Los Angeles, May 14, 2019 — The American Red Cross Los Angeles Region honored community heroes who have demonstrated extraordinary acts of courage and humanitarian service at its 15th Annual Hometown Heroes Luncheon on Thursday, May 9th at the Carson Civic Center. Many of this year’s honorees are concerned citizens who fought to keep our communities safe during the horrific Woolsey Fires.
SEE: Photos from the Red Cross 15th Annual Hometown Heroes Luncheon (Flickr)
For 14 years, the Red Cross has celebrated extraordinary acts by ordinary people who have saved lives; made significant positive differences in their community in the areas of emergency response, disaster preparedness and prevention; or in some other way exemplified the Red Cross mission.
The event coincided with the six-month anniversary of the devastating Woolsey Fire. Here in Southern California, more than 700 Red Cross volunteers worked tirelessly to help neighbors devastated by the Woolsey and Hill fires, which scorched more than 96,000 acres and destroyed 1,500 homes.
“We are excited to be here today to honor these 62 hometown heroes, including the 44 brave members of the Woolsey Fire Strike Team,” said Veronica Garcia Dávalos, Executive Director at the Long Beach, Rio Hondo, and South Bay Chapter of the Red Cross. “In the face of one of the most destructive fires in California history, they left their homes to save lives, provide hope and make sure their team members made it out safely.”
The Red Cross also recognized Darlene Geekie, owner of Veterinary Angels and founder of The Little Angeles Project, and Dr. Martixu Ravenscroft, DVM, who provided free medical care to more than 200 animals at the Pierce College evacuation shelter during the Woolsey Fire.
“I am humbled to be here today to receive this award with all the other honorees,” Geekie said. “I met heroes from all walks of life, young and old; and professionals to everyday people, who jumped into action when least expected. There is no separation when it comes to love and giving.”
The following are the individual heroes’ stories:
Woolsey Fire Strike Teams XLF 1321A & XLC 1206A – First Responder Hero Award
The Strike Teams overcame injuries, downed power lines, blocked roads, mechanical problems, poor radio and cellular communications and a lack of reliable water supplies to save more than 50 structures from destruction during the Woolsey Fires, including single family homes and the Salvation Army Camp.
Daniel Tauch & Jesus Villavicencio – Humanitarian Hero Award
When a fellow construction worker collapsed on the job due to a seizure caused by a brain aneurysm, Tauch and Villavicencio delivered CPR and assisted emergency personnel as they stabilized the man in order to transport him to a nearby hospital.
Darlene Geekie & Dr. Martixu Ravenscroft – Disaster Services Hero Award
When the Woolsey Fires forced them to abandon their Agoura Hills veterinary practice, Dr. Ravenscroft and Geekie provided free medical care to more than 200 animals at the Pierce College evacuation shelter.
Deputy Rafer Owens – Community Hero Award
Deputy Owens, a 30-plus-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department, has launched, led, and engaged in community programs based in his hometown of Compton that offer services ranging from youth mentorship, parolee community re-integration, and community-police relationship building. Owens also serves as church pastor for a congregation of more than 2,000.
Dr. Pamela Wiley – Education Hero Award
Dr. Wiley, a speech language pathologist, founded a clinic in Baldwin Hills to serve children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families after noticing a disparity of services available to children of color and those from lower-income families. The program has since evolved to include a Vocational Training Program that prepares young people to enter the workforce and achieve independence.
Gabriel Castillo – Youth Humanitarian Hero Award
Gabriel used the Red Cross First Aid training he learned from his mother to rescue a choking classmate.
Gus Olmedo & Angel Miranda – Disaster Services Hero Award
When a neighboring mobile home caught fire after being struck by an out-of-control vehicle, Olmedo smashed the home’s window to rescue the woman, man and pets trapped inside. He and Miranda pulled the neighbors from the blaze before they sustained any major injuries.
Jose Iriarte & Marcelo Retamosa – Humanitarian Hero Award
After noticing a bus in motion without any apparent operator, Iriarte discovered the driver unresponsive and face-down on the floor and immediately began delivering CPR. After temporarily reviving the man, Iriarte recruited Retamosa to assist and, when the driver once again became unresponsive, the duo worked together to get him breathing again until emergency responders arrived.
Mike Ballentine, Gwynfa Hopkins, Jeffrey Clifton & Julianne Schaller – Blood Services Hero Award
These four prolific donors have collectively contributed more than 1,700 units of blood, plasma and platelets, and continue to regularly schedule donations. Schaller was the first female Red Cross blood donor to reach the 700-unit milestone.
Reserve Deputies Thomas Hengzen & Michael Rogers – First Responder Hero Award
With the Woolsey Fires rapidly approaching a mobile home park, Henzgen and Rogers were forced to break down a deaf 97-year-old woman’s door in order get her to safety, at which point her dog escaped down the road. As Henzgen led the woman to their rescue vehicle, Rogers took off after the dog; they ultimately saved both lives mere minutes before the blaze swallowed their home.
Sam Sachs – Service to the Armed Forces Hero Award
A 104-year-old veteran of World War II, Sachs liberated a Nazi concentration camp and led a glider fleet known as “The Flying Coffins” that transported troops and supplies onto the beaches of Normandy during D-Day.
Sergeant Eric Matusak – Humanitarian Hero Award
While enjoying a family meal at a local cafe, Sergeant Matusak noticed an elderly patron in the adjacent booth choking and used abdominal thrusts to dislodge the food blocking her airway.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCrossLA or @CruzRojaLA.