SANTA ROSA (KPIX) — The job of fighting a wildland fire isn’t an easy one nor is it particularly glamorous but it can come with one big perk: the heartfelt gratitude of people whose community you’ve been battling to save.
At the North Bay wildfires’ peak, more than 5,400 firefighters were assigned to Sonoma County. Cal Fire says about 1,000 of them have now been released.
READ MORE: Stories of the Wine Country Wildfires
On Sunday, a small group of Santa Rosa residents — organized using Facebook — gathered at the Sonoma Fairgrounds’ fire headquarters to bid a very fond farewell to those tired crew members as they started heading home.
“Going into this job you know it’s a special job. It’s gonna test you. But things like this definitely make it worthwhile,” said Connor Whiting, a first-year Cal Fire firefighter.
The well-wishers have been doing this for three days and it’s clear their expression of appreciation means a lot to the firefighters.
“The love and appreciation of this community, it’s gonna live with them forever,” said Mark Mollett with the Orange County Fire Authority.
“The public — they’re so nice. But at the end of the day, I’m sure all the folks here can agree, it’s just our job,” said Ryan Ruiz from Oroville.
That may be true but there’s something about seeing a firefighter show up in your hour of need. It’s not the same as calling a plumber.
“They’re risking their lives for our lives. They’re leaving their families for weeks at a time to come here and help our families live and our community so we have something to live for,” event organizer Kellie Cronin explained.
We probably use the word “hero” more than we should, but ask someone whose house is still standing and they won’t give you much of an argument. That’s why veteran Vince Pavon, whose house was saved from the flames, stood on a street corner for 4 hours offering a lone salute to each firetruck as it rumbled past.
“Some of ’em, the first week of the fire, didn’t go off the lines for 70 hours,” Pavon said. “And now that they’re starting to roll out I just want to tell ’em all, ‘thank you!’ Thanks for coming and protecting our city.”