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UP CLOSE: LPHS grad helps California wildfire victims

December 8, 2017
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

Brian Milone only spent a few years attending the Lake Placid High?School, but those years made an impression on him, pushing him to help others in times of need.

Such was the case this fall when he traveled from his home in western New York to northern California to help victims of the wildfires.

"The wildfires left complete devastation," Milone said in an email.

Article Photos

Brian Milone, a 2005 graduate of Lake Placid High School, works as volunteer member of the Department of Homeland Security’s Surge Capacity Force, providing help to victims of wildfires in California. He is seen here at far right.
(Photo provided)

There are more than 100,000 wildfires each year in the U.S., and they burn somewhere between 4 and 5 million acres of land, according to National Geographic. These catastrophic blazes are common in California, and they made news again this week as brush fires burned out of control in Los Angeles.

Milone, a 2005 Lake Placid High School graduate and 2009 graduate of SUNY's Buffalo State, is a management program analyst for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He's also a volunteer member of the Department of Homeland Security's Surge Capacity Force, a group of federal officials that provides help to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in times of crisis.

Milone was recently deployed with FEMA for 45 days, leaving on Oct. 14, and worked in the Disaster Recovery Center in Santa Rosa, California, just north of San Francisco. It was a place for survivors to go to apply for grants for costs not covered by insurance companies in the wake of the wildfires.

"Many of the people who came into our office had nothing left; they had to evacuate their homes with as little as a 10-minute warning," Milone said. "Many of them came in with such heartbreaking stories, and the way they handled their misfortune was really inspiring."

Milone said he and his wife Amanda are lucky enough to live in Tonawanda, New York, and they've never experienced wildfires in their Buffalo suburb.

"Unfortunately, there were many natural disasters that hit this year," Milone said, "and the Department of Homeland Security allows their employees to assist FEMA when they deploy the surge capacity force. When I received the email that I could help people, my wife and I decided it would be the best way that we could help with the disasters. We couldn't imagine if we were in any of those people's shoes, and we would be grateful if someone would do the same for us."

Going to areas after a wildfire was like walking through a war zone, according to Milone.

"Whole neighborhoods would be completely gone," he said. "Some neighborhoods you would walk through, on one side of the street all the houses would be completely gone with just a chimney standing and on the other side of the street some house looked completely untouched."

Along with Milone and FEMA's efforts at the recovery center, he said the Santa Rosa region and its residents were looking out for one another.

"The community came together in a really inspiring way," he said. "There were concerts to raise money for relief, free food from food trucks and other events. Communities had 'not yard sales' where people who were not affected by the fire would put out household items on their front yard and survivors could take what they needed for free."

These were instances that spoke to Milone and reassured him why he was over there helping.

"The most impactful moment was the sense of love and strength a community can have to come together," he said. "It was awe inspiring and restored your fate in mankind to see strangers helping strangers."

Milone moved to Lake Placid when he reached the 10th grade. He thought of the community as a special place that taught him to "take advantage of the beauty in my surroundings with hiking, exploring the outdoors, and really breathing in the fresh air."

A person Milone cites as an influence for his current work was his high school counselor and basketball coach, Roger Catania, who is now the superintendent of schools for the Lake Placid Central School District.

"He believed in me and put me on the right path to be able to have the confidence to do many of the things I'm doing today," Milone said.

The toughest thing Milone dealt with when helping in California was not seeing his wife and 2-year-old daughter Adelaide for an extended period of time.

Despite working in such a tragic and sensitive environment, Milone said he learned a lot and grew as an employee of the government and as a husband and father.

"Professionally, I was able to work with another agency within Homeland Security," Milone said. "It was interesting to see how that agency operated. Emotionally, I came home and really appreciated what I had. I appreciated my family and all of our memories our home holds."



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