A July 18, 2015, a Los Angeles Times headline read:
“Flames sweep over freeway; motorists run for their lives.”
(http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-fire-in-cajon-pass-20150717-story.html#page=1) You probably saw the photos of the horrific fire that suddenly blew across I-15 at Cajon Pass. Traffic on that freeway came to a halt when a brushfire created such a dense smoke that drivers could literally not see. And when the flames quickly followed that smoke, people panicked and ran. For good reason.
But here is the headline that you did not read:
“Man Saves Lives with Flip Flops.”
OK, it was not a real headline anywhere (but here), but it could have been. Less than a half mile north of the flame-roadway intersection sat Robert Leeper. He, his wife and two small children were headed home after a fun weekend when traffic came to an abrupt halt. He could see the smoke and flames in the distance and determined that it was not heading their way, so he just had to wait with the hundreds of other cars as they tried to figure out a way to turn around and go back north. That’s when he saw them coming. Dozens of people fleeing the flames and coming his way. Because Robert was a geologist (Cal State Fullerton grad!), had worked in law enforcement for nearly a decade and was simply a really nice guy, he intercepted many of those approaching with water, snacks and--as hinted before—flip flops.
We have all traveled this way before, right? Driving back from Las Vegas can often be very long and boring, so you take the kids’ shoes off and maybe your own and you “veg out” until you start seeing the planes flying in and out of the Ontario Airport and civilization again. Chances are that you ate before you piled into the car, so you “didn’t need” any food until you got home, nor, heaven forbid, something to drink because then you will have to stop three or four times… Anyway, it is not unimaginable to find people sans food, drink or shoes in their cars – which is apparently what happened to several motorists on the I-15 freeway.
Robert was prepared. Not necessarily for this situation, but generally for any situation. In a big cooler, he had lots of extra water bottles and granola bars that he passed out to thirsty, hungry evacuees. He and his family had been enjoying some water sports that weekend, so he had a few pairs of flip flops, in various family sizes, which several of the panicked souls gratefully put on their bare feet.
Robert looks at life this way: “Any number of hazards can occur at any time, so you have to be prepared.” He also had some good advice for anyone faced with a similar situation: Keep an emergency kit in your car at all times. Especially if you are traveling through long stretches with no or few services, you need food, water and emergency supplies – made in an easily accessible and portable kit. If people had just taken a moment to be calm and assess the situation, they could have grabbed those kits and improved their situations tremendously.
So, thanks, Robert, for being such a great guy and model of emergency preparedness. To those not yet (this) prepared, you now have the gold standard. Go be like Robert.