Hundreds gather to show support for emergency responders, families affected by fires

By Adam Stewart
Hutchinson News – April 3, 2017

Click on photo to view full-size. Photo by Lindsey Bauman

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Wendell Goertzen with the Hutchinson Fire Department recounted Sunday night how horrible it felt March 6 when firefighters got the command to retreat from the wildfires around the Highlands after the wind shifted.

“We don’t lose,” Goertzen said. “That’s not what we do.”

He told a crowd of a few hundred people at the Hutchinson Sports Arena that, at the time, it felt like letting people down. He could see it on other firefighters’ faces as well, a rare somber look on every face.

So when well-wishes and encouragement started pouring in from the public, he didn’t understand it. He knew homes had been lost – by the time the fires were over, 10 homes had been destroyed.

But earlier Sunday evening, Mike Ellegood explained why he thanked firefighters, even though his house was one of the 10 that burned. He said he didn’t focus on the fact that 10 homes couldn’t be saved. He focused on the fact that hundreds more homes were saved.

Goertzen and Ellegood were among the speakers at a special “Grateful Together” community event at the Hutchinson Sports Arena. Organized by local churches, the event was an opportunity for community members to thank firefighters and other first responders for their efforts battling wildfires in northern Reno County in March and to show support for the families affected by the fires.

Ellegood said so much support and help was offered by the community during and since the fires. The night when the fires burned his home, he got so many calls of support and offering help, he’d never heard as many people tell him “We’ll leave the light on for you” ever before.

When he returned to work at Buhler High School where he is the principal, a student gave him money.

“This is from my grandpa,” he remembered the student saying. Then the student hugged Ellegood. “And this is from me.”

Thoughtful donations

Aaron Walton with the fire department said that so much support came from the public during the fire. There were numerous donations of bottled water, Gatorade and food, but other things he wouldn’t have even thought about to help – eye drops, lip balm and dry socks.

And gifts and tokens of support are still coming in. Wes Stewart with the fire department said that on Sunday, an out-of-county family delivered cases – not boxes, cases – of Girl Scout cookies.

Stewart said he hopes that these fires are a once-in-a-career event, but he also hopes the community spirit that they engendered continues, and he urged the audience to continue to find ways to help in their community.

 

Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
http://www.ksffa.com
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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