Oprah pays tribute to responders of Thomas Fire, Montecito mudslides in stamp unveiling

Oprah Winfrey stands alongside Lauren Cantin, left, a mudslide survivor, during a U.S. Postal Service stamp dedication ceremony held at the Montecito Fire Department on Friday.
Oprah Winfrey stands alongside Lauren Cantin, left, a mudslide survivor, during a U.S. Postal Service stamp dedication ceremony held at the Montecito Fire Department on Friday. Noozhawk

A new U.S. Postal Service stamp honoring first responders was revealed on Friday at a Montecito ceremony featuring remarks by Oprah Winfrey.

The stamp includes a firefighter in red, a paramedic in white and a police officer in blue. It pays tribute to firefighters, law enforcement officers, emergency medical service professionals and other emergency personnel across the nation.

The ceremony also specifically recognized responders in the catastrophic Thomas Fire in December that burned more than 280,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and the deadly Jan. 9 Montecito mudslides.

Winfrey, a resident of Montecito, helped unveil the Honoring First Responders Forever stamp during the gathering held at the Montecito Fire Protection Districtheadquarters at 595 San Ysidro Road.

Air Squad 6 from the Ventura County Aviation Unit helped rescue this woman from a mudslide in Montecito on the morning of Jan. 9, 2018.

“We came to celebrate and commemorate you with a stamp that will forever be an acknowledgment of your commitment to our community,” Winfrey told the first responders in the crowd. “We just want to say ‘thank you’ for living out loud what it means to be a hero.

“This stamp is merely a symbol of what the spirit of each of you represent— each of you represent the best of us,” she continued. “You represent the rising of courage, the rising of honor, the rising of compassion, endurance, survival and thriving.”

Montecito resident Oprah Winfrey speaks during a U.S. Postal Service stamp dedication ceremony held Friday. Brooke Holland Noozhawk

Winfrey offered thanks to the emergency personnel who responded during Santa Barbara County’s twin disasters.

“Your actions define what it means to be a hero,” Winfrey said. “The hours away from your family, the risk you take, the uncertainty, the toil in labor required to bear the honor of being called a first responder — we applaud you.”

With this stamp, USPS District Manager Alfred Santos, the Postal Service recognizes all first responders for their skill, dedication and bravery.

“First responders are the backbone of our communities,” Santos said during his remarks. “We honor our heroes among us, the first responders who answer the call to help — we honor you for being the first to the scene and the last to leave.”

Santos also led the few hundred attendees in a moment of silence honoring responders who lost their lives in the line of duty.

The Santa Barbara Police Department and county Sheriff’s Department did a presentation of colors at the event, and the Ventura City Firefighters Pipes and Drums band played.

Lauren Cantin, a survivor of the debris flow who was found buried in mud Jan. 9 under the ruins of her Montecito home, sang “God Bless America.”

Montecito Fire Chief Chip Hickman offered opening remarks and acknowledged community leaders, elected officials, emergency dispatchers, support agencies like the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management, the county’s Executive Office, the county’s Emergency Medical Services Agency, area nonprofits, volunteers and the Partnership for Resilient Communities.

“It takes a village, and we could not do it without your support,” Hickman said.

During the ceremony, Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade founder John Abraham Powell spoke of the first responder’s efforts during the Thomas Fire and subsequent Montecito debris flow, as well as the volunteers working alongside Montecito homeowners during a community-driven recovery to help dig debris piles from homes after the January debris flow and flash flooding.

“I got to witness this work, and witness these people go out, and over and over again, save my neighbors, save my friends, save my friend’s children, and then get up and do it again and again,” Powell said of first responders. “The experience was deeply moving.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.
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