Red Cross volunteer Todd Blecha told a version of this story on our “Close to the Vest: Alone/Together” livestream event. Full video below.
There are many different stories that I could tell about my experience volunteering with the American Red Cross. One thing I get reminded of is that we are not alone, as long as we remember to go ahead and ask for help.
I’m part of the Disaster Action Team (DAT). A little reminder about that… the DAT team provides assistance to people in need from fires, gas leaks, floods and other local disasters that happen just about every day across the nation.
Here in the Los Angeles Region, Disaster Action Team members go out at least weekly, if not daily to assist families that have been impacted.
Last week, I got a call from my duty officer. Fire departments usually contact the duty officer, then they contact team members. I was the team lead that night. We also contacted team members Peter Casas and Kent Werner to assist me for the response.
I received the call at about 9:30 at night. It was starting to get cold and we were responding to what we call a multi-family fire. In this case, four different families had been impacted. It also happened to be the first night that we were using a new system.
We were working to help four different families that could not stay in their home for the night because of the fire damage.
As we started going through things, I decided it would be best for me to go out to the scene. [With COVID-19, we try to do almost everything remotely.]
I followed the proper COVID-19 protocols, arriving on scene with my mask on, hand sanitizer at the ready. One of my team members supported me remotely, to do the data input, while another joined me in person.
We arrived just about midnight. And we were working, trying to get everything input into the system, doing some more interviews with the families. And we were just having difficulties trying to work with what was going on and get it in the system. So I let my duty officer know we’re having trouble.
It was probably around 12:30 a.m. then I get a call from Jennifer Dutton, our Disaster Program Supervisor for Territory 2. But Jennifer was not the only one on the call. I heard a chorus of other voices:
“Scott’s on the line.”
“Amanda’s on the line.”
“Alyx is on the line.”
And in that moment, I realized that the cavalry had been called. We were having trouble. It was 12:30 at night and people were calling in to help us out.
Together, we spent the next two to three hours trying different things, calling different people, to get things resolved.
Just before 3 a.m. I spoke with one of the mothers. I told her, “We’ve got some things worked out. We may not be able to get you everything until tomorrow morning. How will that impact you?”
And she said, “Well, we’re trying to see what we can do. We can’t get a place to stay tonight, so we’ll just stay in our cars and we’ll figure it out tomorrow.”
And I said, “That’s good to hear, but that’s just not acceptable for us.” No way we would leave these families to sleep in their cars.
About five minutes later, Jennifer texted me and said, “We have a solution. We have it figured out.” Not long after, we handed them cards loaded with funds to secure safe lodging for the night.
No one would be sleeping in their cars on our watch.
Looking back, it was just great to see everyone pull together to help these families in their hour of need. Even though we were physically separated, we had still found a way to come together for a common cause.
That night on the drive home, I texted Jennifer, “I’m cold. I’m grumpy. I don’t know why I keep coming out here and doing this.”
But the next morning after a nice, good sleep, I remembered why.
It’s moments like these, when everyone comes together at 3 o’clock in the morning to help families find a safe, warm place to stay for the night and then help them begin their recovery in the morning.
Moments like these remind me that at the Red Cross, if you tell people you are having trouble, they will show up, day or night, to help.
And that’s my story.