Back in 2004 I started to volunteer with the American Red Cross here in San Antonio. Here’s a little history about the red cross and how it has progress.
Now, everybody knows that Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross when she had witnessed similar operations overseas. In the twentieth century it was very well organized to the point of recruiting nurses and sending them in harm’s way during World War 2. They wore the Red Cross on their uniform and perform well in combat areas.
After the wars, including the Korean war, the Red Cross started to assist the citizenry when they had crisis like floods and tornadoes and that led to the present way of doing business.
I was not prepared to what I was getting into. After some classes I found that the regulations were similar to the Army regulations except for different topics and doctrine on how to operate when helping people.
This led to my volunteering for the Disaster Action Team (DAT). Let’s say I was recruited to join the team. My first venture was a ride along to learn the actual way of assisting in a crisis. I had already attended the classes on sheltering and the forms needed to be filled out when helping a client. It was all paperwork that needed to be filled out. It was called a form 901. In the Army, if someone wanted a secret clearance they would fill out a DA form 648 which is something like the 901. It wanted everything filled out up to your family members and their ages so it could be checked out to decide what services are going to be needed.
I learned that when I visited a fire site, that I had to meet with the Fire Department chief on the ground. He can tell me what’s going on and where the clients are located. When it’s a single family fire it’s different from an apartment fire where you’d have several families strung out all over the area.
After being shown the ropes I was made a captain. No pay, just a promotion to handle all the calls all week long. They would let me take the van home with all the equipment in it including mickey mouse toys to give the children. At that time, I was in the office all day because I had a secondary job as a Facility Manager taking care of updating agreements and doing surveys. (That’s another story).
So, during the month I would share duties with other volunteers who had been doing DAT all week long. The problem with that is we had to deliver the van to their home and have them drive me back to my home It was a Monday morning to Monday morning shifts. It became a hardship when a fire broke out on a Sunday evening or early Monday morning because we had to be ready to help out. We didn’t change over until we finished with the client(s)
It was a little difficult to find other volunteers to ride along. They would attend the DAT orientation and afterwards would sign up for a day they could be called upon to assist. So we had two or three that could be available all day. This is when I asked my wife to volunteer so she could be my ride along. After taking classes, she started to go with me on all the calls regardless what time it was.
The amount of paperwork for each client was tremendous. Besides the 901, we had to make referrals for all the agencies that could assist the client and we made vouchers for food, clothing at different stores. There were no cash allowances. That came later in the form of CAC cards. When we placed someone in a hotel, we actually had to go to the motel and set them up. The motels, which were pre-approved, would bill the Red Cross
My wife and I have always followed safety precautions and where our safety is jeopardized, we get out of the area and come back when it’s safe. That happened one time when an overzealous neighbor who was inebriated start yelling at us and getting in the way of our helping the client. There were a lot of gang members there too.
The changes in protocol came later but what helped us then was the issuance of the CAC card. That saved us time because we didn’t to fill out vouches any more but we still made referrals. The client could use it for the money we allowed and also pay for his motel stay. We still had the say so on which motel they could go to because we had agreements in place with every eligible motel.
We had many interesting episodes when dealing with clients. We were servicing this family who survived an apartment fire. They had been placed at another apartment. After meeting the man of the house, who was of a different ethnicity, we asked if he could point out his wife because there were many women inside the apartment. He says that they’re all his wives. I asked which one pays for the food and clothing and he pointed to this one. So, we didn’t count all his wives for assistance. There were seven of them with all their children.
My wife didn’t feel good about filling out the 901 so when we had an apartment fire the first thing she did was start listing the names of all that were affected by the fire and each one was called up by that list. Also, because she was bi-lingual, she would help translate. One of the protocols in an apartment fire was for all the DAT captains to come in and help with the paperwork. Another thing is that I became the Red Cross representative a few times with the media in English and Spanish. So much that I became Mr. Red Cross to my family and neighbors. When we are attending to a client, we don’t know if anybody got injured or died until way later when the fire department tells us. It was different one time that the fire department asked us to back up about half a mile along with the families who were waiting to find out if everybody got out in time. We were sitting in our van with the windows down and we started hearing a wailing from the crowd. It seems that a mother and her two children were trapped in the fire and were burned. It was a terrible feeling and we were not able to help anybody that night because the fire was so intense and wide spread.
After so many years on DAT, my wife decided that she had enough but kept going with me if there was no one else. One time we had a large fire in a senior living apartment. I had gone ahead and waited for my ride along outside of the perimeter. I saw a whole bunch of fire trucks and ambulances in the parking lot. I informed my immediate supervisor what was happening and we decided to contact a shelter contact to advise him that we might have to open a shelter for all these seniors. Fortunately, the city had requested bus service to transport all the senior to a local high school cafeteria as a rallying point. By that time, we were able to provide blankets and coffee to all. Later they were all transported to hotels where we provided meals.
From that time on things began to change in DAT. We started using laptop computers to fill in 901s and connect with hotels. Now we were providing assistance through the use of the CAC card and letting them select their own lodging. The paperwork was still there but we didn’t have so much work. Everything was going digital. There is a new system (RC View) where all data is recorded. We can now do all with our smart phone, tablets or desk top computers. It is still in a production stage but I think that It’s going to be a great help. Makes me want to go back to DAT even at my age.