was also a good chance for the newer and younger responders to see the good that can be done firsthand.

“In volunteer service, we don’t always get that connection. For a lot of these guys new to fire service – even those who have been here 20-plus years may have only experienced a recovery and not a rescue. So to be part of that, it’s a real feel good story.

“This is really what you do and why you do it. It’s your purpose. You see the hard work turn into something wonderful, and today we’re able to see a man able to be here with his dad.”

 

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