SoCal family of fallen firefighter attends NASCAR race honoring local, North Bay first responders

On NASCAR weekend at Sonoma Raceway, special honors will go to first responders from the North Bay firestorm. 

Police, fire, and paramedic personnel - who drove into danger will meet race car drivers and tributes are sprinkled throughout the two-day program. 

Free tickets were given to more than 1100 fire survivors, and Santa Rosa City bus drivers will recognized onstage, as "hometown heroes" for evacuating people during the emergency. 
But a Southern California family, in town for the event, wants to make sure their fire hero is not forgotten. 

"Danica Patrick was his favorite driver," Cinthia Garrett told KTVU, showing photos of her brother, Garrett Paiz, the only firefighter to die in October's disaster. 

"It was always his ultimate goal to make sure people and property and animals were saved, and his own well-being came last," said his sister.

Paiz died when the water truck he was driving rolled off the steep Oakville Grade in Napa County as he was working as a contractor for CalFire on the Nuns Fire.  

It was 7 a.m.and he was alone in the truck. Fatigue from long hours on the fire may have contributed to the accident.

Showing a portrait of her brother in a smoky firescape, Garrett explained that Paiz was a  wildland firefighter, who roamed the west, when he wasn't home in Noel, Missouri with his trucking business and volunteer fire department. 

Paiz had fought hundreds of fires over the years, and came to the Sonoma-Napa firestorm straight from a fire in Washington state.   

"We never really talked about it, he'd say 'I'm doing fine, I'm doing okay,'" said his mother Judi Paiz.
Paiz called his parents in the morning, wherever he was.   

"That day, I said, for some reason he hasn't called," remembered Paiz, "and I thought, that's weird, and the day kept going and going, and I knew something was wrong."  

Paiz had his favorite cap with him, an Oklahoma State cap, which father wore for months afterward. 

"November, December, January, February, five months," said Armando Paiz.

Did it help? "Somewhat, yeah," he said, nodding. 

The cap is now inscribed with Paiz's name and the date 10-17-18, Nuns Fire.

It hangs on the wall at the Petaluma's Elk's Lodge, along with the wildfire portrait of Paiz and a pencil drawing of a fire-angel created by his 17 year old daughter Terri.  

The lodge was the Paiz family's first stop, arriving from their home outside Coachella, where Garrett grew up. 

They say Garrett will be with them in the raceway grandstands, in spirit. 

"We are lifelong Nascar fans," said his sister Cinthia, "and the morning before he passed away, our conversation was about Nascar, and whose driver was doing better."

With his love for the sport, the Paiz family would have liked race organizers to mention him in their first responder ceremonies. 

"I think I would want them to remember him as the person that he was, a good person, a nice person, " said daughter Terri, "but he will always be my dad, and I love him no matter what." 

Paiz's facebook page is full of firefighting images and slogans.It is clear that he loved the profession and took pride in it. 

Paiz's last supervisor told his family he was characteristically upbeat and energetic to the end.   

"It's midnight, two o-clock in the morning and Garrett's rallying the troops,saying come on guys let's do this, let's beat this thing!", recalled Cinthia. 

"Had he known the Nuns fire was his last call, he still would have still done it because it was his passion."  

After the race, the family plans to visit the spot outside St. Helena iwhere Paiz died. 

Days later, someone erected a large wooden cross there, and they would love to find out who, so they can thank them. 

The family hopes race fans remember Paiz, and his sacrifice, this weekend. 

"We will always know him as the firefighter who sacrificed his life for others," said Cinthia Garrett.