Santa Rosa Doctor Used His Motorcycle To Assist Hospital Evacuation

Two wheels and a heap of courage can make all the difference in the world

Shea House
Shea House, a house built next door for families who traveled from great distances to use so they could access the hospital’s special neonatal capabilities, did not make it through the fire.Courtesy of Sutter Health

“If something bad is going to happen, I need to be there.”

That was the thought running through Dr. Scott Witt's head at 2 a.m. on October 9 after he'd been summoned to help evacuate eight infants from his neonatal intensive care unit at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital in northern California. But fires had closed down the roads between his house and the hospital.

Though the roads had been shut down, Witt hadn't actually seen the fire—so he turned around for home and came up with a plan: he knew his BMW RnineT could get where his pickup truck couldn't. By the time he made it back home, police were advising residents in his neighborhood to evacuate and—knowing that he couldn't both care for the infants at his hospital and his family—he urged his wife to move their family to safety as he quickly geared up.

Now on his bike, he set out on the four-mile drive back to the hotel. With several roads closed and all of the roads near the hospital turned into outbound lanes, he was forced to ride down alleys, sidewalks and around obstacles. Fortunately, police officers at checkpoints let him pass on his trek to the hospital.

“I didn’t really see flames, but I could feel the heat and the wind told it was close,” Witt said. “You could see the ash in the air; some of them were glowing embers.”

It wasn’t until he arrived at the hospital that he finally saw flames, now approaching the building from two different corners. Normal disaster protocols would have them moving the babies into a different wing but, with such a big fire looming, he decided they needed to get the infants to a new location.

Dr. Scott Witt on his BMW RnineT at Sutter Health
Dr. Scott Witt on his BMW RnineT at Sutter HealthCourtesy of Sutter Health

Normally, they would put one baby in each ambulance along with a doctor, nurse, and whatever supplies or incubators needed—but with so little time and ambulances struggling to get to their location, Witt decided to double up the babies in each ambulance leaving little room for staff.

Once they’d gotten the eight infants in his care loaded up, Witt realized he would have to follow the ambulance to the other hospital. The ambulance drivers let the police know not to stop him, and the caravan set out out for the 15-minute trek to a hospital clear from the frames.

The ride to the new hospital took them even closer to the action, and Witt was forced to ride around or under downed power lines and around piles of burning debris. By this point, he could see fire on both sides of the freeway as they made their escape.

As they cleared the area, he went on ahead and prepared the incoming hospital for the infants, and the babies were all checked in and safe by 7 a.m. Witt checked in with his family, who informed him that the fire has ravaged their neighborhood and that their house had burned to the ground.

Curious, Witt got back on his bike to survey the damage and was shocked to find his entire neighborhood a pile of ash. Fortunately, his family and neighbors had heeded emergency service prompts to leave and no one had been injured.

I asked Witt if he was scared or felt like he might have gotten in a little too deep, but his response was pretty clear: “If I wasn’t there and I could have helped, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. That was all I could think about.”

Witt also told me he was incredibly impressed with his 2015 BMW RnineT. He'd previously owned a 600cc Yamaha standard and then a BMW G650GS, but thought the RnineT, which he bought mostly for commuting and the occasional weekend jaunt, was actually perfect for the job. He also mentioned that his BMW Motorrad gear, while covered in ash and embers, held up well and he was glad he'd gone with the leather instead of something synthetic that could have melted.

Dr. Scott Witt on his BMW RnineT at Sutter Health
Dr. Scott Witt on his BMW RnineT at Sutter HealthCourtesy of Sutter Health

Emergency services were able to keep the hospital from damage though the neighboring Shea House, a house built next door for families who traveled from great distances to use so they could access the hospital's special neonatal capabilities, did not make it through the fire. For more information or if you'd like to donate, click here.

As much as this is a story of courage and an individual's heroism, it also is another example of making a great case for motorcycles in emergency situations. Much like we saw recently in Mexico City with motorcyclists volunteering to deliver aide after an earthquake, motorcycles are ideal to get supplies and qualified individuals where cars can't go.

In my opinion, the world needs more humans like Dr. Scott Witt, people who are able and willing to risk their own safety to lend a hand when it’s most needed, and are prepared to put those traits to good use.