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Arnie’s Story: Incredible Journey Brings Thanks to Many at SVH, Reinforces Faith

Arnie Roblez“I want to express my appreciation and heartfelt thanks to those who opened up their hearts to help my family in our time of need. The love and affection came through with your thoughts and prayers, as well as the money and clothing donated to help us get through it all and back on track. Our hospital is a family, and my brothers and sisters were there for me in my time of need.” —Arnie Roblez, Simi Valley Hospital locksmith and Plant Operations engineer

If you know Arnie Roblez, you know that his obvious dedication to Simi Valley Hospital comes through in the pride and ownership he has in his work as SVH’s locksmith. On a regular basis, he can be seen working on various maintenance projects throughout the facility—always with a smile and his familiar navy blue baseball cap that matches his Dickies.

Roblez is a soft-spoken, barrel-chested employee in the Plant Operations department who joined the hospital on May 27, 2006. Because of his size and stout stature, you might mistake Roblez for a brute. The reality is the complete opposite: Many SVH staffers have been recipients of the firm yet friendly handshake and occasional brotherly hug that Roblez has become known for, especially when he talks about the Lord. He is truly a gentle giant.

For Arnie Roblez and his wife, Elizabeth, November 14, 2008, was a day they will never forget. That is the day a wildfire took away their home in the Oakridge Mobile Home Park, located in the Sylmar hills of the east San Fernando Valley.

November 14, 10:30 p.m. — Saved by a Baby’s Cry

Like most Friday nights, November 14 would normally have meant a 9 p.m. bedtime for the Roblezes, who like to be fresh and well-rested to attend Sabbath morning services. That night, however, Elizabeth, a licensed day care provider, was watching the daughter of Eddie Retamdza and his wife, Stacy Morgan.

Two-month-old Cameryn was fussy, so the Roblezes were still awake at 10:30 p.m. when Retamdza, a Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department officer, called to say he would be coming to pick Cameryn up.

November 14, 11:30 p.m. — First Warning

At 11:30 p.m., Retamdza arrived to pick up Cameryn, and he brought with him disturbing news: A fire was raging in the Sylmar hills, aided by 70- to 80-mile-per-hour winds. The Roblezes’ home was in the danger zone.

“I had no idea there was a fire outside my doors,” Arnie said. “When I looked outside, I could see that the 210 freeway was closed. The wind was blowing really hard, and I could see the fire in the far off distance.”

As he left with his daughter, Retamdza wished the Roblezes well. Within minutes, a Los Angeles Police Department car was roaming the neighborhood, announcing immediate evacuation of the mobile home park. Already, the air was full of smoke and embers, and the 210 freeway had been closed. Emergency response vehicles began arriving on the scene, and Roblez saw water-dropping helicopters in the distance.

As the Roblezes began scrambling to evacuate, they suddenly both had the same thought—their birds! The couple own 15 exotic birds, including parrots, that lived in an aviary Arnie built behind his home. Elizabeth went out to get them into cages, but they were terrified; two flew away as she and Arnie tried to transfer them to carriers. At last, they got the carriers closed and into their van.

November 14, 11:45 p.m. — A Hasty Escape

People throughout the Roblezes’ neighborhood were quickly gathering their belongings and racing for their cars among the controlled chaos of the mobile home park evacuation.

“Embers the size of softballs were floating in the air,” Arnie said. “The flames were far away, but the winds made it feel like a blowtorch.”

The wind was pushing the fiery debris, in Arnie’s words, “smack in the direction of our home.”

November 14, Midnight — Lending a Hand

Arnie and Elizabeth were finally ready to leave—Arnie in the couple’s car and Elizabeth driving the van carrying the birds. As they were preparing to pull away, Elizabeth remembered Pat, their 78-year-old neighbor who was disabled and on oxygen. She ran to Pat’s house to check on her. At first there was no answer; Pat had fallen asleep and was unaware of the goings-on in her neighborhood.

