It’s been one year since the lives of many in our community were turned upside down by devastating fires. As we ponder the events of last year and remember those who lost their lives and the deep impact the fires had, we also recall the miracles and heroes. Without these glimmers of hope, recalling the severity of last year would be overwhelming.
During the early morning of Oct. 9, two heroes emerged and began evacuating the Estancia Apartments in Larkfield; Sergeant Crum and Deputy Clark of the Sonoma County Sheriff Department. While assisting residents, as the fire was barreling towards them with the smoke, wind and debris flying around, Franklin appeared from his apartment in his wheelchair. Franklin’s dad was a fireman and had trained Franklin how to evacuate in case of fire. So when Franklin heard the commotion and smelled smoke, he readied himself. As he left his apartment and found his neighbors fleeing, he began wandering through the parking lot trying to evacuate. (Franklin’s power wheelchair weighs several hundred pounds, so at first glance, it’s hard to think of how to assist him in this type of evacuation.) This is when Franklin came upon Deputy Clark and soon after Sergeant Crum. Crum and Clark stopped the vehicle of an evacuating family and lifted Franklin into the back of the SUV, next to a toddler in a car seat. Miracle number 1. Within ten minutes, Franklin’s apartment complex was consumed by fire. Without these heroes, Franklin would have perished. It was a turbulent morning and Franklin eventually found himself safe in a skilled nursing facility.
Without a place to go and with specialized care needs, Franklin had no other housing option than a skilled nursing facility. Determined to not let this situation defeat him, Franklin prepared himself for the long haul and did all he could to regain independent living. Within three months, Franklin moved into a wheelchair accessible apartment subsidized with Sonoma County Housing Authority. Miracle number 2.
We are all very aware of the housing shortage in Sonoma County pre and post fires. For people with limited income, the shortage is even more dire. Soon after Franklin was displaced, his Community Support Facilitator, Len Carlsen, began navigating the system to get Franklin an affordable apartment. With much diligence and hard work, a single level wheelchair accessible apartment in East Santa Rosa was found and secured for Franklin to move into. Though it’s not his old apartment, his new place meets his needs and increases his independence.
Franklin met up with his heroes in May for a bit of a housewarming. It was a touching time of recalling the unbelievable events of last October and of telling of the good things that have happened to Franklin since. Because of Franklin’s bravery during and after the fires, Sergeant Crum gave Franklin his First Responder Challenge Coin. This is a coin given to all first responders and is now displayed in Franklin’s apartment. The coin and Crum’s confidence in Franklin serves as a daily reminder to Franklin that he is an overcomer.
Among all of the unsung heroes in last year’s devastating events are the Oaks of Hebron staff members. Soon after the fires broke out, the staff at Oaks of Hebron mobilized to duty without prompting, without hesitation and sometimes without regard to their own safety. Calls went out instantly to check on the safety of clients and calls were made to staff who lived closer to clients to assist with evacuation. The days and weeks following the fire, Oaks staff was on point ensuring our clients were safe and cared for. Those were long hard, exhausting days, and Oaks staff never complained or thought twice of the betterment of our clients. It’s impressive to work with such dedicated and hardworking staff. Thank you for being our everyday heroes.