Bay Area surgeon who saves children as profession also serves on front line of California wildfires

Tuesday, September 1, 2020
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A prominent Bay Area surgeon not only serves the community by saving children, but he is also a volunteer firefighter helping to battle the California wildfires. For Dr. James Betts, it's a dedication to service that dates back decades.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A prominent Bay Area surgeon is also serving on the front lines, battling California's wildfires. For Dr. James Betts, it's a dedication to service that dates back decades.

"It's an honor and a privilege to serve," said Betts. And serve he has. Dr. Jim Betts is a pediatric surgeon by profession, who has gone above and beyond when it comes to giving back to his community.

It's a position that led him to the collapsed Cypress Structure in Oakland in the hours after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, where he not only helped rescue survivors, but also to recover the dead.

"We were actually called down to the Cypress Structure for the trapped individuals who were there and a group of us went down there," explained Betts, who had to amputate a young boy's leg to save his life.

Betts' service didn't stop there. While not at Children's, he works as a volunteer firefighter, as an EMT and part of the search and rescue team in Big Sur, where he has a home.

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Following the LNU Lightning Complex fires, a sign reading "Vaca Strong" adorns a charred hillside in Vacaville, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
AP Photo/Noah Berger

His primary job for nearly four decades has been at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland.

In recent weeks, Betts also served on the front lines of the Dolan fire, one of the hundreds raging in California.

"This is a very unusual year," said Betts. "We've got COVID and the pandemic. We have the fires in Big Sur, we have our hospital duties here. We have all the political unrest that's going around the nation."

As Dr. Betts approaches his 73rd birthday, he has no plans to retire anytime soon from either job.

"I don't play golf, I don't play tennis," said Betts. "To me, it's been a privilege to be able to become a pediatric surgeon as well as a firefighter."

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