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In wake of Kincade fire, Windsor residents fund training for aspiring firefighters

Windsor residents thankful for the salvation of their town in the Kincade fire have launched a scholarship fund for firefighter students at Santa Rosa Junior College.|

Handmade posters and colorful signs bursting with praise and gratitude for the firefighters that defended Windsor against the Kincade fire have become ubiquitous around the town over the past few weeks.

One group of residents is hoping to take their community’s show of appreciation one step further, with a new scholarship fund to aid students enrolled in the Santa Rosa Junior College Fire Technology Program.

Organizers say it’s their way of sustaining support for the men and women who faced down flames from the largest wildfire in county history. Fueled by winds that reached over 100 mph, it swept down the western flank of the Mayacamas range Oct. 27 toward the north end of town, threatening to rip through neighborhoods and keep going until it reached the ocean.

But hundreds of firefighters stood firm, fighting house-to-house as flames tore at the town’s eastern edge.

“It’s a phenomenal effort that saved a town, and I think that’s so amazing,” said Denise Dixon, a retired certified public accountant. “We need to do something more than just put up posters that say, ‘Thank you.’ We need to do more.”

The Windsor Residents Firefighters Appreciation Fund was established through the SRJC Foundation to help support those who want to enter fire service and need financial assistance. Recipients must meet grade performance standards.

About $2,000 has been donated so far. Organizers plan to have a fundraising table at the Harvest Festival and Windsor Together Concert in the Town Square on Saturday afternoon, said Dixon, 67.

“This is the primary way for local people to get into fire departments, so it’s a perfect fit for what we had intended, of trying to substantially show our support for the people who did this, by funding future firefighters through this program,” she said.

The SRJC Fire Technology program is a key source of Sonoma County’s firefighters, training about 80% of those who enter local fire service, according to Randy Collins, associate dean of the department.

About 300 students are enrolled each semester, he said.

“A scholarship like this would allow students who are economically challenged to enter the program and pursue a career in the field,” Collins said.

Attorney Rebecca Mann, who lives in Windsor with her husband and son, helped put the scholarship fund together after hearing about it through the Nextdoor social network, where the idea first percolated.

“Windsor was pretty much going to be wiped off the map, like Coffey Park, but the firefighters stood up and made a stand,” said Mann, 49, referring to heavy losses in Santa Rosa during the 2017 Tubbs fire. “We were emotional and appreciative and wanted to show our appreciation but couldn’t do it directly to the firefighters, so we thought if we created this it would help us support firefighters down the road.”

SRJC President Frank Chong indicated the donation would pay future dividends for the community.

“The need for well-trained firefighters in Sonoma County and the surrounding area has never been greater,” SRJC President Frank Chong said. “I am so appreciative that our community has come together to support students interested in a career in public safety.”

Tax-exempt donations to the Windsor Residents Firefighters Appreciation Fund may be made by check, payable to the SRJC Foundation, at 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95401; online at santarosa.edu/foundation, by clicking on the “donate” button and typing in Windsor Residents Firefighter Appreciation Fund under the drop-down donation category menu; or to the Windsor Thanks account at any Exchange Bank branch.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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