Solidarity After the North Bay Fires

Here to Help

The flow of people seeking care didn’t stop for the Osteopathic medical students at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. It was day five of the North Bay fires, and the students had just arrived at the evacuation center to volunteer. With their professors as preceptors, the first and second year medical students had come to put their skills in Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment to work. And there was plenty of work to do.

Many Red Cross workers, firemen, and the members of the National Guard came in with acute stiffness and pain.

“I just wanted to keep them up and running, getting to do what they needed to do,” says Donald Long, who before becoming a medical student had once worked through his own fire evacuation as a hospital team lift supervisor in Paradise.

Just a partition away was a woman who had been undergoing hospice care at her daughter’s home, which they had just lost. Her grandchildren only wanted to watch over her as she tried to rest on a metal cot.

Fairgrounds VolunteersOne man wearing clothes that might have been given to him was sweating profusely on the table, his skin red at the slightest touch. He had just lost his business.

Sarah Davis, a first year student who had previously spent seven years as an EMT examined him with Long.

“Even the lightest touch made him react, and he said it caused him pain,” she explains. “However, he supported his bodyweight on his injured shoulder several times without incident, so we weren't suspicious of a significant injury there.”

He was too anxious to be touched and began to breathe rapidly, so Davis coached him through deep breathing until he was calm, which he said made his shoulder pain subside.

“We just sat there and talked to him about what he had experienced. He had woken up in the middle of the night and saw flames a block away from his apartment,” continues Davis.

Having experienced this emergency so close to home, the students are now trying to establish the online infrastructure to make it easy for volunteers to organize and respond in the event of another emergency, taking the message of preparedness to heart.

One Person's Experience Evacuating

Kimberlee Walsh

Kimberlee Walsh was woken up by the crack of a tree branch from the strong winds on the night of the fires. She smelled smoke in the air coming from a cracked window at her home in the town of Sonoma. But the severity was clear when she let out her dogs at 6:00 am and received a text from a friend that “Santa Rosa was gone”. Walsh could see the flames on the nearby hills and knew it was time to act.

By 6:45 am, she was at her local hardware store buying respirator masks. Walsh has severe asthma. A cold or exposure to chemicals could put her in the hospital, and the smoke was getting worse. She then went to the grocery store for water and supplies.

“The massive lines at the gas station in our small town felt like Armageddon,” she says. “Still, we had no plan. We had no idea who could take us in.”

In addition to their six anxious pets, the Walsh’s also had to move her father-in-law who has Parkinson’s and dementia. Walsh, her husband Sean, and daughter Shannon were packed with photos off the walls, some clothes, and their wedding album by the time that sheriffs came to enforce the evacuation. The roads were closing around Sonoma, and the only way out of town was through Petaluma.

Relatives in Fremont opened their home to the family. Out of his routine and in a strange place, Walsh’s father-in-law experienced what she called “sundowning”, confusion and he had fallen. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the 79 year old man had got himself fully dressed, thinking it was time to evacuate again.

Eight days of evacuation later, the Walshs returned to a home that was untouched, but has suffered a lot of smoke damage.

“We know twenty families that lost everything, including four very close friends,” reveals Ms. Walsh. “Driving out of Sonoma to Napa I pass the rubble of the buildings that used to be there. The neighborhoods in Santa Rosa where I would bring my children as they grew up are just gone.”

“It was incredibly frustrating to have to be away from helping others during the emergency because of my asthma,” she continues. “But the love here is thicker than the smoke. Signs are everywhere thanking the first responders.”

Today, Ms. Walsh is gathering clothes to donate. Her daughter’s high school, Justin-Siena, held its first day back, and a prayer ceremony. Those in the area know that the healing will take time, but it has started.

Kimberlee Walsh, PA-C, is Assistant Professor in the Joint MPSAS/MPH Program.

The Fires and our Public Health

  • According to CalFire.CA.Gov, over 245,000 acres have been burnt across the state since Sunday, October 8th. An estimated 8,400 structures have been destroyed and 42 lives were lost in the devastation.
  • The ashes of businesses and homes can contain hazardous metals and chemicals. Be careful to avoid inhalation and skin contact with the ash. To avoid getting more ash back in the air, use water and wet mops rather than sweeping. Vacuuming is also not recommended unless using a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
  • Air pollution moves, but doesn’t vanish. Those living in an evacuated area and surrounding areas may still need to take precautions and refer to AirNow.gov for current air quality conditions.
  • Most importantly, listen to your body. If you notice that you are sensitive and that your eyes, nose, and breathing zone are irritated, respond to that by staying inside. For a list of symptoms, visit here.
  • Under normal circumstances air quality outdoors is typically healthier than the air we have indoors, and it is good to open windows and ventilate indoor spaces. Moving forward, we can all proactively take steps to improve our indoor air and to reduce our contribution to outdoor air pollution by reducing our use of energy at home, at work and through our commute. For a list of detailed ideas, visit here.
  • Pay close attention to spare the air days, open your windows on good air days to reduce your exposure to indoor air pollutants.
  • Boil water advisories and food safety recommendations have been issued for certain areas. For more, visit here.

Essential Resources to Prepare for the Next Emergency

Don't be left wondering “What do I do?” in the next emergency.

Always seek out your county and city emergency resources to receive instruction and monitor emergencies, such as the Solano County Office of Emergency Services at www.solanocounty.com/depts/oes/

Join Nixle Public Safety Alerts by texting your zip code to 888777 to receive text updates from your local sheriff department.

Visit www.ready.gov/build-a-kit to learn how to build your emergency supply kit so that you can be safe at a moment’s notice.

Go to ShakeOut.org to learn how to participate in the world’s largest earthquake drill and set an emergency plan for your home and workplace.

Gather real time data on earthquakes and more at the US Geological Survey, usgs.org

To monitor air quality and keep up with spare the air day, visit Bay Area Air Quality Management District at baaqmd.gov

For resources on wildfires, visit fire.ca.gov

Get on Rave to Receive Emergency Alerts

Join Rave here to manage your account and enable text messaging alerts to your phone in the event of an emergency.

Donate Now to the Student Emergency Fund

At least 25 of our students had their lives disrupted by the fires. Many lost their housing or have had their rotations put on hold or are waiting for rearrangement. One student lost all that she had. Thankfully none lost their permanent homes

You can support them today by helping them get back on their feet. Giving now helps ensure that these students who live out TUC's commitment to service can continue on their paths as caregivers and community leaders.

Give Now Here and select the Student Emergency Fund

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