I learned to turn down the ringer volume of the Red Cross phone at my bedside.
It was my first on-call shift as a Disaster Assistance Team (DAT) volunteer. Next to our front door I had the pack with the paperwork, keys to the DAT pickup and my Red Cross cap, vest and credentials waiting for me in the event I would be called out. My clothes were in the bathroom and I had hoped to slip out without awakening my wife, Marla. Never mind the phone blasting us awake or that I forgot my shoes were still in the bedroom. Good intentions count, right?
And my intentions are good. Like many other Red Cross DAT volunteers I both hoped for and dreaded the possibility of being called out during my 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift to assist disaster victims, most likely those at a house fire. I’d gone through the training class, signed up for a shift once or twice a month and now looked to a chance to aid others in our community in their time of need.
And those needs can, tragically, be very real. In Dallas and Webster counties last year about 150 individuals in more than 40 different cases received help from the Southern Missouri Region of the American Red Cross. These involved single family fire incidents except for a tornado in February of 2012 that had an impact on 25 people in 11 cases.
My first shift was unusual. I wasn’t responding to a single-family house fire, but I rolled out for a multi-family incident at a rooming house in Springfield. There were six cases to do paper work on and to get approval for immediate aid. I didn’t realize until later that – duh! – I could have requested an additional DAT volunteer to assist in dealing with the situation.
But, I did have the pleasure of working with members of the Springfield Fire Department. I witnessed a neighbor opening his door to an older victim of the fire. I spoke with a landlord trying to be as helpful as possible in the situation. And I assisted a group of people trying to figure out what to do next while huddling under Red Cross blankets. We dealt with questions of shelter, missing eyeglasses, recovering medicines and refilling prescriptions.
This is what I signed up for after that first DAT class, I thought while driving to Red Cross headquarters hours later. I now knew I could handle facing my neighbors in dire straits -- as well as the paper work -- and be of help.
Can you do it?
Volunteers are needed for Dallas and Webster counties. This work is a chance for you to help your neighbors and community. There is a Disaster Assistance Team training planned from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 16 at the Southern Missouri Region Office (1545 N. West Bypass, Springfield; 417-832-9500).
Will you answer when the phone rings at 3 a.m.? I hope so.
Story by Don Underwood, a DAT and public affairs volunteer with the Southern Missouri Region of the American Red Cross.
Image from DAT response to Lakeshore apartment fire July 2012.
If someone would like to support the Red Cross mission and help those in need, they can visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to the local Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.