Big Hotel, Big Heart

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn goes several extra miles for the Valley.

On a normal day, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn has about 400 employees on site at any given time.

At full occupancy, the resort hotel has about 400 guests.

Monday, October 9, was not a normal day.

There were, in fact, 400 guests. But only 12 employees showed up.

See, there was this fire.

Among those 12 were General Manager Rick Corcoran and Michele Heston, Fairmont’s regional director of public relations.

They put their heads together and came up with three objectives: First, make all necessary travel arrangements and get 400 guests safely out of the hotel and into alternative accommodations. Second, protect the corporate assets. Third, as Heston put it, “Find out how we can help the community.”

“So,” says Corcoran, “we got to work, and we fed everybody.”

Adds Heston, “We set up an office in the lobby. We had no landline service so we worked on mobile phones. On Tuesday we got a call that there was a desperate need for pillows and blankets at the Vets building. It was where they evacuated everybody at the developmental center.”

So they pulled out every pillow and blanket from the Fairmont’s linen closet and then got more from a sister facility, and delivered it all to the Sonoma Veterans Memorial Building.

Next they learned that the Sonoma Developmental Center residents needed some kind of palatable liquid to swallow their meds with.

So two chefs went to work in the Fairmont’s fabled kitchen and came up with 12 pounds of sweet carrot puree to squirt into Dixie cups so the meds could be swallowed. The puree was, of course, a hit.

Then Corcoran and Heston began emptying the Fairmont refrigerators and delivered carloads of food to some of the volunteer hubs—the Red Grape, La Luz, the Best Western hotel—where food was prepared for the hundreds of displaced people who were either evacuated from their homes or no longer had homes to go back to. They continued delivering food twice each day for a week.

“The whole situation was a moving target,” says Heston. “Needs kept changing. We opened the doors to anyone around here without power, and invited them to come take a hot shower in the spa.”

They offered housing to first responders, learned that firefighters are responsible for finding their own accommodations, and ended up sheltering people from fire companies in Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, El Cerrito and Laguna Beach, among other locations.

“We welcomed them, fed them, gave them rooms and hot tubs,” says Corcoran. “It was all comped by the company.”

That corporate spirit of support was extended equally to Fairmont employees who couldn’t come to work. “The owners paid every single colleague for a full week that they weren’t here,” Corcoran says. “That cost them about $250,000, but it’s not about the money. It’s about helping people in need.”

Adds Heston, “I’ve been part of this community for a long time. And every time I asked for something—and I asked for a lot—I got a ‘yes.’ They never said no.”

Four local Fairmont employees lost their homes in the fires; some didn’t have renters insurance. “We had customers who offered folks money, clothing, rent, chef’s knives,” says Corcoran. Counseling was also offered to staff facing emotional issues from the fires.

“The sense of community,” says Heston, “was amazing. Nothing has been as impactful as the sense of community.”

“We did it,” adds Corcoran, “because it was the right thing to do.” Says Heston, “We had the resources and the ownership behind us who supported everything we asked for.”

And now, “Corcoran says, “We need people to get the message, we’re open. Come on back.”


  1. We love your hotel. Been there 5/6 times.

  2. Wonderful hotel in a beautiful location! I’ve been there a few times and I always want to go back. Congratulations on your superior service to your community. It doesn’t surprise me. The staff at this establishment is excellent!!!!

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