English teacher helps with Camp Fire search and rescue
English teacher helps with Camp Fire search and rescue

Middle School English teacher Chris Avedissian was part of a search and rescue team that sifted through the rubble of Paradise after November's devastating Camp Fire.

"I imagined Paradise to be a pretty small community up in the mountains, but population wise, it's not much smaller than Monterey," said Avedissian, a volunteer with the Monterey County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue team. "So imagine a place the size of Monterey completely gone in just a couple of days."

Avedissian talked about his experience during a Middle School assembly on December 7, emphasizing the importance of serving others in their time of need.

The Camp Fire is the most destructive wildfire in California's history. It destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings and resulted in the deaths of 85 people. Avedissian's team was called upon to help search burned down properties for people who didn't make it out in time. "What we were called up there to do was not fun at all. It was a really unpleasant, grim task," he said. "But it was a really important thing that the community needed, and we were proud to go help."

Burned car amid rubble

Avedissian began volunteering with the search and rescue team in January 2016. Though the team is focused on Monterey County, they are sometimes called to help other communities when disasters strike. Last year, they responded to the deadly wildfire in Napa and Sonoma counties. "I joined the team because I love hiking, the outdoors, and the wilderness areas of Monterey County, and because I want to help people out when they need it," he said. "Search and rescue seemed like a perfect way to serve my community."

Knowing that service is such a big part of Santa Catalina's DNA, Avedissian wanted to find ways for the school to help people affected by the Camp Fire. In his presentation, he shared a note from the Butte County superintendent of schools, who encouraged people to write letters of love and support. So this week, students are creating cards and notes to send to the students, teachers, and families displaced by the fire. A more robust service project will take place after Christmas break.

"When this kind of stuff happens, it's tragic and it's unfortunate, but one of the things I've witnessed and experienced is that it's also really powerful to see how much people will rally and step up and help," Avedissian said.

Ways to Give

(Top photo: Chris Avedissian, second from right in the second row from the top, with the search and rescue team.)

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