With the help of LAPD officers, the Roblezes got Pat out of her home and into her car. As they pulled away, the outdoor lights in the area began to flicker, then went dark.
Two blocks of vehicles waited in line to leave the park. Pat was afraid to drive, especially in the dark, but she carefully followed the Roblezes out of the park.

November 15, 2 a.m. — Taking Refuge

The Roblezes and Pat made their way to the home of a friend of Arnie and Elizabeth who lives in Sylmar. Since their friend’s home was also in a potential evacuation zone, it was decided that Pat would be best taken care of at one of the many shelters created for people who needed a place to stay.

Arnie accompanied Pat to Sylmar High School, where the Red Cross and other local groups were supporting the effort to help those who had been displaced.

“I left Pat in the strong and capable hands of a caring man to ensure that she wouldn’t be lost in the sea of people,” Roblez said. “I said ‘Pat, I have to go, but we’ll be praying for you.’ I felt she was in good hands.”

November 15, 4 a.m. — On the Road Again

Arnie returned to his friend’s house in Sylmar only to discover that it, too, had been put under an evacuation order. The Roblezes and their friend maneuvered carefully out of the neighborhood in the thick darkness and gray smoke with no street lights to guide their way.

They drove to San Fernando High School, another evacuation shelter. However, because the building was crowded with people and news trucks, the Roblezes decided to move on  to Simi Valley Hospital.

November 15, 5 a.m. — Keeping a Commitment Despite Devastating News

If you were in the Plant Operations Department at Simi Valley Hospital that Saturday morning, you would have seen cages of colorful parrots and other exotic birds on the countertops full of tools and other items related to the business of keeping a hospital running. Voices from a television in the break room could be heard giving updates on the fires and the devastating aftermath.

At approximately 5 a.m., the Roblezes’ friend Jeff Lohmann called Arnie with devastating news: the Sylmar hills fire had overcome the best efforts to stop it, and the Roblezes home had been completely consumed, along with all of their personal belongings.

As distressing as the news was, Arnie was determined to follow through with his commitment to help prepare for Simi Valley Hospital’s annual community flu clinic, which was scheduled to start later that morning. He began hustling about, setting up tables and chairs and doing everything else that would be expected of a Plant Operations engineer.

Ann Leonard, manager of Plant Operations, and Allen Oxender, the department’s director, also helped with the flu clinic. In addition to fulfilling those responsibilities, the two spent time with the Roblezes, consoling them in their time of need.

Arnie and what remains of his home
Arnie Roblez stands in front of what remained of his home after the devastating wildfire.

November 15, 11:30 a.m. — A Place to Get Cleaned Up

After Arnie helped set up for the flu clinic, Esteban Solis, a friend and fellow Simi Valley Hospital engineer, offered his home for Arnie and Elizabeth to get cleaned up with a refreshing shower.

“I smelled of smoke and embers,” Arnie said. “The shower was like an inviting oasis in the middle of a desert. I am grateful for the food and shelter Esteban gave us.”

November 15, 4 p.m. — Life Goes On

In the afternoon, the Roblezes attempted to return to their home. However, road closings blocked their access.

As they were looking for a way in, Jeff Lohmann called again to invite them to the birthday party of his son, Ryan, another child Elizabeth cared for in her day care business. At first, Elizabeth declined the offer; she was just too distraught to attend. But with coaxing from Lohmann and his wife, Amy, Elizabeth eventually consented.

In addition to their birds, the only item the Roblezes had taken with them in the hurry to evacuate the night before was a birthday gift for Ryan. As they began making their way to the Lohmanns’ home in Newhall, the Roblezes discovered that all of the freeways into the area were closed.

Feeling the despair of the moment, Arnie pulled the car over, and he and Elizabeth gave their circumstances over to God.

“Lord Jesus, I pray that you help us find a way,” he pleaded.

Help came with a revelation to take the Old Road into Newhall. As Arnie and Elizabeth drove up the Old Road, California Highway Patrol officials were literally closing the street behind them.

