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Sebastopol-area woman’s will donates $83,000 — to wrong fire department

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When a check for nearly $83,000 arrived in the mail last month from the estate of a woman thankful for the help Sebastopol firefighters gave her over many years, Fire Chief Bill Braga was elated by the largest windfall his agency had ever received.

“It’s five, six years’ worth of flipping pancakes,” Braga said.

The check came with a note explaining the deceased 80-year-old woman’s gratitude.

“Dear Firefighters and EMTs, from 1998 to approximately 2008 many calls were made to 911 from Esther Patton’s house at Baker Lane in Sebastopol. Esther had seizures and her balance was off, causing many falls. Each time your department responded quickly, transporting her to Palm Drive Hospital for care,” wrote estate trustee Georgia Doty.

Baker Lane?

Sebastopol firefighters never went to Esther Patton’s Baker Lane cottage near Bloomfield Road to take her to the local hospital or help her up when she’d fallen.

Those were Gold Ridge firefighters, who cover much of greater Sebastopol including Hessel, Twin Hills and Freestone.

Former Gold Ridge Fire Chief Andy Pforsich estimated his firefighters went to Patton’s home at least once a month for several years.

Braga knows that is, in fact, the case.

“It was an address we don’t service,” he said. “They made a mistake” where the check was sent.

It’s not surprising Patton was confused, he said, since “a lot of people identify every fire department in west Sonoma County as Sebastopol Fire Department.”

Braga was troubled getting a windfall meant for others, so he asked Patton’s estate attorney and Sebastopol’s city attorney to give the check to Gold Ridge. But both attorneys told him it was legally made out to the Sebastopol department, he said, and the estate attorney said he knew Patton’s aim was to benefit Sebastopol firefighters.

Patton was a longtime Sebastopol area resident who died in 2013. Her two children attended local schools, including Analy High School.

“Chances are she attended our pancake breakfasts,” Braga said.

As well as Sebastopol fire, Esther Patton left her money to a Marin County nonprofit group helping families of homicide victims and a few nonprofits for health issues, Braga said.

The final decision of what to do with Patton’s check for $82,960 was up to Braga, and on Jan. 19 he met with Gold Ridge Fire Chief Dan George.

“I told him I wanted to split it in two,” Braga said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

George said the idea of Gold Ridge receiving an unexpected $40,000 was great.

“I typically don’t see those kinds of donations,” he said. “Maybe $1,000 here or a couple $1,000 there. We thoroughly appreciate this.”

His agency will split its money between the two nonprofit volunteer fire associations that serve Gold Ridge fire.

Spending options include new pagers, iPads for firetrucks or maybe new equipment for extricating people from wrecked vehicles.

Chief Braga said his volunteer firefighters’ association will meet Thursday night to discuss how to spend its share.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707-521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.

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