Mr. Douglas H. Bosco is the son of a resident who resided at Villa Capri, an Oakmont Senior Living community that was destroyed in the Tubbs Fire. Representative Bosco served in the state legislature (1978-82) and the United States Congress (1982-90). For the past ten years, he has served as Chairman of the California Coastal Conservancy. Representative Bosco is part Owner of Sonoma Media Investments LLC, d.b.a. The Press Democrat, and is a Co-Owner and Founder of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Co.
“My mother spent her last three years at Villa Capri. Aside from occasional complaints about the food, and the woman next door whose TV volume was turned up too high, Mom was happy there. Mostly, she loved the caregivers who came by with food, medicine and conversation. In her last hours, she called for these women, to say a final goodbye. Nurse Jane stayed the entire night downstairs on the couch, just to be available at this sad time.
The inferno that roared through the crest of Fountaingrove on the early morning of October 9th completely destroyed Villa Capri in a matter of minutes. Yet, without any help from “first responders,” 66 elderly residents, including 25 who suffered from dementia, were rescued and brought to safety. I knew many of these people from my visits to Villa Capri, and I want to relate how their lives were saved by a handful of courageous men and women.
When four caregivers came on duty at 10pm on October 8th, all residents were in their rooms and most were asleep. At 11pm, the power went out and the building went dark, except for auxiliary lights. PGE’s auto message told a caregiver that power would come back on in about an hour.
At midnight, the power came back on. All was quiet and normal for an hour. Then the power went off again, plunging the building into near darkness. At about 1:30am, a resident’s daughter arrived to take her father home. She warned that a fire was only two miles away. A caregiver immediately called 911 and was told to evacuate. She then called Deborah Smith, Villa’s Executive Director, who also dialed 911. Smith was told there were twenty-five fires burning, no first responder resources were available and not to expect help at Villa Capri. Smith headed to Villa, making cellphone calls to any personnel who could help evacuate residents. She was stopped and turned around on the freeway. She resorted to back roads and was stopped dead in traffic.
Joel, who lived all the way out at Two Rock, was awakened by his cellphone vibrating from Deborah’s call. A young, strong guy, he is the maintenance supervisor at Villa Capri. Racing at 100mph, in only fifteen minutes he reached a police barricade at Fountaingrove Parkway and was instructed to turn around. Joel said, “I’m going through, like it or not – there are lives at stake.” Warning him his own life was at stake, the officer waived him on. When Joel got to Villa, he immediately took charge. The caregivers had already assembled in the lobby 20 or so “memory care” residents who suffered from dementia. Joel posted a caregiver with them to prevent them from wandering. He stationed the remaining three caregivers at the staircases, and they began taking residents from each of the rooms to the first-floor lobby. Most required walkers, canes or wheelchairs but there was no time for elaborate dressing or urgent requests for personal belongings. By 2am, the fire was visible out the back windows, roaring up close from the East.
Joel and the caregivers were joined by two Villa employees who lived nearby, and a Villa employee’s husband. Four family members arrived on the scene after 2am and began helping assemble residents in the lobby.
Of critical concern was how to transport everyone out of the building to Coddingtown, where emergency shelter was being staged. One of the family members had a large suburban, and Joel and the others had cars of various sizes. Not nearly enough vehicles for the entire group. With the fire rapidly advancing no one would be allowed a roundtrip back to Villa Capri to rescue more potential victims. In the parking lot was the Villa tour bus and another smaller bus.
As the suburban, individual autos and two buses began loading and heading down the hill, word came from Jane, the R.N., that the evacuation center at Coddingtown was itself in danger, and all future evacuees should report to New Vintage Church. Jane received the residents, many of whom were in bathrobes, pajamas, wearing no shoes or glasses, and without their medicine. Jane and Deborah went room-by-room accounted for all residents.
Over forty Villa Capri and other company employees and many family members served at the church to make evacuees comfortable, including the chefs who made breakfast and lunch for all. Working with local pharmacists, (and driving herself to the VA hospital in San Francisco and back), Jane provided each of the residents with their medicines by the end of the day. Within twenty-four hours, all were situated in suitable accommodations throughout the Bay Area.
As with so many vignettes of local heroism and courage, what could have been a tragedy was turned around by those who saw the challenge and despite personal peril unselfishly stepped up to meet it.”