Willie Ghilotti: First Responder

Beyond standing as a premier construction company in the area, Ghilotti Construction goes above the call of duty for community amid the seasonal destructive fires that have struck across the North Bay in recent years. The family-owned business has its fingerprints all over each step of Wine Country’s recovery process, doing whatever it takes to soften the blow.

When the Glass fire broke out earlier this year, Willie Ghilotti, co-owner of Ghilotti Construction, alongside his father, Richard, and Brian Ongaro, rallied the troops and directed his employees who volunteered to the company’s water tankers. “Fire trucks can only hold 800 gallons of water, but ours can hold 4,000,” says Ghilotti. “So we pulled up alongside the fire department to help. They would use our available water, and we would also soak houses in neighborhoods that were in danger of catching fire.”

Participation in fighting fires is nothing out of the ordinary for Willie Ghilotti and crew. This is a situation the company prepares for and proceeds as a fundamental piece in dispelling flames and the recovery process of a debris-laden landscape.

In 2017, Ghilotti first offered fuel to the National Guard when they marched into Santa Rosa to combat the Tubbs fire. This offer kicked off Ghilotti’s ongoing involvement during fire season. “With all the gas stations down and no power, I told them if you need fuel, we are willing to donate,” says Ghilotti. “That same day, I get a call from the captain of the National Guard. He asked if we had any place for them to stay. His soldiers were sleeping on cots and waking up in ashes.”

Within the hour, the National Guard moved into an empty warehouse and the surrounding 30 acres it encompassed, creating Forward Operating Base Ghilotti, the only civilian established operational base in local history, according to the Environmental Contracting Corporation (ECC). For the next four months, 400 National Guard soldiers stayed as Ghilotti coordinated meals, while donating latrines and showers. Due to Ghilotti’s local connections, McDonald’s donated fridges of food as well. “There was no lack of resources,” Ghilotti says. “So many people wanted to help and contribute.”

The cleanup after the fires felt insurmountable at times, with more than 1,000 lots requiring work. Ghilotti Construction collected and removed more than 400,000 tons of debris over the course of the fire cleanup process.

“The last lot was in Wikiup, and we cleared it on April 5, my birthday,” Ghilotti adds. “I was working 15 or more hours a day up until that day, coordinating with the National Guard and the ECC as well as doing my normal job.”

The ECC was the environmental company that orchestrated the cleanup of the North Bay. In 2017, the ECC performed a $450 million emergency response for the fires in Northern California.

Ghilotti was awarded with the California Commendation Medal from the military for his efforts. “I was honored. On my 40th birthday, Lieutenant Colonel Angle presented the award,” Ghilotti says. “I’m just a boots-on-the-ground kind of person. I like to lead by example.”

Alongside the commendation, Ghilotti was awarded military challenge coins from Major General David S. Baldwin, Lieutenant Colonel Angle, Lieutenant Colonel Sharyer and Colonel Ray and many others.

In 2019, when the Kincade fire struck a week after the anniversary of the Tubbs fire, Ghilotti and his team was prepared.

Willie Ghilotti, pictured right

“[The firestorm in] 2017 was the first of its kind for us. It was a staple fire in this area,” Ghilotti says. “In 2019, we had the National Guard stay with us, but this time they only needed a month and just 300 soldiers.”

With the pandemic, Ghilotti organized the gathering of N95 masks from across the Bay Area and delivered them to hospitals that were suffering from shortages. No matter the disaster, whether local or nationwide, the family-owned and operated Ghilotti Construction is a dependent and reliable force to do whatever it takes to help community.

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