Oct 26, 2017
by Chuck Ramsey
Gratitude. The theme for this month’s Gazette columns. Last month I wrote: Natural disasters have been non-stop this year with hurricanes and earthquakes. Locally we also experience fires and floods. What an understatement.
I have worked for the Federal Government’s Small Business Administration (SBA) providing Disaster Assistance. I have worked 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week, commuting two hours each way as that was the closest hotel to
Charleston during Hurricane Hugo. I was relieved after a month or two to be able to stay at a downtown highrise Holiday Inn with damp carpet and mold growing up the walls not to endure that commute any longer. There were people that had lost family members. One person told me they went to their former house on the coast and there wasn’t a spoon left there. You don’t forget things like that. I interviewed crying business owners that had lost their businesses. They were crying because they could no longer pay their long-term employees that were family to them, and they were more concerned about their families than their own family. The despair was incredible. The job was probably the hardest I have had and the most worthwhile.
But somehow, this time it is different. Yes, it’s local and I personally know people affected, but I think it’s more unexpected and surreal. I’ve been through earthquakes and hurricanes, but you kind of expect them in certain areas. What you don’t expect is for the worst fire in California history to wipe out family members, their homes, their businesses, overnight in Santa Rosa of all places.
You don’t expect a complete breakdown of emergency services, whether it’s messaging alert systems before the disaster hits, or a total lack of any fire response during the fire. Parts of the city burning down and no-one putting out fires? Do we not have fire stations, hydrants, sprinkler systems, firefighters? This isn’t some small gold mining town in 1849.
OK, thanks to my friend Mark Emmett, I have been educated on why a firestorm of that intensity couldn’t be fought. I’m sure though, there will be many questions and changes coming down the road. Cal Fire has already instituted a different manner of dealing with neighborhood protection.
We all know people that have lost their homes. We’ve all seen the horrific pictures and articles, and heard first-hand accounts of the horror. Where I work, there were four, including my closest co-worker and friend. She had lived in her home in Coffey Park for decades and raised her family there. Another coworker lost his home, his mother lost her house, his grandmother lost her house, and his kid’s daycare burned down. A man walked up to him and said you don’t know me but I married your high school girlfriend. I’m a philanthropist and I’m green. You now own a brand new Prius and the insurance is paid up for six months. Despite what I still perceive to be an unacceptable initial response, the aftermath response has also moved me more than I could have imagined. The response was massive and fast. Businesses, large and small, doing whatever they could to help their employees. First responders and individuals going above and beyond everywhere. Our local, state, and federal officials governing with a passion that is almost unheard of nowadays. Firefighters from across the state, other states, Canada, even Australia? I would read the news and Facebook every morning and I cried every morning. I’d see a picture of a lost dog found, or of a comfort dog doing their job, and I would cry again. The mother, who was devastated as she lost her house, but whose son was later able to locate her dog, Izzy. She was then the happiest person on the planet. We all can relate to what is really important in life. And we all can be grateful for the family, friends, co-workers, homes, and belongings we are so fortunate to have. We can also be grateful for living in Sonoma County, Santa Rosa area, and of course the River and Monte Rio. Santa Rosa will rebuild and will be stronger than before. I have seen it before in my career. We have already witnessed the compassion and humanity that we all have in us and we are stronger because of it. We have so much to be grateful and thankful for.
Wishing you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving, filled with love, gratefulness, and better times ahead, as together we rebuild a stronger, more connected community.
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