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Team Rubicon Crosses into Pateros to Help

Dee Camp

Dee Camp is a reporter for the Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle in Washington state.

PATEROS, WA – A volunteer team of former military personnel and first responders is in town to help city officials and residents coordinate cleanup and negotiate the maze of government forms required for aid related to the Carlton Complex wildfires.

The city, where about 30 homes burned, has signed a contract with Team Rubicon, based in El Segundo, Calif., for assistance.

“It’s an amazing group of people,” Pateros City Clerk Kerri Wilson said. “There’s no cost to anybody in town.”

“The wildfires here have been pretty devastating,” Team Rubicon spokesman Sam Kille said. “It’s just an overwhelming disaster.”

The organization sent an incident management team that will help manage volunteer groups’ efforts, walk-in volunteers and other. “Operation Humble Troops,” the group’s effort in the area, also will help account for volunteer hours so the city can recoup federal disaster assistance.

“They’ve been amazing help,” Wilson said. “They even come with their own IT people.”

“Team Rubicon is doing a fantastic job of helping others in need right now,” Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest spokesman Mick Mueller said.

Team Rubicon also is managing debris removal.

“We’ll go and sift through the debris for anything that can be salvaged,” Kille said.

One anything that’s found is removed and returned to the owner, the group will push debris to the curb – or property line – for pickup. Team Rubicon’s services are available to those outside the city, too.

“The community has done a great job of pulling together; however, an event like this can be beyond overwhelming,” Incident Commander Robert Obernier said. “The city has placed its trust in Team Rubicon and we are grateful for the opportunity to help residents on their path to recovery.”

“People seem to be really grateful,” for the help, Kille said. “There’s a great spirit in this community. We’re amazed at what the community has done so far.”

Just hours after the fire tore through the city July 17, people had set up a relief center, first at City Hall and then at Pateros High School. A community barbecue was organized July 19 so community members could gather, visit and use up perishable foods since electricity and other utilities were off.

This Wednesday, community volunteers, charities, private donors, businesses and government response agencies announced a more permanent disaster relief center would be opened in the former grocery store at 169 Pateros Mall.

The new center will be a distribution site for the large volumes of donated fire relief items, including food clothing, household supplies, baby items and so forth.

Kille and center organizers said there are plans to have a multi-agency resource center located in the building to provide other resources and support to fire victims.

“The goal is a one-stop shop,” Kille said.

Team Rubicon members meet daily with the Washington National Guard and volunteer groups.

“The big focus now is cleanup and recovery,” he said. “We’re still working with the county and city on pickup. Then people can start to rebuild.”

For the time being, people can go to the high school to sign up for debris removal. Once the relief center is set up, assistance will be available there.

About two dozen Team Rubicon members will be stationed in Pateros for several weeks.

“We’ll bridge the gap for long-term recovery,” Kille said. “We’re teaching the city what it takes” to negotiate the federal relief process.

Team Rubicon was formed in January 2010 by two former Marines who wanted to help with relief efforts after the Haiti earthquake. They were turned down by other organizations, so decided to start their own organization.

“They started raising money and recruiting others,” Kille said.

When they couldn’t enter Haiti directly, they flew into the Dominican Republic – which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti – and when overland.

The group’s name comes from the Rubicon a stream over which Julius Caesar crossed when marching on Rome, that now refers to a point of no return. Crossing the border from the Dominican Republic into Haiti was considered that point of no return, Kille said.

After that, the organization grew to its present 16,000-member size and the focus expanded from foreign relief efforts to include domestic ones. Team Rubicon assisted with tornadoes in Alabama, Missouri and Oklahoma, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, he said.

Many of the members are former military personnel; the group also helps them find purpose in life, Kille said. The non-profit group’s mission is to bring the expertise and skills learned in the military, combined with first responders, to help bridge the gap in disaster response and recovery.

It is supported by donations.

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