“I’ll never forget the flames and embers that were floating while I was driving,” said Napa resident David Preimesberger about his narrow escape from the fire that consumed his home one year ago.
“It was surreal.”
Preimesberger had just returned home from a business trip to London, and his wife, Mel, had just set out on her own work trip.
A jetlagged Preimesberger went to bed early, only to be awakened around midnight by the barking of his family’s dog, Kudi—who rarely barks. “I got up and looked out the window and saw that fire was coming up the hill all around the house,” he said.
“I had about three minutes to put on my jeans and flip flops, grab what I could, and head downstairs to the car. I told Kudi that we’ve got to go now, and he followed and never left my side.”
Preimesberger gratefully refers to Kudi as “my first responder.” “He definitely saved me from harm and I want to recognize him for that.”
Preimesberger told the story of how Kudi saved his life at the Celebrating Second Responders event Oct. 3 at the Westin Verasa Hotel.
After first responders directly battled flames and rescued victims when fires broke out in October 2017, another group of locals, the “second responders,” stepped in to provide shelter, food, medical aid, and ongoing recovery assistance to those who were affected by the fires.
Second responder organizations were recognized at the event, alongside first responder Kudi, with awards presented by public officials including U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, and Napa County Supervisors Alfredo Pedroza and Belia Ramos.
“Nonprofits work tirelessly for our community throughout the year, and during disasters they are the backbone of recovery efforts and the glue that binds public and private interests,” said Aguiar-Curry.
“While we can never truly thank nonprofits enough for all they do, the Celebrating Second Responders event was a great way to honor their dedication and service to the community.”
Thompson affirmed that work by second responders is ongoing.
“Second responders are our wonderful neighbors who selflessly jumped in and stepped up to help our community after the fires. They have not stopped working in the year since—volunteers who lost their own homes, staff at nonprofits directing donations, and leaders working to coordinate help and aid. The job they did was phenomenal and we are so grateful for the work they did.”
Among the organizations recognized was OLE Health, represented by CEO Alicia Hardy: “It really was powerful for me personally to have that venue to recognize all that we lived through together. And more importantly to celebrate how strong our partnerships are in this community. I felt so proud to be among such brave, committed, smart and fearless leaders who stepped up and did whatever was needed to help and support everyone in our community both during the fires and long after they were over.”
The feeling of connection to colleagues and collaborators was a big part of the evening also for licensed marriage and family therapist Marti Palmer, clinical director of the mental health services provider Mentis: “It was moving and touching to see so many organizations working together. At a time when all of us were dealing with our own problems from the fires, we were still able to get together to help those most affected.”
For Palmer’s organization, as for many others, the demand for fire-related services is ongoing. Palmer said, “Symptoms of trauma can turn up weeks, months, or years after an event. Now that things have settled for them a bit, now they are experiencing symptoms of PTSD.”
Jenny Ocon, executive director of UpValley Family Centers, reiterated that sense of connection with colleagues, and also of ongoing need for fire recovery assistance: “It was so special to be together, to reflect on the importance of community, and to be recognized for our efforts. After so much loss and destruction, it was healing to see all the good work that has been done and to feel we are in this recovery together.” She added, “We continue to provide long-term disaster case management for households still working towards a full recovery.”
One organization was both a sponsor of the event and the recipient of a surprise award: the Napa Valley Community Foundation (NVCF). Terence Mulligan, president, said “Nonprofits in our community do extremely important and very often difficult work year-round, but never more so than in the last 12 months following the fires . . . It was a powerful, emotional and uplifting evening.”
The NVCF hosted the Celebrating Second Responders event along with The Doctors Company, and will manage the donor-advised fund created by The Doctors Company to direct an initial $127,000 in grants to over two dozen local second-responder organizations.
Richard E. Anderson, MD, FACP, chairman and CEO of The Doctors Company, presented a surprise award to Mulligan and NVCF, which will receive additional grant funds. He said, “When the wildfires erupted last year, the Foundation was prepared to respond. Within 48 hours of the outbreak, it brought together decision makers in local government and in the nonprofit sector to assess urgent needs and inform long-term recovery efforts. Within just five days, the Foundation was able to distribute emergency response grants to a targeted list of local nonprofit organizations.”
Dr. Anderson summarized the scale of the assistance provided by the NVCF, which has “provided direct aid to 15,000 individuals and 1,900 households impacted by the fire. But at least as important as the direct assistance, is their partnership with trusted local nonprofit agencies with experience and expertise across many disciplines.”
Mulligan said, “We were surprised and grateful to be named as a special honoree at the event, and will use the generous gift from The Doctors Company to support our ongoing fire recovery and rebuilding programs.”
“Recovery from a wildfire is hard work and I wouldn’t want to do it alone. Luckily we don’t have to,” said Ramos, echoing the team spirit experienced by many at the event. “Our nonprofits are an integral part of our recovery.”
Pedroza agreed. “While we partner every day with local nonprofits to provide community resources and benefits, their partnership during disasters is critical to an effective emergency response and recovery. Thank you second responders for the work you continue to do to help Napa County recover.”
Remembering the overall “daunting” process after losing his home last year, Preimesberger, CFO of The Doctors Company, expressed gratitude for the people who helped his family. “Those folks really support and help us rebuild our lives, as well as our home,” he said.
Preimesberger also invites the community to join in and support their neighbors. “Everyone can be a second responder,” he said. “It’s a matter of listening to someone’s story, taking them to buy groceries, helping them walk the dog. Those community-minded things really add up and make a difference.”