Your Local Red Cross Needs You

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

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

Red Cross Executive Director Barry Falke Promoted to Division Leadership Team

The American Red Cross Central Valley & Kern County Executive Director Barry Falke has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer of the Pacific Division of the Red Cross. Falke will oversee the operations for Red Cross regions throughout the Pacific Coast of the United States, including California, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and Saipan.

“I am very proud of and happy for Barry to take on a larger leadership role within the American Red Cross,” said Hugh J. Quinn, interim Central California Region Chief Executive Officer. “His commitment to the Red Cross is incredible and he has served the Central Valley Chapter and the Kern County Chapter at a very high level during his tenure.”

As executive director, Falke was instrumental in leading the Central Valley’s ability to respond to and recover from natural and man-made disasters as well as promote the growth, quality and constituency of Red Cross programs and services throughout the community.

Barry Falke, American Red Cross

“During my time as executive director, it was most rewarding to see our volunteers provide comfort and hope for those who have been affected by disaster,” said Falke. “The Red Cross mission is empowering, and I look forward to serving staff and volunteers throughout the Pacific Division.”

Falke recently earned his Master of Business Administration from the Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick and is also an alumnus of Fresno State and Fresno Pacific University. He is a graduate of the Disney Institute and in 2009, was named one of Fresno’s Top 40 business professionals under 40. He serves on several community boards including the Whitney Foundation, is a past president of the Leadership Fresno Alumni Association, and was appointed in 2015 to the City of Fresno Housing and Community Development Commission. Prior to joining the Red Cross, Falke served as the Director of Corporate Giving & Mission Driven Business at United Cerebral Palsy of Central California.

In his new role, Falke will continue to be based out of the chapter headquarters in Fresno. In the coming weeks, an interim executive director will be named.

Those interested in joining the Red Cross can apply here.

Red Cross Volunteers Helping Their Neighbors Affected by California Wildfires

By Diane Concannon

The American Red Cross continues to provide relief to people affected by the Woolsey Fire in southern California with shelter, food and comfort. As evacuation orders are lifted and people are able to return to affected areas, the Red Cross is there with them.

Drew and Amanda Haver are two of the more than 900 Red Cross disaster workers helping with California Wildfire relief efforts. The couple, together with a team of volunteers with Disaster Mental Health Services and Health Services, are driving through affected neighborhoods offering emotional support, health services and relief items to help those affected by the Woolsey Fires. Their box truck contains gloves, masks, shovels, rakes and sifters to help people sort through the debris.

Red Cross volunteers discuss available resources with Westlake Village resident.
Red Cross disaster workers Drew and Amanda Haven discuss resources available to help those affected by the Woolsey Fire with a Westlake Village resident. Photo taken on November 16, 2018 in Westlake Village, CA. Art Remnet/American Red Cross.

The sifters are tools, hand-built by volunteers, that help people sift through the ashes to retrieve precious remains of personal property following wildfires. Piles of ash can be shoveled inside, sifting out the ash to help locate materials or belongings that may have survived the fire. The volunteer team communicates important safety considerations as they distribute the sifters.

“Be sure to wear the gloves and N95 mask we’ve provided and have proper coverage of your skin while using the sifter,” Amanda instructs as Drew hands the sifter and other supplies to a young man whose home was lost to the fire.

Sifters can provide a meaningful activity for people to focus on when going through the shock of the loss after a fire.

Red Cross volunteer deliver sifters during supplies distribution in Westlake Village.
Red Cross disaster worker Drew Haver provides a sifting box and breathing masks to a resident whose Westlake Village home burned during the Woolsey Fire. Photo taken on November 16, 2018, in Westlake Village, CA. Art Remnet/American Red Cross

Amanda and Drew, who live in Westlake Village and are both teachers at local schools, began volunteering with the Red Cross after last year’s Thomas Fire along Central California’s coast. They were moved by the work of the organization and wanted to join the efforts to assist their community.

The couple needed to evacuate their home as the Woolsey Fire raged toward their neighborhood early on. Grateful their home was spared, the couple has been volunteering with the Red Cross, visiting affected communities, distributing relief supplies and checking in on their neighbors.

“Our schools are closed while they’re being cleaned following the fire,” said Amanda. “We felt helping our community with the relief efforts would be the best use of our free time.”

HOW YOU CAN HELP Entire communities and families have been left reeling from these deadly wildfires. Help people affected by the California wildfires by visiting, calling 1- 800-RED CROSS or texting the word CAWILDFIRES to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from these disasters.

HELP IN TRYING TIMES Disasters are upsetting experiences for everyone involved—especially when they cause such massive devastation so close to the holidays. This is a time for people to come together and support one another.

  • Mental health experts recommend finding a balance with regard to media coverage. It’s important to stay informed while also limiting exposure, especially for children.
  • Also, be patient with yourself and others. It’s common to have any number of temporary stress reactions such as anger, frustration and anxiety.
  • To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746.


