It is not unusual for students at Parkdale Elementary to cheer each other on, for any number of reasons, but a unique and inspiring occasion for applause took place Friday.
Julisa Ramirez received the first Hero Award from Parkdale Fire Department, from Fire Chief Mike McCafferty, for saving her family’s life in the March 17 fire that destroyed their McIntosh Road home.
“We have a very special assembly today,” Principal Kim Vogel said. “There is a student in our school who did something very special for her family, and as a result nothing really awful happened. It could have been a lot worse.”
At 6 a.m. that morning, Julisa smelled smoke and awoke her family, reminding them to meet at “our safe place,” the family car, out of harm’s way. (The house was totaled and the family lost all their belongings.)
McCafferty said, “This Junior Firefighter learned what she was taught and put it into action and saved her family,” and he brought forward Julisa, a second-grader. “This is a special honor for us.”
Deputy State Fire Marshal Ted Megert presented a certificate of commendation to Julisa, from State Marshal Mark Wallace, commending Julisa “in recognition of your initiative, bravery and action on March 17 when you bravely remembered your life-saving training.”
Then, assisted by her friend Melissa Glenn, Julisa received a bag full of stuffed animals from the public safety folk, starting with Michelle Renault from Hood River 9-1-1 Dispatch.
“Thank you for doing such a great job in getting your family well prepared,” Renault told her, handing her a “Cellphone Sally” doll. “You helped us in 9-1-1 to get the fire department to your family as quick as possible.”
Dale Walker of Secure Storage, 1400 Tucker Road, has donated a unit to the McLean-Rivera family to store and accept items such as furniture and clothing.
Shawna McLean-Rivera and Juan Rivera are also seeking a rental home.
Donations can be delivered Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Nayeli (female, age 1): 12-18 months, shoe size 4-5
Julisa (female, age 8): girls 12-14, shoe size 6.5 women’s
Manuel: sizes small, medium-large, shoe size 8.5 to 9
Shawna: size XL-1X, shoe size 10
“I think it was awesome,” Julisa said after the ceremony. “I was kind of shy. My legs were actually shivering. It was awesome for people to thank me, and I thank them, too.”
Firefighters had already planned to bring Julisa a few bears, to replace the one the girl lost in the fire. McCafferty said a Parkdale resident came to the fire hall Monday, saying he had read in the paper that Julisa had lost her bear, and he presented McCafferty with four bears.
“His wife collects bears and he picked four out, and said ‘This is for her.’ I said, ‘Does she know you took them?’ And he was gone.”
The PTO presented to Julisa’s mother, Shawna McLean, a check for $157.60 — proceeds from the monthly support night from Cooper Spur Inn. PTO decided to share the proceeds from the March 21 dinner, with the money going toward helping find a new house for the family.
(More community events are planned to help the family and an account in Shawna McLean’s name has been set up at CenterPointe Bank. See sidebar for details on a donated Secure Storage unit, and how to donate needed clothing and household items.)
Julisa gave this account of what happened in her home at 6 a.m. on March 17:
“I thought my Mom opened the window because it gets hot in my room, and you know how people are burning wood outside? I thought it was that. But when I smelled something burning and I heard the fire crickling, I thought, ‘That should be stopped by now,’ and my whole room was full of smoke, and I yelled ‘Mom!’ twice.”
McCafferty said, “Hopefully this is something everyone never has to go through. Julisa learned from what we were teaching. What she did and what she told her mom to do is exactly what we teach, so that’s why we’re here today.
“We appreciate from Hood River fire and public safety that the Hood River County School District lets us come into the schools,” McCafferty said. “Here’s a prime example of a young person retaining what we taught.”
When the time came for the firefighters to present the bears to Julisa, Oscar Anaya was last. “Oscar you gotta give it up,” McCafferty joked. Anaya smiled and handed over the bear, giving Julisa a hug. As he turned away, Julisa extended the bear to Anaya and said, “Here, you can say goodbye to it.”