By Los Angeles Region CEO, Jarrett Barrios

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of taking part in a Red Cross Emergency responder class in Arcadia. The entire experience got me thinking about the strength and expansive reach of our First Aid Station volunteers throughout the L.A. Region, as well as the somewhat bumpy road it took to get where we are today.

For more than a century, Pasadena has played host to one of the great American traditions, the Tournament of Roses Parade. Every year, more than 900 members of the Tournament of Roses Association  plan and direct this nationally-televised spectacle of marching bands, rose-covered floats, and celebrities through the streets of Pasadena. Like any successful event, many more volunteers join in for the weeks preceding the big day, to help decorate the various floats for national television.  On the day of, the most senior parade volunteers—the “white suiters”—move to-and-fro, confidently conducting a cacophonous symphony of bodies, sport, music, and art.  It is truly a sight to behold!

For decades, the American Red Cross has played a central role on the day of the Tournament of Roses Parade. While most eyes across the nation are fixed upon the amazing rose-covered floats and talented marching bands, our Red Cross volunteers stand ready at First Aid Stations all along the parade route, should any reveler encounter a health emergency during the festivities. Not unlike the seasoned “white suiters,” the Red Cross volunteers who lead this effort each year combine many years of management experience with a vast knowledge of First Aid Stations and countless hours of practical experience applying life-saving skills.

These First Aid volunteers are a very special part of our Red Cross family.  While many have also volunteered as Disaster Action Team members and others have deployed to assist with National Disaster Relief Efforts, this particular area of Red Cross voluntary service requires a level of medical training that far exceeds the average Red Cross First Aid class.  All First Aid Station volunteers are trained as Emergency Medical Responders, learning a similar curriculum to that of a professional EMT, or paramedic. The “EMR” course  requires 70 hours of training before a volunteer can even set foot into a First Aid Station. This is an extraordinary commitment of time and effort, particularly considering the classes are held on five successive Saturdays during high summer, and five successive Wednesdays during the evening— smack dab in the middle of high L.A. traffic!

Over the last year, the National Red Cross was considering eliminating the “EMR” course of study, and understandable so. In terms of the commercial application, the course was too comprehensive—most businesses would prefer their employees enroll in a more modest CPR/First Aid course rather than a time extensive course for professional responders. Here in L.A., elimination of the course would have meant the end of the training necessary for volunteers to participate in the Tournament of Roses Parade, as well as the nearly 50 other events staffed by American Red Cross Emergency Medical Responders throughout the Los Angeles area each year. As a possible elimination of the course surfaced, First Aid volunteers organized themselves and appealed to the National American Red Cross: The Emergency Medical Responder training not only enabled a Red Cross First Aid Station presence at historic events like the Tournament of Roses Parade, it could also potentially enhance the skill set of many Disaster Response volunteers—a happy by-product that could benefit the entire Los Angeles community, and frankly the entire nation, during times of disaster.

In the end, the decision was made to support the volunteers and their extraordinary zeal to train and serve those with medical needs. Rest assured, in 2018 the First Aid Stations will be back, and the Red Cross will again be out in full force during the Tournament of Roses Parade.   Additionally, it is estimated that this year, over 250 volunteers will get the training they need to serve at First Aid Stations–  then be available to turn around and staff shelters during times of disaster with a full arsenal of new life-saving skills.

It is also important to note that as of last year, just over 30% of all the volunteers working at First Aid Stations during the Tournament of Roses Parade were youth volunteers—  a large increase from our youth’s involvement during previous years. This increase was in large part due to the YFAST program (Youth First Aid Stations in Training), which was started in 2015 and helped change the guidelines to allow youth volunteers to treat patients as Emergency Medical Responders (under adult supervision).

Thought I’m not the most skilled guy with an oxygen tank, or at taking the systolic and diastolic readings of a blood pressure, I can now say first hand that the Emergency Medical Responder course is a class of great, great value. The instructors who volunteer their time to teach this intensive course are true life-savers, and the volunteers who rallied to keep this program alive are an inspiration to us all!

Jarrett Barrios is the Chief Executive Officer at the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region. But, above all, Jarrett Barrios is a humanitarian, with more than 20 years of experience helping those in need throughout the United States and Cuba. 

To learn more about Jarrett Barrios or the America Red Cross Los Angeles Region, visit  


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