By Los Angeles Region CEO, Jarrett Barrios

For decades, the American Red Cross has been playing a significant role in the Tournament of Roses Parade and at the Rose Bowl football game. Year after year, on New Year’s Day, people across the nation turn to their television sets to witness this incredible event—all while our Red Cross volunteers stand ready at 13 First Aid Stations along the five and a half mile long parade route and at the football game that follows, should anyone participating in or watching require medical assistance.

Trained Red Cross First Aid Station volunteers are common in Los Angeles, but rare among Red Cross organizations, nationally.  Here, they staff dozens of events annually, including all events at the Rose Bowl. Every year, the biggest event for First Aid Station volunteers is the historic Rose Parade.

To be clear, one can’t just volunteer to do first aid on the day of the parade. To become a first aid volunteer requires a level of medical training far beyond your average First Aid/CPR class. All of the 200-plus First Aid Station volunteers must have trained as Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs), learning a curriculum that is just one step short of a professional EMT. With 70 hours of required training, the EMR course  is certainly a substantial commitment but, it comes with a bonus. The training is free of charge for volunteers who commit to working during the Tournament of Roses Parade! (If you are interested in taking the course and volunteering in next year’s parade, learn more by clicking here.)

Having this level of training available to interested volunteers has not come without its challenges. Throughout much of 2016, the National Red Cross had considered eliminating the EMR course of study. The curriculum seemed too comprehensive, offering far more than most businesses required for general employees. But, here in L.A., elimination of the course would have meant the end of the training necessary for volunteers to participate in the many events throughout the year, including the Tournament of Roses Parade. Thankfully, a group of First Aid station volunteers appealed to the National American Red Cross. Their argument that Emergency Medical Responders would enhance the skill set of Disaster Response volunteers was persuasive. The decision was made in favor of keeping the EMR program available for interested volunteers—a victory for this group of dedicated volunteers.

I had the chance to learn a lot about EMR classes while I watched our national office investigate whether it would continue the course.  The substantive nature of the class and the valuable skills it taught captured my imagination, so I decided to enroll myself in the class. This past summer, I had the pleasure of taking the course over eight successive Saturdays in the Arcadia Chapter office. I have to say, it was tough stuff—but I passed the test and the class. (I may or may not have passed with the lowest score in my cohort—but passing is passing!) With this training, I could now join the volunteers as one of them—a First Aid provider at this year’s Tournament of Roses Parade!

And, join I did.

I was assigned to Station Eight, situated about three and a half miles into the route—a point where many parade participants become overheated, suffer from heat exhaustion and require medical assistance. Needless to say, we were busy. I think a lot of this had to do with marching bands from the Midwest and Northeast, whose uniforms had been designed to withstand much cooler temperatures than the beautiful 75 and sunny we were enjoying in Pasadena on parade day.

Those of us working at Station Eight were split into two teams of four. I was on Team Eight East, and my main job consisted of monitoring the radio for messages from MedCom (as it is called amongst us First Aid Station volunteers). Radio in hand, I headed out with the three other members of my team to patrol our portion of Colorado Blvd, scanning the crowd for anyone who might be experiencing a medical emergency.

This year, 40 percent of all the volunteers working at First Aid Stations were youth volunteers— nearly a 10 percent increase from our youth’s involvement last year. This increase is in part due to the YFAST program (Youth First Aid Stations in Training), which was started in 2015 to allow youth volunteers to treat patients as Emergency Medical Responders (under adult supervision) coordinated by Samantha Yin, our youth representative to the LA Region Board of Directors.

Working together throughout the day, we treated over 125 patients along the parade route and almost 500 patients at the Rose Bowl. Historically, our volunteers treat and release 90 percent of the patients they see. This effort means a tremendous reduction in the workload of the professional EMTs working hard throughout the day.

To witness all of the working parts that make the parade so spectacular move together in perfect harmony is a one-of-a kind experience. And I’m already looking forward to next year, when First Aid Stations will be back and the Red Cross will again be out in full force during the 2019 Tournament of Roses Parade.  Additionally, I am proud to say that this year, an estimated 250 volunteers will get the training they need to serve as First Aid Station volunteers, and then, be ready whenever the time comes to use their training to support people affected by emergencies and disasters—in L.A., across the country, and around the world.

To view more photos from parade day, click here!


 Jarrett Barrios is the Chief Executive Officer at the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region. To learn more about Jarrett Barrios or the America Red Cross Los Angeles Region, visit


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1 Comment

  1. Great article on the value of the EMR (Emergency Medical Responder) program to community and nation.

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