Featured photo: Photo taken on November 16, 2018, in Westlake Village, CA. Diane Concannon/American Red Cross.

Red Cross Volunteer Gail Mcgaugh on “Why I Help”

By Sharon J. Alfred, Red Cross Senior Journalist Volunteer

There are many reasons people choose to become Red Cross volunteers. According to Gail Mcgaugh, a volunteer for the American Red Cross of Central California, participating in a Red Cross Home Fire Campaign was an ideal way to learn fire safety tips and to get to know members of her community.

Red Cross volunteers in Fresno install smoke alarms in their community

Mcgaugh has volunteered for years as a member of the Central Valley chapter in her hometown of Fresno, California. Visiting homes to install smoke alarms as part of the home fire campaign gives her the opportunity to connect with her neighbors, as she explains the importance of fire safety and how to prepare.

She has met many memorable people as a home fire campaign volunteer, including:

  • A revered elder of a Native American tribal nation
  • A hearing-impaired man establishing a lifelong bond with his new service dog
  • A colorful artist and publisher, and her gorgeous pet cat
  • A retired Marine who found a second calling as a Red Cross volunteer

“The random of act of knocking on a stranger’s door to give them the tools they need to survive a home fire,” Mcgaugh says, inspires her again and again. And people aren’t shy about expressing their gratitude. “When I am on a home fire campaign, I get thanked and hugged by everyone.”

But Mcgaugh doesn’t just install smoke alarms and teach home fire preparedness. She is involved in many other Red Cross projects as well. For example, she leads the Madera, Merced, and Mariposa County region’s Pillowcase Project, a program that teaches elementary school children how to build their own emergency preparedness kits.

“I truly enjoy meeting community partners and building lasting relationships and goodwill towards the Red Cross within our communities,” says Mcgaugh.

Keeping Pets and Owners Together in Wake of the Ferguson Fire

Red Cross and CCADT shelter over 500 pets of wildfire evacuees

[Photo Credit: American Red Cross]

Fleeing from wildfires can be traumatic and having pets close has been proven to reduce stress and comfort owners driven from their homes by fire. This inspired Katrina Poitras, Central Valley Red Cross Disaster Program Manager, working with Naomi Slam at the Central California Animal Disaster Team (CCADT), to provide emergency pet shelter at select Red Cross shelters.

Evacuees won’t have to shelter separate from their pets, as the Red Cross tests out the new shelter model with pet shelters serving Madera, Mariposa, and Merced counties. Housing evacuees with their pets has been shown to lower stress level of humans and animals alike.

Pet owners staying at the shelter are responsible for the care and feeding of the pets cohabitating with them. CCADT CEO Naomi Slam recommends owners bring a few key items with them to the shelter: “Bring your pet’s carrier, ensure they’re up to date with vaccinations, and bring their preferred food… so there aren’t any upset tummies.”

The practice of cohabitating pets and owners in shelters was implemented at the Ferguson Fire’s New Life Christian Fellowship shelter and expanded upon moving to the Mariposa Elementary School shelter due to the increase in both shelter evacuee and pet populations.

Interviews with shelter residents confirmed the effectiveness of the new shelter plan and the calming effect of having personal pets in the same shelter with them.

The presence of pets also increased bonding among shelter residents and volunteers, and kept children occupied through playing with and learning about the various animals.

Learn more about general pet first aid during emergencies, plus how to plan for your pet before disaster strikes. Download the Red Cross Pet First Aid app for more tips.

Red Cross Delivers Letters of Love to Firefighters Battling the Ferguson Blaze

By Will Washburn & Jillian Robertson

Firefighters come from far away to battle wildfires burning across the state. This means faster response to out of control blazes, but it also means long separations from friends and loved ones. The Red Cross Central Valley chapter is working to change that.

Katrina Poitras, Red Cross Central Valley Disaster Program Manager, and Laura Norman, president of Eastern Madera-Mariposa Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster (VOAD), partnered two years ago to launch the Postcard Project. The project provides postcards to family and loved ones of firefighters, then gathers stamps donated from the community, and delivers them to the men and women on the front lines.

Photo Credit: Taylor Poisall

Since its creation, the program has sent postcards from loved ones to firefighters responding to multiple fires, including last year’s Detwiler fire, and from the look of things, the program will live on long after this year’s fire season is over. Most recently, it gathered and delivered 1,500 postcards from family and friends of firefighters battling the Ferguson blaze near Yosemite National Park. Another 1,500 are currently being distributed.

Local businesses, including resorts and hotels saved by previous fires donated thousands of postcards, which featured pictures of Mariposa, Yosemite, and Bass Lake, and members of the community donated stamps, making this project truly of and by the community it serves.

