Hundreds of Sonoma County residents gathered at Santa Rosa Junior College on Saturday for a “day of remembrance” of the losses suffered during the wildfires that took 42 lives and destroyed thousands of homes earlier this month.
A firefighter memorial bell was rung once for each of the lives lost in the wildfires and once more for people who are still missing. Some attendees held signs that said “Thank You First Responders,” others wore shirts saying “Sonoma County Strong.”
Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano told the crowd the saddest part is that people lost their lives and thousands lost their homes.
“I don't think we understand the level at which it's going to impact lives and the community will be different, it's not the same anymore," Giordano said.
But, he also urged people to remember that many people and homes were saved, a testament to the first responders and community.
Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner told the crowd he couldn't be more proud of the firefighters, law enforcement, medical personnel and others who helped during the fires. He said one of the many groups of unsung heroes is the dispatchers.
"When they're on the phone and they've got someone on the other line saying, 'there is fire everywhere and I can't get out,' they say, 'we're gonna get somebody to you,'” an emotional Gossner said. “And when they hear on the other line that we can't get to them, those dispatchers stay on the line with everyone, until the line goes silent."
Giordano said the six dispatchers who were working for him the night the fires started took 450 calls in the first hour and averaged 300 calls per hour for the next 8 hours. By the morning, about a dozen other dispatchers had come in to help, he said.
The dispatchers were almost forced to evacuate, but he said firefighters came and protected the office so they wouldn't have to move.