A new American flag from retired firefighter and local artist John Carillo was unveiled at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club during the Farmers & Merchants Bank USPA America Cup Friday
The 3-by-5 foot flag is made out of fire hoses from the Montecito and Santa Barbara fire departments. It is one of several flags the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation has helped place across the city to commemorate first responders who risked their lives fighting the Thomas Fire in 2017 and the flood and debris flows of 2018. The flag is sponsored by Farmers & Merchant Bank, which hosted the special ceremony.
“This is a great day for us to be in a totally different environment than our usual one where we’re marching somewhere in our uniforms or in some event like that. To the people of the Farmers & Merchants Bank, I really thank you so much and appreciate that you honor us and that these flags will be here, this flag will be here, forever as a reminder of all the people that did so much work; the first responders,” said John Blankenship, founder of the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation.
Mr. Carrillo began making the fire hose flags as a hobby, selling them to interested friends at the cost of production.
“I mentor a young lady who wants to be a firefighter and she’s doing really well at it. Her name is Hillary Davis. She came to me one day and she said ‘Hey, let’s get together and make a flag’. She made one for herself and I made one for myself and then it kind of exploded. We got together and made one for Station 1, it’s on the wall. It exploded from there,” Mr. Carillo told the News-Press.
As the pieces grew in popularity, Mr. Carrillo’s niece asked him to create a flag for a fundraising auction held for We Support the Troops in Santa Ynez Valley. The sale of the flag raised $2,000 for the group.
The Farmers & Merchants Bank partnered with the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation for the flag’s dedication. Now in its 18th year, the PCFV works to honor, remember, and help veterans and active duty military members.
Hazel Blankenship, co-founding director of the PCVF, heard of Mr. Carillo’s flags through other veterans groups in the area. After reaching out to fire department members who knew the artist, Ms. Blankenship and Mr. Carrillo spoke and reached an agreement that he would create a limited number of flags available for purchase. All the proceeds go to PCVF’s support of the local veteran community and One805’s fund for first responders.
“I want to thank him for coming up with the concept. It’s something that resonates, and I think it will for a long, long time,” said Mr. Blankenship to the crowd at Friday’s ceremony.
The foundation found a home for Mr. Carillo’s latest flag when the Blankenships became friends with Nilan Nicholson, branch manager for Farmers and Merchants Bank Santa Barbara.
The branch opened on 33 East Carrillo St. last year, bringing Mr. Nicholson to Santa Barbara. While the Blankenships and Mr. Nicholson became friends he learned of the foundation’s work and the flags made by Mr. Carillo. When he and regional manager Jeff Spinelli saw the one owned by the Blankenships, they had to have one.
“I saw the flag and I knew I wanted to participate in the organization and help them. So I purchased it, or sponsored them, without an idea in mind,” said Mr, Nicholson.
Mr. Nicholson lives in the condos adjacent to the Polo Club and had often heard of the role the club played in supporting first responders during the Thomas Fire. While the fires raged on in 2017, the club housed first responders, using fields for vehicles and equipment and opening up the kitchens and condos.
Mr. Nicholson and Mr. Spinelli wanted to place the flag in a communal area and not isolate it in a bank branch.The strong connection between the club and first responders made the location an obvious choice.
“What better place than the polo field to prominently display that flag from that fire in which they participated in. I just thought the marriage of the two was kind of perfect,” Mr. Nicholson said.
The flag now hangs proudly in a beautiful wood frame in the stands just outside the clubhouse, and will be enjoyed every year by fans of world class polo at a club that Farmers and Merchants Bank President W. Henry Walker called a “jewel” for Santa Barbara.
Mr. Walker encouraged the public to take the opportunity to see the flag now during the peak polo season of May, June, July, and August.
“Come now, admire the flag, and enjoy just a caliber of polo that is extraordinary,” he said.