EXCLUSIVE: It was touch and go for a while as the Woolsey Fire bore down on the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s Wasserman Campus in Woodland Hills, home to nearly 200 entertainment industry retirees. The campus was spared, but on the afternoon of November 9, with the blaze only five miles away and barreling towards them, the situation looked dire. Heroic action was needed, and heroic action was taken by the staff and volunteers.
“Prompt action was required,” MPTF president and CEO Bob Beitcher wrote in an account of those harrowing hours. “Nearly 200 entertainment industry residents were evacuated to safer locations by a team of administrators manning an incident command center – including heroes like Joseph Rich, Robert Jensen, and Linda Healy – and an outstanding group of MPTF employees from nursing, hospitality, activities, media center, and environmental services, along with volunteers and spouses.”
“I get chills when I talk about it,” Beitcher told Deadline. “We had employees, volunteers and the spouses of employees who came to the campus because they knew we had an emergency. It was an incredible overall effort.”
The campus is located on the western edge of Woodland Hills just east of Hidden Hills, Oak Park and Calabasas, which all saw evacuations during the fire that scorched almost 100,000 acres last month. The average age of the home’s residents is 87, Beitcher noted, and more than a dozen of them had to be transported to safety in wheel chair-accessible vans.
And then there were their numerous cats, dogs and pet birds that had to be moved out too. “It was a senior Noah’s Ark,” he laughed.
“Amazing community partners like the Warner Center Marriott, the Eisenberg Village of the Jewish Home for the Aging, Northridge Hospital, and Sherman Oaks Hospital opened their doors to our residents and provided safety, shelter, and comfort at a critical time,” Beitcher wrote. “Fortunately, the danger passed the campus – the direction of the wind was the good fortune of MPTF and the tragic misfortune for many others – and we were able to return our residents to the campus on Friday night and Saturday morning.”
“Our industry is incredibly blessed to have all of these folks in our corner and as part of our larger community,” he wrote. “In particular, the strong, mighty, and magnificent employees of MPTF worked together to make sure ‘their residents’ were kept calm, safety transported, and well fed during this time. At the end of Friday night, after working a shift for more than 12 hours, a group of our hospitality workers said to me, ‘We’re here to do whatever you need, and we’re here for as long as you need us.’”
The 200 residents, troopers every one, took the evacuation in stride, and after it was over and everyone was returned home safe and sound, a retired British producer took Beitcher aside and said: “That was the bloody best rehearsal I’ve ever seen!”
Soon after the danger had passed, the MPTF returned to doing what it always does – helping those in the industry in need of help – including victims of the deadly fire. A posting on its website states: “To members of the film and television community in Southern California affected by the wildfires, MPTF is here to help.”