Kadlec doctor helps treat hurt spectators at California fireworks show

Kevin Marsh's in-laws told him the popular Fourth of July fireworks show at a community park in Simi Valley, Calif., would be one he would never forget.

And they were right, for a reason they never expected.

A mishap during the annual event last week sent fireworks blasting into the crowd of thousands. Dr. Marsh and his family -- including his wife Janelle, their four young children and several of her relatives -- escaped unharmed.

But many others were hurt.

And Marsh, 39, was in the middle of the chaos.

The pediatric hospitalist at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland leapt into action, helping triage and treat the injured.

It wasn't the first time he's used his medical skills under extreme circumstances.

Marsh spent 12 years in the Army, including a tour in Iraq during the height of the war. He's also jumped into help strangers while off-duty on the homefront -- helping during a medical emergency while on a visit to New York and saving a woman who was choking in Oregon.

He seems to have a knack for being there when he's needed, Janelle Marsh said.

Dr. Marsh and his family were in Ventura County, Calif., where both he and his wife grew up, for a holiday visit. They headed to the fireworks show with their kids, ages 1 to 10, Janelle's parents, her siblings and their families.

A few fireworks exploded in the sky, "and then BOOM! All over the ground sparks were flying," Janelle wrote in an e-mail to the Herald.

Though the incident still is under investigation, initial reports indicated a firework went off early while still in its mortar, setting off a chain reaction.

More than three dozen people were hurt. News reports told of a barrage of blasts, scorching shrapnel launching through the air.

Marsh helped put out a fire that started in a field behind where his family was gathered.

Then he sought out police officers, who directed him to where he was needed most.

"Kevin was quick thinking and acting," helping to set up a triage system and directing other medical volunteers who came to assist, Janelle wrote.

Among the others who jumped into action was a fellow veteran -- a medic who had served during the Vietnam War. Dr. Marsh also enlisted nephew Caleb Porter, 20, to lend a hand.

Marsh said he saw burns and penetrating wounds. A few of the injuries were serious.

After about two hours, "we had everybody treated or shipped out," he said, adding he was impressed by the efficiency of the emergency responders.

Though he served as a front-line physician in Iraq, dealing with -- among other things -- a bombing that injured 50 soldiers, Marsh said the fireworks show gone-wrong still was shocking.

Afterward, the adrenaline was pumping. "It took me a while to go to sleep that night," he said.

Marsh and his family moved to the Tri-Cities in 2008. While Janelle joked she's grown used to seeing her husband rush to help others, she said, "I'm very proud of him for not being like, 'Someone else will do it."

For Marsh, that wasn't an option.

"It's important to step up," he told the Herald. "If you don't, you have nothing but regret. If someone needs help and you don't do anything -- I wouldn't want to live with that."

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald