When Disaster Hits, You Know the Feeling

Guest blog post by Jim Rettew, American Red Cross Volunteer

You know the feeling…when you see the devastation on TV, you can’t help yourself from volunteering to do something. All disasters are hard, but when it’s your former hometown, there’s even a greater sense of urgency. When I saw the flooding in Boulder, Colorado, I was on a plane in hours, deploying to the relief operation. It was still raining when I got there.

For me, responding to the flooding disaster was especially important: before moving to Minnesota in 2011, Boulder was my hometown for 15 years. It’s considered to be less disaster-prone than most places, but for the last three years, it’s been under fire (and under water). Historic wildfires have ripped through Boulder County each year since 2010. When Boulder seemed to dodge the wildfire season this year, it was hit with a 500 year flood.

Jim Rettew (r), and Weather Channel journalists, including Jim Cantore (c), during the flood relief response in Boulder, Colorado, September, 2013. Submitted photo.
Jim Rettew (r), and Weather Channel journalists, including Jim Cantore (c), during the flood response in Boulder, CO, September 2013. Submitted photo.

As part of the American Red Cross “APAT” (Advanced Public Affairs Team), I’m charged with telling the Red Cross story to the national media. Yes, I get to meet some cool people like Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel, but let’s remember, a 7AM live, television interview east coast time. is 5AM mountain time, and that wake-up call is usually preceded by a 1AM radio interview in the Middle East. My sleeping pattern resembled that of a parent with a newborn baby.

Since my team was in the field all day, we were often the eyes and ears of the operation and the front line of problem solvers. When someone in need sees the Red Cross on my shirt, I can’t tell them, “sorry ma’am, I only talk to the press.” I solve their problem, or find someone who can. As a result, I was on a first name basis with everyone from the staff at the Boulder YMCA, which served as our primary shelter, to the state’s Emergency Operation Center folks.

What struck me on this disaster relief operation was seeing so many familiar faces in our shelter, people who had stayed with us during the previous year’s wildfires and now were chased out of their homes by the flood. I was in awe of their resiliency. Can you imagine – losing your house in a wildfire, finally moving back into a permanent home, only to see that one washed away in a flood? Yet those same folks put on smiles and showed fortitude to rebuild…again.

I loved returning to Boulder, but I hated the circumstances. It was like watching a good friend get beat up. My saving grace was that I could return with a big Red Cross on my back, empowered to deliver hope, comfort and restitution to a community that I love.

Click here to learn more about the American Red Cross and how you can help. Click here for more stories and updates about the Red Cross response in Colorado. Thanks Jim!

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