By Bob Bowker, Volunteer Incident Commander, 2017 Rose Parade First Aid Stations

I’m as guilty of this as anyone – I get so concerned about having enough paper clips or enough blue gloves, that I sometimes forget the big picture. This past summer, I was reminded of just how big that Red Cross First Aid picture really is. screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-11-38-09-am

I visited Sri Lanka, and of course just had to climb “The Rock” – 650’ up, 1,248 stairs bolted into the granite, to where the ancient Kings had built their palaces for security. About two-thirds the way up is a plateau where climbers rest before the last push to the top … and off to one side is a Red Cross First Aid tent. They had the usual supplies – bandages, splints, OTCs – and a couple dozen jackets to provide warmth to climbers with hypothermia. There was a single Volunteer, Thavuka Viraj Maduvanga, who spoke no English – a Sri Lankan Army officer translated for us. Thavuka climbs to the plateau every morning, 5 days a week, for his 12 hour shift. He treats everything from bandages falling off to sprained ankles to cardiac emergencies – alone! His backup: the Army calls in a helicopter if he needs help.


A few days later, I was in Kandy, Sri Lanka, to photograph part of the Buddhist Festival of the Tooth – which includes a daily Parade that grows from two hours on Day One to over four hours by Day 10. Fire dancers, drum bands, dozens of costumed elephants, the works — every day for 10 days!

Well before the start time, I staked out space at the fence to take pictures. About 30 minutes before the first elephant appeared, several Red Cross Volunteer Nurses stationed themselves all along the route. I could tell immediately what was going on.

A few days later, off to Rwanda in Africa to visit friends. I asked my Guide Freddy to take me to the Red Cross headquarters in Kigali. There I met Solange Umatoni who heads up the First Aid program. They deploy trained volunteers in Red Cross Ambulance Services for parades, political rallies, sports events, openings – the same as we have on our calendar. And for their training – they offer CPR, Basic First Aid and Advanced First Aid classes, just as we do.

I met other Red Crossers during the trip, and it was always a humbling experience. We are members of a truly worldwide group of volunteers who provide First Aid – because we’re needed, and because we want to.

It also made me very proud – as it should you.

Bob Bowker has been a Red Cross Volunteer for almost 10 years. He has deployed nationally to disasters several times as Mass Care Lead, Sheltering Manager and Shelter Supervisor and worked in Regional Disaster Response Shelters for several years. January 2017 will mark his 10th year as a First Aid Volunteer in the Los Angeles Region, working at First Aid Stations at both Community Events and at the Rose Parade. This will be Bob’s second year as Incident Commander for the Red Cross First Aid Stations at the Rose Parade.


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