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Season’s Greetings from Pateros

Sam Kille

Sam Kille has a strong background in crisis communications and media relations, following nearly seven years—and several major disasters—as a communications director with the American Red Cross. A 3rd-generation Marine, he served initially as an amphibious assault vehicle crewman, and then in public affairs, with deployments to the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Latin America. He lives on Long Island, N.Y., with his wife and two children. He can often be heard yelling at his television during NY Islanders games.

Ah, the holidays …

Each day our mailboxes fill up with holiday greetings from those wishing to show us their adorable children and pets in sweaters while sometimes causing a panic when we realize we hadn’t included them on our list.

And yes, my family is just as guilty.

Yet the other day, one card stood out. It was from the City of Pateros and was signed by the mayor and all of the city’s workers. Following behind it was an email from Jord Wilson, the city administrator, who wanted to provide a few updates.

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“… Had to laugh a little, we had Christmas in the City down at the park. Three city fire engines brought Santa with sirens blaring. You’ve not seen a more nervous crowd; everyone twitching and borderline panic to the sound of all those engines.”

In the end it was a good night, but the sounds of sirens will take a while to get used to for many. Pateros was one of the hardest hit communities during the Carlton Complex Wildfire this past July, which ripped through 256,000 acres and destroyed 300 homes. It was the worst wildfire on record in Washington State.

With a small staff, and fires still threatening the area, the city was completely overwhelmed. For the first time ever, a municipality signed over control of a response to a nonprofit—Team Rubicon, a veteran-led disaster relief organization. An Incident Management Assistance Team was deployed, led by Bob Obernier. I was the team’s Public Information Officer, and it was an honor to represent not only TR, but to serve as the spokesperson for Pateros itself.

Each morning, we’d sit in City Hall with representatives from the city, school district, fire department, and other volunteer agencies, as Bob led the discussion and guided the priorities for the day.

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Among those priorities, Team Rubicon working with other volunteers to sift through and remove debris, or collecting data that would ultimately be needed to recoup response costs for the city.

“From all accounts, our City has done the best getting our FEMA projects together and writing successful Project Worksheets,” wrote Wilson. “I attribute much of that to Team Rubicon’s help in getting us off on the right foot.”

Before TR handed the “keys” back to the city, more than 80 volunteers from across the country responded, logging more than 7,116 hours.

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“With Team Rubicon and William Porter’s help (An IMAT member) we were able to capture $358,652.19 in donated materials and volunteer hours. This will obviously cover our match. Thanks! I was able to give the school an additional amount that covered their match also.”

There’s still a lot of work ahead of them, but Wilson also shared images of hope—new homes being built, including his father’s and members of the city council.

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So, as we hurry and scurry to get those last minute gifts, let’s pause to offer up a holiday wish to Pateros and all the towns that required help from Team Rubicon in 2014.

As the new year dawns, may it bring a brighter tomorrow. Thank you for inviting us into your community.

… THANK YOU, for letting us serve again.