By Krishna Patel
I went on my first Disaster Action Team call in mid-July, along with other first-timers Jason Chen and Bee Kong, and didn’t know what to expect. With Michael Strong and Jeanie Woo (absolute experts!) as our guides, we hopped in a Red Cross disaster vehicle and left for South L.A.
We were told was that there was an apartment fire with three adults present, but when we saw three fire trucks parked outside the apartment, we realized that was an understatement. We walked past the first house and saw rummage scattered in front of the building. There were two apartments, one completely destroyed with nothing salvageable. The other apartment appeared to be in good condition. The top floor was completely destroyed by the fire but the first floor received less damage.
We met the first client, a man in his late twenties. He appeared to be in complete shock over the fire. I appreciated how Michael talked to the client in a conversational manner rather than an interrogation; it made the client more responsive to the questions asked. At one point, as the client was describing his account of events and how he had recently lost his job, he became teary eyed. We thought he was going to break down but the client explained how his positive outlook kept him from doing so. He was just glad that no one was in the house when the fire started and that his dog was with him the whole time. He told us that his picture of the Last Supper—Jesus around a table with his apostles—was one of the few things saved in the disaster. He described it as a miracle that, though the frame and everything else was destroyed, this picture was in perfect condition. Then his girlfriend came over to comfort the client and began to talk to us. Both clients were very open with their answers and were grateful for any help we could offer.
The other two volunteers, Jeanie and Bee, were trying to determine how the Red Cross could help serve the clients. Bee got hotel accommodation for four nights while Jeanie and Michael activated CAS cards to allow the clients to purchase food and clothing. This allowed them to at least get back on their feet for a little while. They were very grateful and even wanted to know how they could donate to the Red Cross!
I hope all volunteers have the chance to go on a DAT call at least once in order to experience this incredible yet indescribable feeling I now have after my first call.
Krishna Patel is the Disaster Workforce Engagement Summer Intern/Disaster Services Trainee