When registered nurse James Frye isn’t working in the emergency room, he’s in a 27-foot-long trailer in West Sacramento, resting between shifts or video-calling his family.
He’s parked in a cul-de-sac, at the foot of the driveway where his wife and two children live. He’s been isolating from them for several weeks.
“I work with a lot of patients and a lot of COVID comes through the ER, so we’re being exposed a lot,” he said. “So I’d rather take precautions to protect them.”
When the outbreak first started, he moved into a hotel room about eight miles away from his family, but the bills started to stack up. He was looking into buying a trailer when he heard about a Sacramento-area group loaning mobile homes to nurses.
He got connected to Susie Queue, an Auburn-area “burner.” The term is used to describe people who are associated with Burning Man, a weeklong arts and culture festival held in the desert northeast of Reno each summer. The event can draw more than 70,000 people, but can draw more than 70,000 people, but has been postponed this year due to COVID-19.
Many attendees drive up with trailers and camper vans to protect them from the harsh elements. Sometimes these trailers are whimsically decorated, other times they remain in their original form.
“Everyone from the Burning Man community has extra trailers laying around, so I just put out a call to see if anyone else had trailers and we got immediate responses,” Queue said. “I thought it’d be a perfect match because nobody really right now is using their trailers, they’re in storage or in side yards.”
After donating her trailer to Frye and coordinating several other local matches, Queue reached out to Burners Without Borders, a grassroots organization that engages burners across the world in community service. Many Burning Man attendees are also making or donating masks during COVID-19.
Queue said giving back is the foundation of the 10 Burning Man principles.
“Burning man is not just being at Burning Man,” she said. “Burning Man you take home and it’s in your heart and you can live it all year round … We saw a need, we responded immediately.”
These trailers are being temporarily gifted, and Queue says the nurses have agreed to sanitize them and return them when the threat subsides.
She says only a handful of Sacramento-area health workers have taken her up on the offer, but that could change as the virus spreads.
“If there’s a need, we’re all ready,” she said.
There are nurses and doctors throughout the nation choosing to live away from their families to minimize COVID-19 risk. There is a national group connecting RV owners to medical professionals in need. Queue said she’s also hearing from people with extra garage space or separated bedrooms who are willing to waive rent.
“It was very moving to talk to these nurses that were under so much stress, they’re working so hard, they’re being repeatedly exposed, and they’re still trying to run their households or figure that out with small children” she said. “For us to step in and help them just really made them feel supported.“
Frye said being geographically close to his family, even though he can’t hug them, has made the period of separation easier.
“I stand about 10 feet away and see’em, and then we FaceTime a lot,” he said
He said working in the emergency room is stressful, but the community support helps keep nurses going.
“We can’t complain. We’re the front line. Whenever a catastrophe happens, it’s us. Pandemic, it’s also gonna be us.”
And as for Queue and the other burners, he says he’s grateful.
“They’re helping us in our time of need, because we’re helping people in their time of need,” he said.
If you need a place to stay, have an extra trailer or want to get involved in other ways, here’s what you can do:
- Fill out this form created by local Burning Man attendees
- Visit the RVs for MDs Facebook page
- Find more information on the Burners Without Borders site
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