Helping the Red Cross Help the Community
By Dave Wagner, Public Affairs Volunteer
Volunteering with the Mass Care team in 2013, David Dees was the only Spanish speaking worker at a Red Cross emergency shelter set up for victims displaced by a structure fire in Oxnard.
“I was completely overloaded,” David recalls. “The fire had destroyed nine structures and we had about 75 people in need of assistance. For most of them, Spanish was the only language they could understand.”
Following that incident, David knew exactly what he had to do. He decided that he would use his wealth of experience teaching Spanish in schools and to first responders to help his local Red Cross chapter better serve the community.
Since 1996, David has been teaching a program that he and his late wife Collette designed to help Ventura County sheriff’s deputies communicate with non-English speakers in emergency situations. Then in 2005, David published the first of his “Quick Spanish” packages – this one for law enforcement personnel. Next was “Quick Spanish for Emergency Responders” – geared towards firefighters and paramedics.
“It’s a humbling experience,” said David. “I believe our program has saved the lives of police officers and good citizens, and helped to put the bad guys in jail. Like everything in life, it’s my contribution.”
Over two decades, the Dees team taught hundreds of deputies, and then firefighters, to bridge the communications gap with the community’s Spanish speaking population. He figured he could tailor this information into a training program for Red Cross volunteers working with the DAT and Mass Care teams.
David developed a curriculum that includes basic vocabulary, along with key words and phrases that the workforce is likely to encounter. The course is taught in two levels, with 16 hours of instruction for each level.
Although the “Shelter Dormitory Registration” form is in a bi-lingual format, the class participates in exercises that help to better understand the questions and answers required to complete this important document. And using scenarios that the Disaster Action Team might encounter, the class developed a Spanish language questionnaire to gather the information needed to best assist families in need.
“I keep coming back every time David teaches this class,” said Trish, a Health Services team member who is just one of the more than 100 chapter volunteers who have completed the course. “David is a very considerate teacher and his patience has been a big help to me. And he has an amazing resume! He’s lived and taught in Spain and in Central America. We’re lucky to have him here for us.”
David has been working non-stop for the last four months. In addition to teaching the Red Cross classes, he is putting the finishing touches on the 2nd edition of the McGraw-Hill Quick Spanish for Law Enforcement coming out in May. All of the content has been upgraded and he has included more scenarios that provide practical phraseology to help get the job done.
¡Que Bueno David! Muchas gracias por todo.