by Dave Wagner, Public Affairs Volunteer
“The Red Cross responds to more than 60,000 emergencies each year,” said the team leader standing at the front of the room.
‘Yeah,’ I thought, sitting in the classroom filled with new recruits, ‘I’ve responded to a few thousand emergencies myself.’
“The Disaster Action Team provides shelter for people displaced from their homes,” he continued.
‘Okay, I get that.’
“And we connect people with long term recovery services to help them get back on their feet as quickly as possible.”
‘Well, that’s something I didn’t know.’
“Our team is available 24/7, with most of our responses to home fires at night.”
‘Whoa! Structure fires at night?!? I don’t think so!’
After the presentation, I approached the DAT team leader and introduced myself. I recognized him from one of the local cycle clubs. “Maybe the Red Cross is not for me,” I told him. “I was a firefighter and spent 35 years getting up in the middle of the night. I just don’t want to do that anymore.”
A big grin appeared on his face. “I get it,” was his candid response. “We have volunteers from every profession imaginable, even a few firefighters like you. They want to use the skills they acquired during their careers but some prefer to apply them doing something a little different.”
“Yes, that’s it exactly.”
“Well, don’t give up so fast,” he replied. “Maybe DAT is not for you, but there are literally hundreds of different volunteer positions with the Red Cross. Let me set you up with a recruitment specialist so you can sort it all out. Your skill set is too important to the community to lose.”
“The emotion was raw and no one was immune”
Fast forward to a few months later – after a couple more meetings and a few hours of online classes – I was a full-fledged member of the Mass Care team. A text message woke me in the morning on November 8, 2018. Even after reading it a few times, I still couldn’t believe it. Our team was being called out to support the Sheriff’s Dept for a mass casualty incident. The Red Cross had set up a family reunification center at the Thousand Oaks Teen Center. There, we escorted groups of bewildered families through a throng of news reporters to the waiting teams of sheriffs and mental health professionals. “Our son didn’t come home last night,” was what I heard time and again. “We’re pretty sure he was at the Borderline.” The emotion was raw and no one was immune.
Heading home that afternoon, I emerged from the Teen Center and saw the smoke from the Hill Fire to the west in Camarillo. To the east, I could see smoke from the Woolsey Fire just beginning to show over the mountains on the San Fernando Valley side. I wanted to get some sleep because I had scheduled a morning shift at the evacuation shelter in Camarillo. Instead, I ended up fighting fire all night as the Woolsey Fire blew through my own neighborhood. Everyone at the Red Cross completely understood why I didn’t show up at the shelter for my shift –only with my home and family safe could I concentrate on my Red Cross assignment.
I did end up working some shifts at the evacuation shelters for the Woolsey Fire – spending just enough time to know that that was not what I wanted to do either. So, after a couple more meetings and another few hours of online classes, I was assigned as the Public Information Officer up in Ridgecrest for the earthquake. Now that was fun! I set up more than 30 local and national media interviews in the first two days. Since then I’ve refreshed my FEMA certifications and have worked in the Emergency Operation Center as the Red Cross representative for both the Easy Fire and the Maria Fire.
I missed an assignment flying out ahead of Hurricane Dorian because I was on vacation. But that’s the beauty of being a Red Cross volunteer – you work doing what you want, when you want to do it. Want to work with a disaster response team? You can train for that. Just want to spend a few quiet hours a month in the office, warehouse, or out in the community? There are dozens of positions that need to be filled.
The Red Cross says that its volunteers carry out 90% of the humanitarian work they do. I think it is much more than that. There’s only a handful of employees that work alongside our more than 300 volunteers in Ventura County. At incidents, all I ever see are volunteers.
So, whether you want to work behind the scenes or be the boots on the ground, the Red Cross has a position waiting for someone just like you.
Questions about becoming a Red Cross volunteer? It’s easy to get started. Just visit RedCross.org/volunteer
Volunteers are needed to help support:
• Disaster services
• In-home smoke alarm installations
• Fire safety education visits
• Services to the Armed Forces
• Youth education programs
• Hands Only CPR training
• Procuring and delivering supplies
• Inspecting facilities
• Response vehicle maintenance
• And much more