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July 4, 2020
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The evacuation through her eyes

  • Red Cross worker Nicole Massey and son ready for Halloween festivities. Photo credit: Virginia Hart | American Red Cross

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
November 8, 2019

The Kincade Fire is not yet a memory. Clean-up continues. Repopulation and reentry are underway. Insurance claims will be filed. The fire isn’t out although it is largely contained. The typical stories focused on first responders, the evacuees, or the fire and the damage it caused have been written and printed. The opinion pieces on the causes, the heroes, the villains are on the way. The pictures of the politicians visiting the shelters, the volunteers, famous or not, feeding the hungry and the shelters have been circulated. This story is not those. This story is about the event through the eyes of a volunteer who was a small part of this whole story.

The fire started on John Kincade Road northeast of Geyserville on Oct. 23. But her story started back in Oct. of 2017 during the Tubbs Fire. She is a wife and a working mother. She had a son who because his college was closed, decided to volunteer at the fairgrounds Shelter during that wildfire event. Each day she would check on him as any mother would do. She’d asked how he was doing. Did he need to come home for a meal, a shower, or some sleep? Each time his response was “I’m fine.”

On the fourth day, she went after work to make sure he was really doing okay. He was, but since she was there, she stayed and pitched in too. She hasn’t looked back.

After the immediacy of that event, she chose to sign up and register with the Red Cross as a regular volunteer. She started with training offered at the Santa Rosa Junior College for Event-Based Volunteers (EBV) working in the shelters. Later, she took on-line classes, got a background check and took some courses at the Disaster Training Institute located at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Ca. Those voluntary courses were for registered volunteers looking for more training, wanting to go beyond being an EBV. Once in the system she had an intake interview where she could sign up in specific job areas, which initially for her was logistics, which built on her existing work skill sets. That’s when she became a regular volunteer. This means when there isn’t a disaster response, she helps in tasks like inventory, pre-planning, vehicle maintenance, or obtaining agreements for building use in case of a disaster. She has since earned designations for sheltering, feeding, emergency driving, and disaster assessment.

So, when this Kincade event started she was ready, right? Yes and no. She was recovering from an illness so she couldn’t report immediately to take shifts. By Sat. she was well enough to do emergency driving and did so. Because the headquarters for the Red Cross Headquarters in Santa Rosa was in a mandatory evacuation zone, it had to be relocated. She was one of the volunteers that moved the vehicles to the relocated headquarters. Then on Sun., she was ready and able to pull her first 12-hour shift at the shelters that were located in Santa Rosa at the Veterans Building and at the Grace Pavilion within the fairgrounds.

Her duties included registering evacuees and assessing their needs as they came to the shelter. Making sure they had a comfort kit. Providing information about the facilities, mealtimes, sharing fire updates, helping to do intake for other event-based volunteers. For example, one young 20-year-old wanted to help. Event-based volunteers are often limited in assignments because they haven’t been vetted, their skills are unknown, no background check completed. So, it can be a challenge matching their eagerness to a meaningful contribution. In this case, the young man was asked to go around the shelter, collect the partially consume plastic bottles of water and properly dispose of them. Doing so was about safety and hygiene as well as cleanliness. He was later seen with a broom in hand sweeping the floor, happily contributing to the effort to make this shelter safe and comfortable for the evacuees.

The shift was officially over at 7 p.m. but there was always more to do. So, she actually didn’t depart until almost two hours later. If she didn’t have to work the next day, it’s likely it would have been even later.  She lives in a section of Rohnert Park that had power, so she was able to go home, take a shower and get some sleep. On Mon., she went to the office which was still open but operating with short staff as other employees had been evacuated over the weekend. She was able to leave work a couple of hours early and go back on duty. This time she was at the headquarters which had been relocated once more and was now located at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Petaluma, Ca. on Webster St. 

For this shift she was working on logistics to include the movement and ordering of supplies. She was also ensuring registration of contracts for rental vehicles and delegating their use once volunteers checked into the headquarters after flying in from other cities and states. Also, for that reason, more staff shelter space was needed.  Off she went, headed north to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Country Club Dr. in Rohnert Park.  She stopped along the way at the FoodMax in Rohnert Park to pick-up snacks such as apples and yogurt, milk and pastries, coffee and fixings. This way the staff could have something to eat and drink before going on shift; or when coming off shift. She also reached out the president of the Church’s Relief Society with a request to help organize volunteers for food services at the church for the following morning. Then home, shower and sleep.

