By: Jamia Dinkins, Indiana Region Communications Intern
As a Red Cross volunteer, one of the first things you will learn about a disaster is that it does not wait until you are off the clock. A disaster won’t wait until your lunch break, or will it make sure to find time in between you going to the grocery store and picking up the kids from school. Disaster does not wait until someone is living the highest of highs, or having a bad day that “couldn’t possibly get any worse”.
Disaster does not wait. This was proven on my first disaster call as an intern with the American Red Cross – Indiana Region.
It was 11:15 a.m. on a Wednesday morning during a zoom call with former Regional Communications Manager Hyacinth Rucker, and my fellow communications intern Natali Jouzi, when we heard a fervent knock on the closed door, followed by a head peeking through.
“Are you guys busy?” said Brittany Crowe, disaster program specialist for the American Red Cross – Indiana Region.
About a week prior to this day, Brittany caught Hyacinth and I as we were working at our desks to inquire about being ‘on call’ for a few hours in the coming week. This would mean that during specific designated hours, if there were a disaster – the most common are house fires – we would be a part of the team that responds and provides relief.
As an intern, I didn’t know how exactly the Red Cross responded to ‘smaller scale’ emergencies; this wasn’t a town recovering from hurricane-level destruction or flooding. So, I asked, what exactly does the Red Cross do when it comes to home fires that law enforcement and firefighters do not do?
With excitement and passion, Brittany described the importance of the Red Cross responding to a disaster, we are there to offer supplies and aid, but most importantly, reassurance and a shoulder to cry on. “This person is having the worst day of their life,” Brittany said. “And we’re there to help them through it.”
With that statement, I was hooked. I was inspired to help in any way I could, and observe and live through what gave Brittany, and many other volunteers, the drive to work during a disaster. As well as the ability to lend a helping hand and give someone light during their darkest moment.
After being called into action, Hyacinth and I, along with my fellow intern Laith Hicks, dropped everything we were working on. We learned we were to respond to a house fire in Nora, a quiet neighborhood on the far north side of Indianapolis. We grabbed our things and jumped into a Red Cross vehicle.
Once we arrived at the scene, we met with Red Cross Volunteer Rose Droddy, and shadowed her as she helped the affected people involved.
Firefighting crews and law personnel stayed on the scene until 11 a.m., and by the time the Red Cross arrived at noon, only the Deputy Fire Marshall remained. There was water left on the pavement from the fire crews extinguishing the flames, and as Hyacinth, Laith and I exited our vehicle, we took note of how the smell of smoke lingered strongly in the air. The garage door and front door were open to allow the house to ventilate, alongside a square hole crudely cut into the roof of the damaged home.
Rose had arrived in her personal vehicle, but her trunk was prepped with heat blankets, bags of snacks, water, and other Red Cross disaster supplies.
The client was an older man in his 80s, who had lived in the house since 1986. He was home at the start of the fire, but thankfully made it out unharmed. His neighbors had brought out a folded chair for him to sit in; he placed himself on the sidewalk in front of his house. Rose sat next to him in her own folded chair, and began to ask questions identifying him as the man that owned the house.
Hyacinth, Laith and I stood next to Rose, opposite of the man hunched over in his seat. Rose asked him questions about how the fire started, taking note of everything he mentioned. How did the fire start? Did he have any family? Did he have anyone coming to check on him? Standing and listening to how this man’s day started was a grim reminder that disaster doesn’t wait for an opportune moment.
He merely needed more light in his bedroom, and plugged in a lamp he didn’t normally use, lighting a towel draped over the lampshade on fire. He talked about his son that lived in Chicago, who was coming down that day to check on his father after the fire. He talked about his two granddaughters, who were 7 and 10. He was a part of the US Army Reserve.
He wistfully confirmed that the Detailed Damage Assessment Rose received from the fire department stated that the home that he’s lived in for almost 40 years, with a collapsing wet ceiling and three windows blown out and needing repair, was too far damaged to enter.
Rose let the man know that the Red Cross would give him immediate client assistance, which included financial assistance for living and food expenses and spiritual, physical health, and mental health resources. In addition, a Red Cross caseworker would follow up in the next two days to check in for any other ways the Red Cross could help.
Brittany Crowe’s words from the prior week returned to me. This person is having the worst day of their life, and we’re there to help them through it. More than anything, this man needed reassurance that things were going to be alright, and that’s why the Red Cross was there to respond. This was the core of what Rose set out and volunteered to do, and what deepened my understanding and appreciation of what it meant to be a part of the Red Cross’s disaster action team.
My internship with the Red Cross has taught me so much more than I’d ever thought I’d learn. Are you searching for a rewarding volunteer opportunity? If so, I recommend you to join the team! To learn more and find out about volunteering near you, please visit https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer.html#step1.