Photo Credit: Taylor Poisall

The postcards were even stamped, in many cases, by the evacuees themselves to give to the firefighters, according to Lynn Northrup, a Red Cross emergency vehicle driver and Mariposa government liaison.

“What was special about the project was that even though there was a fire in our area, the postcards were a reminder to come back and visit when it was beautiful again [like it was pictured on the postcards].”

Poitras hopes to expand the program nationally, to include first responders not only to wildfires, but also to hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters across the country.

To support the program by donating postcard stamps, click here.


Honoring Our Volunteers

This week, April 15 – 21, 2018 is National Volunteer Week, and we’re taking the time to celebrate and honor the incredible volunteers that make our Red Cross work possible. Last month we celebrated the occasion early, with Volunteer Appreciation dinners throughout the region. At each event, we invited volunteers to write down their favorite Red Cross moments, memories, and stories.

Photo 1
Volunteer stories on display at a local office.

This Volunteer Week, we’re letting local volunteers tell these incredible stories in their own words. The following are excerpts from some of our favorite shared stories.

California Wildfires 2017
Ashley, age 18 months, and her mother Crystal find shelter and comfort from the local Red Cross during last December’s Thomas Fire. Photo: Dermot Tatlow, American Red Cross

“When I was a child I stayed in a Red Cross shelter in Northern California. It was during Christmas and I wanted to help the other kids have something to do. I bought coloring books and colored. I always thought it would be great to help others, and here I am more than 30 years later serving my community in a disaster relief shelter during the Christmas season! The seed planted so very long ago was actually a spark that I kept alive in my heart and I am inspired to keep the tradition going.”

“It’s the most professional group of volunteers I’ve ever worked with! Everyone is so dedicated to the effort and will do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

“It’s an amazing organization of humanitarians. Red Crossers are some of the kindest, brightest, most caring folks around and it is an honor to be in the midst of such wonderful people.”

Local Red Cross volunteers partner with the Kern County Fire Department to install free smoke alarms in Kern River Valley homes. Photo: Craig Hayes, American Red Cross

“I truly enjoyed the opportunity to work with Red Cross family members from around the region during our recent responses. Everyone has been so welcoming and there was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for accomplishing our mission.”

“My first official Red Cross event was the past January Sound the Alarm event. I was able to go into homes and connect with the families. I was so happy and proud because the people we met were very skeptical of me, but by the end of the visit I felt a bond. And knowing the small task of installing a smoke alarm could do so much for them.”

“It’s great to put something directly into the hands of someone who needs it. One of these times was at the stand down when we gave out comfort kits and backpacks. I almost cried when the vets thanked us for our service!”

Local volunteers tidy up the Red Cross shelter during the January Montecito debris flow in Santa Barbara County. Photo: Ghassan El-Andari, American Red Cross

“In 2017 Visalia Fire had a 3-alarm apartment fire where I was the Battalion Chief in charge of Operations, and then went home to get my Red Cross Disaster Action Team supplies to assist six families that were displaced.”

“I love the sense of community. I’m proud to be part of an organization that helps the community with no strings attached.”

“I had no idea how much the Red Cross does during disasters. It has been a beautiful, eye-opening experience.”

“The Red Cross was giving a helping hand in more ways than I had ever imagined. My biggest surprise is that I seem to be getting back more than I’m giving… the Red Cross has been a tremendous blessing in my life.”

“Seeing neighbors helping neighbors all across the country. The Red Cross brings out the best in all of us.”

“When I was 17 I was involved in a fatal car accident. I lost a lot of blood, and wouldn’t be here today without the help of a blood donor. When I met Jim McGee, and he gave me the full Red Cross story and all the organization does including blood drives, I knew it was a place where I could pour passion and enthusiasm. I am here to help the way I was helped.”

Photo 1
Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces volunteers distribute “Valentines for Vets” and other goodies on Valentine’s Day at the Fresno VA Hospital. Photo courtesy Sarah Brown Monroe, American Red Cross

 “I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for the Red Cross. My Dad was in the US Army at the Battle of the Bulge and was captured by Germans. He was starving. He was a little guy, 5’6” and 145 pounds. He was only 90 pounds when he escaped. Prior to that, the Red Cross sent a box of food for the prisoners each month. If it wasn’t for those boxes of food, he would have died of starvation.”

 “I joined the Red Cross at 13 with my mother, and the first time I deployed it was with my mother! My sister is now a Disaster Action Team volunteer in San Diego County. Red Cross is family in every sense of the word.”

Volunteers make of more than 90% of the Red Cross workforce. The work we do every day to serve our communities would not be possible without their compassion and dedication. Learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer; visit today.

Find out what it’s like to be a Red Cross volunteer. Join us on Saturday, April 28 to Sound the Alarm and #EndHomeFires in Bakersfield, Fresno, or Santa Barbara. New volunteers are welcome and day-of training provided. Visit to learn more.

These quotes have been edited for clarity and grammar.