On November 18, the Montecito Firefighters’ Charitable Foundation (MFCF) held a heartwarming Thanksgiving Celebration at the Biltmore’s Coral Casino to honor community heroes and raise funds for the foundation.
About 250 guests mingled on La Pacifica Ballroom Terrace before adjourning to the dining room, where emcee Geoff Green welcomed them. A short film narrated by firefighters on the 1/9 Debris Flow recounted traumatic and uplifting moments after the debris flow, including when Firefighter Andy Rupp heard a voice coming from a large debris flow. When he reached for what appeared to be a twig, he heard someone say “ouch.” That someone was Lauren Cantin, and the twig was her hair. After responders cautiously cut a thick tree branch pinning down her leg, Cantin was able to climb out. Firefighter Paramedic (and MFCF Board Secretary) Shawn Whilt recounted the treacherous conditions each day, noting how his colleague, Firefighter Steve Cochran, had a knack for falling into swimming pools disguised by the mud and debris.
After the film, Engineer (and Board VP) Lucas Grant related how in the debris flow aftermath, community members stepped up in such a tremendous way that the foundation wanted to honor some of those unsung heroes at the event. Berna Kieler was honored for founding the Recovery Free Store, which gathered clothing donations for debris flow victims. Taiana Giefer was honored for volunteering to run the shop. In presenting the award to Giefer, Whilt noted that on top of being the manager, Giefer was also the volunteer coordinator, publicist, DJ, housekeeper, and coffee mule.
Abe Powell was recognized for cofounding the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, whose more than 3,000 volunteers helped dig out the community. In accepting the award, Powell praised his wife, Jessica Powell, who cofounded the Bucket Brigade and has worked harder than he has, yet has received no awards (at which point Firefighter/Paramedic and Board President Alex Broumand quickly and amid much applause redirected the award to Jessica). Powell also recognized Tom Cole, who traveled 34 hours home from Africa to immediately begin digging. Powell shared how his inspiration for the Bucket Brigade came from the firefighters who saved our town twice — from the Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow. These amazing firefighters inspired him and Jessica to try to create a second response as organized as the first.
Travis and Amanda Twining and Amanda’s company, Giffin Rental Corporation, were honored for making available heavy machinery, which greatly assisted first responders in their rescue efforts. By midday on 1/9, 24 pieces of equipment were on the scene, and Giffin made these available, free of charge, for two weeks.
Lastly, Ty Warner was honored for generously supporting his employees during and after the Thomas Fire and debris flow and for the magnificent party he gave the first responders after these tragic events. The evening’s entertainment then began, starting with a fabulous performance by the Santa Barbara Youth Ensemble Theatre featuring none other than Lauren Cantin. Then Area 51 and Leslie Lembo took to the stage and guests danced into the night.
Formed in 2006 by the Montecito Firefighter’s Association, the Montecito Firefighters’ Charitable Foundation has been a small, quiet organization. It has accepted donations from the community and made small grants to those in need, primarily firefighters, their families, and burn victims. After the Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow, contributions poured in, and the event netted about another $70,000. So far this year, the foundation has made grants of $45,000 to relatives of those who died in the debris flow and the board is deliberating on future disbursements. The Montecito Firefighter’s Association is the non-union organization representing firefighters as well as dispatch, mechanic, prevention, and administrative personnel.
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By Gail Arnold