Rising From the Ashes

Two white men are sworn in as volunteer firefighters outside

At 6:41 a.m. on Aug. 16, 2020, life quickly changed for residents of Northern California. What was first a typical thunderstorm soon produced close to 11,000 bolts of lightning that sparked hundreds of fires throughout the state. Microbursts of 50–75 mph winds cast hot embers miles downwind, rapidly advancing the fires and making the area even more dangerous.

Families were forced to flee and many were displaced from their homes, not sure when they would return. This was the case for Northrop Grumman engineers Alden and Chris. They had joined Northrop Grumman around the same time in 2018, both working for the Conventional Prompt Strike program in Sunnyvale. Both were evacuated with their families, along with the rest of their town; they later found out that Chris' home had completely burnt down and Alden's had extensive smoke damage.

Answering the Call

This unimaginable turn of events turned into a conversation with the local fire chief about how they could volunteer to help defeat the fires that destroyed their homes.  With the wildfires continuing to ravage their area last August, Alden and Chris signed up to become volunteer firefighters.

“This was absolutely something that I wanted to do to support my community,” said Chris. “It became one of the toughest weeks, but it allowed me to continue to move forward.”

Help from Their Work Family

Three firefighters put out flames outside

Once evacuation orders were lifted, Chris and Alden got to work. In addition to their full-time jobs at Northrop Grumman, they were both fully integrated with the fire department, running logistics and helping where they could to relieve other team members.

“It's a balance of commitment to your community and company,” said Alden. “Here at Northrop Grumman, we are treated as humans and not a number, and the company immediately proved they were available for us during such a challenging time.”

To show support, Northrop Grumman employees donated Paid Time Off hours, sent personal notes and messages of encouragement and shared resources to support Alden and Chris.

“On top of responding to the wildfires, we were also trying to balance the new normal brought on by COVID-19, which made the process even more complex,” said Alden. “Regular trainings were cut back, team meetings were not as frequent, and extra precautions like temperature checks and health scans were required before arriving at the station.”

Both Alden and Chris are still volunteering with the department and are planning for the future of the disaster zone with expectations of heavy rainfall causing mudslides. The team expects a big push to continue saving lives, homes and property.

“I am humbled to have the honor to serve my community as a volunteer firefighter while simultaneously protecting our nation's national security by supporting Department of Defense contracts,” said Alden. “I look forward to what next year brings; I am expecting a son in February and am proud to be setting an example for him on how to serve both your community and nation.”

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