Our Reflection on the Wildfire Relief Trip
Sep 01, 2015 | by Long Painting
As we reported last week, a few of our employees headed over to Eastern Washington to deliver a van full of necessary supplies in an attempt to provide relief to the firefighters that have been working in overdrive due to this summer’s wildfires. Our employee Chad Erickson wrote about the experience and we would like to share it with you.
I think just like most people, the three of us saw what was happening on the news and thought we should do something to help if we were able. Along with a lot of support, we were able to accomplish exactly that. All of us were excited to help out, and I think a bit anxious to get going and get over there. As we were traveling down HWY 97 before getting to Chelan, we really started to get a good look at the carnage that had ultimately taken over the region. Our conversation began to focus on the morale of the people affected and the firefighters alike. Would there be any sort of chaos or outright panic from anyone?
As we continued our travels through Pateros and Brewster, things seemed to be operating just as they always are–people walking about, businesses running as normal–however, you could see the residents talking amongst themselves and pointing to the landscape with billowing clouds of smoke rising above them. I did not see a panicked look, but more looks of concern. The townspeople were most likely talking about evacuation plans, was the fire shifting, what should be done to protect our town, etcetera. Eventually we arrived at Okanogan and found the staging area for the fire engines and the camp where everyone was staying.
As we pulled in, there was a variety of people onsite ranging from the National Guard, DNR personnel, local firefighters, other fire departments from around the state, and just your average citizens, there to volunteer. There were wildland firefighters that had just come off the line, covered in soot and ash, obviously exhausted, but somehow still able to hold a smile on their face. It was quite remarkable to see considering the chaos that was happening just over the hillside. We were able to locate the supply facility and made contact with one of the people working and they opened up the bay door and Josh backed the trailer in. More people came to see what we had brought with a look of curiosity on their face. I could hear a couple of them reading the sign on the back, reading off some of the sponsor names. When I opened the door to the trailer, there was a brief moment of silence and then someone in the background said, “holy moly, that is a lot of stuff!” We simply smiled and informed them that a lot of the local businesses from our area really pitched in to try and help.
About 20 or so people started getting pallets and organizing so that we could get the trailer unloaded. In what took us a couple of hours to organize and load took less than 30 minutes to unload and place the items in their proper spot. In spite of all that these individuals have been through, the long hours worked and the time from their families, they still band together and work as a team. Everyone was quite grateful and shook our hands and said thank you more times than I was able to count. What I thought would have been a several hour ordeal was finished in under 45 minutes. Of course, there were other pressing matters that needed attention, so with that we left and went back to Pateros.
Once we were all settled in, we went to one of the local restaurants for a meal. We sat and listened to some music that was playing and the locals banter back and forth. We discussed the day’s events and that we were glad things went smoothly. Just as we were about to leave, four guys came in (obviously from working the fires) and sat next to us. A conversation was struck up and they asked what we were doing over here, so we told them. The look on their faces was something that I will never forget. The gratitude that they showed was beyond anything that I can explain, and they were not even from the camp that we delivered to. Really to us, it was quite simple. Someone needed help, we were fortune enough to be able to do so, and we did. The gratitude goes to them and their colleagues who selflessly fight the fires day in and day out. They showed us pictures from the frontlines and talked of their experiences, and even seemed a bit optimistic about the outcome. We exchanged handshakes and equal gratitude and then parted ways.
Overall, I believe that the trip was a huge success, and given the chance, I would do it again. I know that every business and person would equally donate or give more.
We are so proud of our community and are so grateful that we were able to provide supplies to the hardworking firefighters in our state. A special thanks to Josh, Chad, Cyndi, our employees and all of the wonderful companies and organizations that donated supplies.