“We made it through,” Arnie said. “I called Jeff and told him that we were in the Newhall area and only five minutes away.”

As the Lohmanns opened their door, Elizabeth handed Ryan’s gift to Amy. Elizabeth was worried about not having a birthday card with the gift. Both Elizabeth and Amy were overcome with emotion; they cried in each other’s arms. Jeff also hugged Elizabeth for the longest time. Even Arnie was a little teary-eyed.

The birthday party guests learned of the Roblezes’ ordeal and offered their support; they hugged and cried with them as Arnie and Elizabeth shared their journey.

“We were in such awe of the outpouring of hugs and support,” Arnie said. “They expressed their sincere concern for us. After the party, the Lohmanns said, ‘You’re not going anywhere; you can stay as long as you like.’ When my head hit the pillow later that night, it was lights out. The pillows felt like soft clouds.”

November 16, 7:30 a.m. — A New Home

Early on Sunday morning, Pastor Juan Osorio of La Voz, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sylmar where the Roblezes are members, called Arnie. Osorio had talked with the church’s leadership, and they had agreed to let the Roblezes move into a house located on the church property.

“We have a home for you, for as long as you want,” Osorio told Arnie in the cell phone conversation.

“It was God’s providence,” Arnie said. “I told him, ‘Yes, we’ll take it!’ Elizabeth and I were so grateful. We had a new home to stay in within 24 hours of losing almost everything.”

Accompanied by the Lohmanns, the Roblezes drove to the church to see the house where they would be staying.

“Jeff gave it a thumbs up,” Arnie said. “We were so grateful to pastor Osorio and the church for their help. The pastor told me that he was praying that we would take the house and move in, and we did.”

“Thank you, Heavenly Father,” the Roblezes and Pastor Osorio prayed together.

November 15, 12 p.m. — More Surprises

Later that morning, the Roblezes drove to Sierra Madre, a town just east of Pasadena, to let their daughter and two sons know that they were OK.

When they returned, they found a fleet of pick-up trucks filled with furniture and friends waiting to help them move into their new home.

“There were pickup trucks full of furniture, an entertainment center, a radio and a television all waiting there for us,” Arnie said. “There were about 15 people who came out and helped move us in.”

After getting settled, Arnie and Elizabeth rested in their new home and went to bed at 10:30 p.m.

The Love Keeps Pouring In

On Monday, November 16, Arnie received a phone call from Allen Oxender at Simi Valley Hospital, inviting the Roblezes to stay in a home the hospital owns. Although he was grateful for the generous offer from the hospital, Arnie explained that he and Elizabeth had already accepted the gift of a home from his church.

Almost immediately after the conversation with Oxender, Simi Valley Hospital Chaplain Ron Hyrchuk called. “Arnie, what can I do for you?” he asked.

“I was touched by his sincerity and his offer of help,” Arnie said.

Over the next week, the Roblezes began rebuilding their life, investigating assistance from various public agencies such as FEMA. During that week, Plant Operations staff members insisted that Arnie and Elizabeth attend the department’s annual Thanksgiving luncheon.

The event took on a touching and true quality as the Roblezes were showered with clothes, money, love and words of support from Arnie’s coworkers and other members of the hospital family. The Southern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists also came to their rescue with additional funds.

“I literally have a 10-page listing of names,” Arnie said. “The outpouring of help was incredible. My wife and I are truly blessed.”

A Journey of Faith

Some might have interpreted the tragic events that transpired in the Roblezes’ lives as a test of faith, similar to what the Book of Job chronicles. Like Job, instead of running from God and cursing His name, the Roblezes held steady in their faith.

“God takes care of those who love him,” Arnie said. “I claim to be a child of his. I have tremendous trust even in the worst of times—He’s always there for me.”

Roblez said that the whole ordeal reminded him of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

“He was crucified on a Friday but resurrected on a Sunday,” said Roblez. “On Friday we lost everything, but on Sunday we had the fortune to have a home again. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away—but only to give us something better.”