Chris Smith: 5-year-old Isaac donned a firefighting suit and something seemed to click

Ever since the Tubbs fire burned his home, Isaac Keys has been fearful and anxious, but something transformative happened while he pretended to be a firefighter at a Santa Rosa children’s museum.|

The firestorms of nine months ago have been terribly tough on 5-year-old Isaac Keys, whose autism compounded the loss of his family home and the deaths of two pet cats.

But days ago Isaac looked to turn a corner - while pretending to drive a fire truck and douse flames with a hose.

His parents say what happened at the Children's Museum of Sonoma County was simply astounding. An onset of grateful tears several times interrupted Isaac's dad, Chris, as he told the story.

“We were floored,” he said. “It was something straight out of a script of a movie.”

When Chris and his wife, Sara Jakel Keys, took Isaac and his kid sister, Emma, 2, to the hands-on kids' museum in Santa Rosa they had no idea it had borrowed a firehouse exhibit from the Habitot Children's Museum in Berkeley.

How would Isaac respond to it?

Ever since the Tubbs fire destroyed his family home in Santa Rosa's Hidden Valley, he has been especially fearful, anxious and clinging. His dad said any sort of alarm sets him off.

“It's been very, very difficult for Isaac,” said Chris Keys, who works at the Redwood Gospel Mission.

He and Sara, an emergency room nurse at Santa Rosa's Kaiser Permanente, imagined anything fire-related might be upsetting to Isaac. But he came upon the interactive firehouse display at the museum and his eyes grew wide.

Kids can dress up in pint-sized firefighting gear. Isaac “usually needs help putting on his clothes,” his father said, but he ran to a suit and pulled it by himself.

With his sister alongside, the young fire survivor steered a toy engine and wore a look of great determination as he sprayed make-believe water on make-believe flames.

Isaac was on. His parents both wept to see him lose himself in a role that had him answering a 911 call and rushing off to help people in danger.

His folks said it's not as though Isaac left the museum with all of his fears overcome, or each of his challenges resolved.

“He is dealing with some big emotions and has limited speech to talk about,” Sara said.

Chris said parents of children with autism might be so eager for signs of progress that they might imagine them. But he's convinced something transformative happened to Isaac when he suited up as someone who fights fires.

“They way he left there,” his dad said, “you could sense there was a huge, huge impact and release.

“It was a blessing,” he said.

Might the Keyses, living for the time being in a rental in Petaluma, return to the Children's Museum of Sonoma County and its fire truck exhibit before it's shipped back to Berkeley at the end of the year?

Oh, yeah. Said firefighter Isaac's dad, “We're going back this weekend.”

ROSES FOR KAILEE: Something special happened the other day before the first pitch in the district all-star championship game between the Petaluma American and Santa Rosa American leagues.

Home-plate umpire Coco Alfaro called onto the field a shy celebrity guest: 13-year-old Kailee Diaz-Randall. She's the catcher, pitcher and shortstop with the Westside A's of Santa Rosa who has been selected to receive the Little League Baseball's 2018 national Good Sport of the Year award.

Kailee, who just finished the seventh grade at Slater Middle School, stepped out wearing street clothes and her A's jersey. As always, her mother, Autumn, and big brother and mentor, Dominic, were with her.

Ump Alfaro told the crowd at the Rincon Valley Little League diamond that Kailee will be flown next month to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to receive the honor.

Looking on proudly was Kailee's coach, John Perry, who nominated her for the award and wrote of how she never missed a practice or game, showed up even after breaking an arm and is one impressive ballplayer.

To cheers from the stands, Alfaro and the other umpires presented Kailee a bouquet of A's-appropriate yellow-and-green roses. The roses for her mother and No. 1 fan and supporter were utility red.

To see a YouTube video by Dave Cox, click here.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and

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