Tuesday, was another short day at work; then back to continue supporting the shelters and volunteers. Rinse and repeat. It’s all a blur. What did she do on this day or that day? Fragments come and go. “Yes, on this day we did, no wait – that was the day before.” “Thurs. was Halloween, so on Wed. I know I relieved another volunteer who had been going almost 24 hours already.”  She said her co-worker was going to drive candy for the kids to enjoy at the shelters in Santa Rosa and Petaluma. She volunteered to take over that task so the other volunteer could grab a well-deserved nap. Oh, while she was at it, she picked up more order forms for supply requests and took them back to the headquarters.

On Thurs. she could stand down. The worst was over. After work she could go home, enjoy some family time, decompress. During the week, her house was a gathering spot for family and friends who lost power, needed comfort and company, even if she wasn’t there because her husband and family were. Which brought up the subject of how do you do it? You can do it she said because “you’ve prepared yourself and have a plan.” Your family knows what to do, where to meet, in case they have to evacuate too. That way “you don’t bring your worries and aren’t focused on your needs but on the needs of those you’re there to help.” Now the anxiety shifts from what needs to be done for others to how she’s going to get the house cleaned and ready for a Sun. social event. Or in other words – back to normal. 

Her duties included registering evacuees and assessing their needs as they came to the shelter. Making sure they had a comfort kit. Providing information about the facilities, mealtimes, sharing fire updates, helping to do intake for other event-based volunteers. For example, one young 20-year-old wanted to help. Event based volunteers are often limited in assignments because they haven’t been vetted, their skills are unknown, no background check completed. So, it can be a challenge matching their eagerness to a meaningful contribution. In this case, the young man was asked to go around the shelter, collect the partially consume plastic bottles of water and properly dispose of them. Doing so was about safety and hygiene as well as cleanliness. He was later seen with a broom in hand sweeping the floor, happily contributing to the effort to make this shelter safe and comfortable for the evacuees.

The shift was officially over at 7 p.m. but there was always more to do. So, she actually didn’t depart until almost two hours later. If she didn’t have to work the next day, it’s likely it would have been even later.  She lives in a section of Rohnert Park that had power, so she was able to go home, take a shower and get some sleep. On Mon., she went to the office which was still open but operating with short staff as other employees had been evacuated over the weekend. She was able to leave work a couple of hours early and go back on duty. This time she was at the headquarters which had been relocated once more and was now located at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Petaluma, Ca. on Webster St. 

For this shift she was working on logistics to include the movement and ordering of supplies. She was also ensuring registration of contracts for rental vehicles and delegating their use once volunteers checked into the headquarters after flying in from other cities and states. Also, for that reason, more staff shelter space was needed.  Off she went, headed north to the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Country Club Dr. in Rohnert Park.  She stopped along the way at the FoodMax in Rohnert Park to pick-up snacks such as apples and yogurt, milk and pastries, coffee and fixings. This way the staff could have something to eat and drink before going on shift; or when coming off shift. She also reached out the president of the Church’s Relief Society with a request to help organize volunteers for food services at the church for the following morning. Then home, shower and sleep.

Tuesday, was another short day at work; then back to continue supporting the shelters and volunteers. Rinse and repeat. It’s all a blur. What did she do on this day or that day? Fragments come and go. “Yes, on this day we did, no wait – that was the day before”. “Thurs. was Halloween, so on Wed. I know I relieved another volunteer who had been going almost 24 hours already”.  She said her co-worker was going to drive candy for the kids to enjoy at the shelters in Santa Rosa and Petaluma. She volunteered to take over that task so the other volunteer could grab a well-deserved nap. Oh, while she was at it, she picked up more order forms for supply requests and took them back to the headquarters.

On Thurs. she could stand down. The worst was over. After work she could go home, enjoy some family time, decompress. During the week, her house was a gathering spot for family and friends who lost power, needed comfort and company, even if she wasn’t there because her husband and family were. Which brought up the subject of how do you do it? You can do it she said because “you’ve prepared yourself and have a plan.” Your family knows what to do, where to meet, in case they have to evacuate too. That way “you don’t bring your worries and aren’t focused on your needs but on the needs of those you’re there to help”. Now the anxiety shifts from what needs to be done for others to how she’s going to get the house cleaned and ready for a Sun. social event. Or in other words – back to normal.