Santa Rosa nursing students were ‘unsung heroes’ in fire shelters

This is another in a series of stories we are posting on this regional blog related to the American Red Cross response to the Kincade Fire disaster:

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Nurses Jennifer Frye of Lower Lake and Alondra Marquez of Petaluma, posing here with Oakland Raiders cheerleaders and mascot, were among those who volunteered to help provide nursing to those who sought shelter from the Kincade Fire in three Red Cross shelters in Santa Rosa. Photo credit: American Red Cross/Barbara Wood
See more stories related to the Red Cross response to the Kincade Fire.
See photos from this response.

The Santa Rosa Junior College student nurses who turned out in force to help the nearly 1500 residents of three Santa Rosa Red Cross shelters during the Kincade Fire were true “unsung heroes,” says Red Cross nurse Peggy Goebel.

Goebel, a veteran Red Cross volunteer nurse and disaster worker since her younger days, set up the nursing services at the shelters in the Veterans Memorial building and the nearby fairgrounds in Grace Pavilion and Finley Hall.

Residents of at least nine skilled nursing facilities, plus many who had been in home and residential care, sought shelter from the Kincade Fire. At the beginning of the response, there was only one other Red Cross nurse. “I realized we needed help,” Goebel said.

As a 40-year member of the nursing faculty at the Santa Rosa Junior College, Goebel knew just where to turn. In a disaster, she said, student nurses are allowed to assist with nursing care. More than 75 student nurses responded to Goebel’s call for help.

“They did everything they were asked to do and made the shelter clients feel safe and comfortable,” Goebel said. “They did it all in the utmost professional manner.”

“I would not have survived without them, and neither would the community.”

The student nurses dealt with everything from helping blind or confused patients eat their meals to changing adult diapers. “They would do cot-to-cot assessments every shift,” Goebel said.

“They acted as runners, they helped us triage the patients,” she said. “They worked 8- to 12-hour shifts, without complaint, and they came back day after day,” she said.

The shelter even dealt with an outbreak that was possibly a highly contagious norovirus by setting up an isolation area, managing to confine the outbreak to only eight cases, Goebel said.

“We did not have one complaint about the care (shelter residents) were receiving,” Goebel said.

The student nurses were “the unsung heroes of the community that just did everything that needed to be done, with a smile,” she said.

Barbara Wood is a volunteer with Public Affairs for the Northern California Coastal Region.