Boulder Flood Tribute: Lessons Learned, Stories Told

Know your neighbor. Community is everything. Be prepared.

These are the lessons learned in the stories told by Boulder’s first responders and community organizers at the Boulder Flood Tribute, Community Stories in Action, held last night at the future home of the Museum of Boulder.

No doubt the panelists love to share these stories of individuals taking charge and neighbor helping neighbor. On this evening, they reflected on the community building that emerged from tragedy and devastation, and the immense power of lending a hand to those who need help–for giver and receiver alike.

On both a humanitarian and practical level, the impact of the events that began to unfold one year ago tonight will stay with them—and all of us—forever.

In order of appearance, here are nuggets from each panelist.

Flood Response Panel

Deputy Chief Michael Calderazzo, City of Boulder Fire-Rescue

Deputy Chief Michael Calderazzo, City of Boulder Fire-Rescue

Michael Calderazzo, Deput Chief, City of Boulder Fire-Rescue was three months new to his job in Boulder when the flooding began. Calderazzo has hundreds of flood stories, but one stands out in his mind. “Early on in the flood, we got a call from an apartment complex. The entire first floor was underwater, and the people had gone to the second floor, but there was no way out.” In an ingenious move, firefighters took the fire truck ladder, pivoted it to a near-horizontal position into a second floor window and evacuated 50 people. “It was the only way out, a horizontal ladder from a fire truck.”

Robert Harberg, Principal Engineer, City of Boulder Public Works, said while Boulder never lost water or waste water treatment service, it was close. Of Boulder’s two water treatment plants, Boulder Reservoir and Betasso Preserve, only Betasso was still operating. But, it lost power. “We have a back-up generator with fuel for three days. Due to the length of the outage, fuel was running low and Boulder Canyon was closed.” The crew found a difficult route through Peak to Peak Highway and kept Boulder supplied with clean water non-stop. “Our back-up plans worked.”

Tara Schoedinger, Mayor, Town of Jamestown said it simply, “Community is everything.” In this small mountain town of 300 people devastated by the flood, community proved to be the backbone of their survival. “Neighbors helped neighbors, as we watched the flood waters ravage our town.”

She told stories of neighbors banding together and going door to door at 1:30 in the morning to wake people when the flood started. Throughout the months of recovery, volunteers came from across Colorado and the whole country. When tallied, 32,500 volunteer hours had gone toward recovering Jamestown. “At every point, people stepped up.”

Volunteerism Panel

Amy LaBorde, Volunteer, Mudslingers, said her group started when one friend needed help getting the water and mud out of their house. Friends gathered to create a bucket brigade, and Mudslingers was born. “Facebook was how we communicated.” Mudslingers organized the scores of helpers, donors, and those in need.

Looking forward, Amy reflected on what she learned, “The one thing we all share is the need to desire and belong, so don’t wait for a disaster, go to your community, find out what’s needed, and volunteer.”

Tiernan Doyle, Executive Director, Boulder Flood Relief, started this grass roots organization immediately following the flood, and since then, sent over 1300 volunteers to help residents of Boulder, Weld, and Larimer Counties. She stressed that helping and being part of the community is “in the simple act of showing up, and in that simple act, we create an impact.”

The Boulder Flood: One Year Later video produced by City of Boulder

The Boulder Flood: One Year Later video produced by City of Boulder

Janelle Freeston, Volunteer Coordinator, City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, noted the flood brought out a huge resurgence in volunteerism, which was—and still is—sorely needed to restore all 100 miles of trails that were severely damaged. Also, ditches had to be dug out, and 40,000 feet of fencing repaired. “It’s not just a feel good activity, it really is the backbone of our system. Many of these trails were built by volunteers long ago, and now they are being restored by volunteers, ” said Janelle.

On Preparedness

Deputy Chief Calderazzo said, “Know your neighbor. If there is one thing you can be sure of, in an emergency, things don’t go as planned. So the most important thing is to have a communication plan with your family and know your neighbor so you can send out an alert if they may need help.”

He added, “Be prepared with food, water and supplies for your family to survive for three days. And, be ready to take it with you in your car, quickly.”

Find out more

Stay tuned for the premier of Knee Deep, a documentary about the tipping point for taking action. “It’s not a story about the flood, it’s a story about what happened after,” said filmmaker Aly Nicklaus.

Flood Recovery Volunteer Opportunities

In closing, Dr. Andrew Rumbach, Assistant Professor, Univeristy of Colorado-Denver, said, “Volunteer. Volunteer at least one day this month to recognize the flood.”

In the words of Tiernan Doyle, “When you show up, it matters, you matter, and you should know that down in your bones.”

To volunteer for ongoing flood recovery projects, contact the following organizations:

Boulder County Open Space and Mountain Parks

Center for ReSource Conservation

Wildlands Restoration

United Way

America Red Cross


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