Amid the sounds of a cheerful Elvis Presley C-D serenading the room, festive pink and blue streamers and roller girls dressed in 50’s skirts, Cotati residents gathered for the annual Cotati Chamber of Commerce Awards – this year being a sock hop theme, to honor the citizen of the year, the Cotati Police Department and the Rancho Adobe Fire District for their aid during the October Sonoma Complex Fires.
Susan Kashack, president of the Cotati Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber wanted to do something a little different and instead of honoring one entity, honor a group of people who went above and beyond to serve their community. Hence, the “Hometown Hero’s,” award was created and it was decided to be an honor for both the Cotati Police Department and the Rancho Adobe Fire Department for all of their work during the devastating fires.
The new award was created when, “the board of directors put a call out to the community to say, who do you think would be a great citizen of the year? What citizen has really played a part in the community of Cotati,” Kashack explained. “So one of the things that we got back was that instead of doing all the usual awards we do, we would do a new one where we would honor the firefighters and the police for their work in the fires and for also everything they do for us every day.”
Following music and a buffet dinner in the Cotati Room, the “Hometown Hero” award was presented by Dave Wasson, from Wasson Investment Services in Rohnert Park, who started the evening by saying that sometimes the hard work of first responders can sometimes be taken for granted.
“In response to a single fire Cotati residents made the decision that a fire department of our own was needed and a group of young men banded together to form the Cotati volunteer fire department, that was 1927. Ninety years later, the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District each year responds to over 2,155 calls and they’ve established themselves as a dedicated, hard-working group of individuals and tonight we are here to honor and recognize that service,” Wasson said. “And we can’t talk about that service without mentioning October.”
Wasson went on to quote Rancho Adobe Fire Chief Leonard Thompson, who praised the fire district for their tireless effort in helping to protect the community and the surrounding areas during the fires.
“I have nothing but overwhelming praise for the members of the Rancho Adobe FireDepartment during this disaster.Much respect goes to each and every member who put their life at risk to protect our extended community, as well as to those who tirelessly worked our three stations here in our district without reprieve for days on end,” Thompson wrote.
The department normally staffs three engines, however, during the fire, eight engines were sent out and the department was still able to manage staffing one engine at home to ensure protection of the community. They also typically work 48-hour shifts, however, when the fires broke out, members of the department worked days on end in order to respond to the fire and keep smaller grass fires near Cotati at bay.
The very much deserved award was presented to Rancho Adobe Battalion Chief, Mike Weihmann among rousing rounds of applause and cheers from the crowd.
The Cotati Police Department also went above and beyond the call of duty and was recognized for their coordination efforts with the Rancho Adobe Fire Department in aid of the fires.
“Our police department was also an integral part in managing the October wildfires,” Wasson said. During the weeks that the fire raged on, the department call dispatchers worked to answer the calls of worried residents about the fires and the oppressive smoke and also assisted the Sonoma County Sheriff’s office in answering calls. Throughout the fires, the department also worked on keeping community members informed on the status of the fires through several reports and updates that were sent out via Nixle and other social media platforms such as Facebook.
Simply put, Wasson said of both departments, “You are our hometown heroes.”
Cotati Police Chief, Michael Parish accepted the Hometown Hero award and took a moment to pose for a celebratory photo with Wasson, Weihmann and Erin Armstrong of the Cotati Chamber of Commerce.
Stefanie Richardson, a long-time community volunteer and 2006 Rancho Cotate High School graduate, was then presented with the coveted Cotati Citizen of the Year award for her efforts in establishing the Soco fire relief website. The website was created as a way to organize the distribution and receiving of donations of all kinds for fire victims.
Richardson also worked in securing a warehouse in Santa Rosa as a home base for the organization and distribution of the copious amounts of donations. In addition to food and toiletry donations, she was able to raise $11,000 for fire victims.
Richardson said of receiving the award, “I was very surprised and very honored to receive this recognition.”
The Cotati native who now works at a bed and breakfast in Inverness (where she was able to put up fire victims who lost their home), was nominated for the award by John and Jacquie Dell’Osso, who said of Richardson’s passion and kindness for the community, “She brings out the better angels in me.”
In addition to the annual Cotati Citizen of the Year award, another new award was created to honor some of the town’s longest standing businesses whom are part of the chamber of commerce. In this case, the Cotati Large and Small Animal Hospital was recognized for being a member of the chamber for almost 58 years.