Not all heroes wear capes

Uplifting stories among fires

Working alone can be a strenuous task, but working with others can aid in change at a faster pace. Communities who face disaster learn this lesson well and can name many heroes who helped make a tragic situation better.

Take Thomas Gorden, for instance.

Thomas Gorden is a 22 year-old who lives in Simi Valley. His lifelong dream was to become a firefighter, but those dreams ended in a 2009 car accident. Since the accident, Gorden experiences chronic back pain, preventing him from pursuing a physically-demanding career.

In an attempt to pursue other options, Gorden created a Twitter account, posting whenever a major incident occurred in the Ventura County area. His account has grown to over 55,000 followers since Jan. 2011. He has recently provided the public with some of the fastest, most accurate information during the Woolsey and Hill fires.

Many may know him by the screen-name, VCScanner.

Gorden explained that he received most of his information regarding the fires from scanners, which are dispatch channels, command channels and tactical channels.

“There are multiple radio channels for each of the multiple agencies involved that I have to listen to to get info,” Gorden wrote to the Talon. “But nowhere near as much as I would get from a scanner.”

Gorden wrote to the Talon that while he has no official connections in the Ventura County fire department, he also uncovered a significant amount of information from them.

“You will often hear the fire department discussing their next evacuation plans long before a official notification makes it out,” Gorden said.

Up until the Woolsey fire, English teacher and literary magazine Advisor, Leslie Miller, had never been registered on social media. As someone who “abhores” social media, Miller decided to download Twitter and subscribe to VC Scanner’s page to receive updates regarding the fire and evacuation maps.

Miller originally was introduced to the VC Scanner’s account by 11th grade English teacher, Jennifer Hankins, who sent her the Oak Park evacuation map on the evening of Nov. 8. Hankins was worried that Miller’s elderly parents who reside in Oak Park had not heard news of the evacuations.

“If my friend Jen had not sent me [VC Scanner’s] tweet, my time in getting over there would’ve been really delayed,” Miller said, explaining how she helped her parents evacuate from their home.

Miller and her family live on the border of Westlake and Oak Park. Miller evacuated her home around 10:30 pm that evening. She described the situation as horizontal.

“Horizontal wind, ash, smoke, and flames visible in a 360 view,” Miller said.

After the evacuation, Miller tweeted VC Scanner to thank him. It was her first, only and last tweet on Twitter.

“Well you’re my hero. I hate social media and don’t have a Twitter account. My friend sent screenshots of your post last Thursday night specifying the first VC wave of Mand Evacs. I got my elderly parents out of Oak Park in time by showing them YOUR tweet of the perimeter. Thank you,” Miller tweeted to VC Scanner.

Along with Gorden’s efforts, Paul Kipnes, a Rabbi at Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, has extended a helping hand towards those in need.

Kipnes posted on his Facebook page on Nov. 10 offering up a safe space at De Toledo High School where the congregation would provide breakfast and lunch, as well as activities for children and a place for adults to converse and process the recent tragedy.

“For anyone needing support, food, or simply a space to be,” Kipnes post read. “There will be counselors available for support for anyone who wishes it.”

A few days later on Nov. 17, Kipnes posted again. This time, he wrote that one of Or Ami’s congregants was a firefighter. The congregant told Kipnes that fire departments are in need of protection from inhaling toxins and ash produced from the fires.

“This Hot Shield mask is what firefighters want and need. So before Shabbat started, Congregation Or Ami purchased 100, the last ones in SoCal, and we are delivering them today,” Kipnes post read.

During times of tragedy, there are heroes and there are also small blessings that help communities move forward.

Oak Park High School continues to stand, as do all schools in the district. On the corner of OPHS, the local Wishtree is untouched.

Oak Park has been hosting the Community Read for the past four years. The organizer of the event chooses a book accessible to all grade levels. The 2018 book was “Wishtree,” by Katherine Applegate. On Oct. 1, Oak Park community members were able to meet at the Wishtree and participate in a community book talk. At the end of the meeting, attendees were able to tie a wish to the oak tree.

In the midst of the Woolsey fire, Jay Greenlinger, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the district, sent out a tweet, quoting “Wishtree,” writing that not a single leaf, branch or hanging wish was destroyed by the fires.

“But sometimes things happen that aren’t so good,” Greenlinger quoted from the book. “When they occur, I’ve learned that there’s not much you can do except stand tall and reach deep.”