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Without hesitation

Newport-Mesa volunteers have provided food and services to safety crews at command posts throughout the county since Sunday.

October 25, 2007|By Kelly Strodl

When Debra Boelkes got sworn in as a disaster volunteer Saturday, it never crossed her mind that days later she would be coordinating relief efforts for one of the worst disasters in state history.

But Boelkes didn’t hesitate when the call went out for certified volunteers to assist fire crews holed up at the command post in Irvine Regional Park in Orange, some 17 miles from her home in Newport Beach.

Volunteers from Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Villa Park, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, San Juan Capistrano, Irvine and other cities have provided food, drinks and services to safety crews at different command posts throughout the county since Sunday.

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“I totally expected that whatever I did would be in my neighborhood,” Boelkes said. “I never thought we would be called up two days after our graduation.”

Newport Beach swore in 42 Newport Beach Community Emergency Response Team members Saturday, after more than a month of training in first aid, search-and-rescue tactics, earthquake/tsunami situations and fire suppression.

Boelkes, who also works just blocks away from where the fires hit Monday in Foothill Ranch, took on the role of incident commander for the 12-hour 6 a.m. shift Wednesday. She sent volunteers on a variety of jobs — feeding resting firefighters, relaying messages between different agencies and manning the park’s front gates. The last turned out to be an eventful task.

Throughout the day a number of evacuees — infuriated by the loss of their homes — attempted to push their way in the gates and voice their anger with Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputies.

The Santiago Canyon fire marks the first use of Newport Beach or Costa Mesa response team volunteers for countywide emergency since the program’s beginnings. The Costa Mesa program, run by fire protection Specialist Brenda Emerick, started in 1998. Newport Beach’s program began in 1999 and is coordinated by Community Preparedness Coordinator Matt Brisbois.

The situation has given volunteers a “good experience to see a mutual aid firsthand,” Brisbois said.

Brisbois and Emrick joined forces this week, coordinating for the entire county. Alternating 12-hour shifts, Brisbois on day watch and Emrick at night, the two manage 20 volunteers each shift and said they take pride in how their cities have stepped up.

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