This past weekend there were two home fire deaths in Minnesota. One was a woman 25 years old and the other was a girl 5 years old. These sad and tragic deaths bring the number of home fire deaths to 46 this year in Minnesota. And like the people closest to these disasters, we feel our heart break each time we learn of a home fire death, and we especially feel the heart ache when Red Cross volunteers are responding to these disasters, helping the survivors rebuild their lives.
We do not know details about how the most recent home fires started. But we encourage everyone to practice home fire safety, especially during the busy holiday season. Here are several resources that will get you started:
One thing we’re passionate about is making sure that every household has working smoke alarms. Please check the alarms in your home to see if they’re working. If not, replace the batteries or the alarms. We can help you do this. Our Home Fire Campaign makes it possible for the Red Cross to install free smoke alarms that will help save lives during home fires.
Remember: if a fire starts in your home get out to safety, and then dial 9-1-1 for emergency assistance.
Robin Chattopadhyay can trace his Red Cross connection to early childhood when, like many of you, he had Red Cross swimming lessons. But there was an additional connection. Red Cross tracing services helped his family confirm that his uncle and his family were safe and well following the Union Carbide factory gas leak disaster in Bhopal, India, in 1984. The gas leak killed thousands and injured tens of thousands more.
Today, Robin is on special paid leave from his employer Wells Fargo. The leave allows Robin to dedicate ten weeks towards developing the national Pillowcase Project across Minnesota. The Pillowcase Project aims to increase disaster preparedness among kids in third through fifth grades. First up, he says, will be presenting the project to his own kids at an elementary school in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. “I think that it will be great to present in front of my
kids’ classmates.” The overall goal during his special assignment is to increase awareness of the project among teachers and parents, and to encourage others to become presenters. “First I’m starting with the home crowd,” says Robin, whose easy-going manner will likely inspire kids to tell parents about their Pillowcase Project experience.
After this stint, Robin will continue his Red Cross volunteer service both in emergency preparedness, and in disaster response as a Disaster Action Team member. If you’re interested in learning more, becoming a presenter or having a presentation at your school or organization, feel welcome to contact Robin via email (email@example.com).
On October 28, at American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C., Vonnie Thomas received a 2015 Florence Nightingale Medal, which is the highest international honor for nursing contributions to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and humanitarian action around the globe. The medal is awarded by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) every other year. It’s given to nurses or nursing aides who have shown exceptional courage or exemplary service during times of peace or war. In other words, this medal is a big deal. And we’re over the moon that Vonnie Thomas, a Red Cross volunteer for more than 65 years, was among this year’s honorees.
Vonnie cares for those who have been hurt by disasters as well as the people providing relief. She serves side-by-side with others in the midst of tragedies such as the north Minneapolis tornado, the September 11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and the 35-W bridge collapse on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. Or to a woman whose husband died when their farm house burned down in Wisconsin. Vonnie is a leader, innovator, health professional, and humanitarian. She has cared for thousands of people during her decades of Red Cross volunteer service. Vonnie is a selfless leader who is dedicated to the Red Cross mission to alleviate human suffering during the toughest of times. She is a coach, mentor and champion for other nurses. She is an example for us all.
Congratulations to you, Vonnie, for receiving this well-deserved recognition. Your humility has a place in the work that you do, but today we ask that you put it aside as we tip our hats in great honor to the amazing woman that you are to many, to us.
I have been a volunteer for the Red Cross since 2003. Based in Minnesota, I first started after I took several classes and became a volunteer to go to local fires and help the families after the incident. We provided those affected some funds depending on the severity of the fire. In our office counselors helped them with a lot of referrals to places like VEAP and Bridging to replace their personal items that were lost. It was always a comfort to them when we were there, especially in the middle of the night.
To date, I have been on about 20 deployments which have ranged from Hurricane Katrina (my first one) on the Gulf Coast to Hurricane Sandy in New York, and most recently the wildfires in Idaho and Montana. A deployment is when you are sent to volunteer at some type of a disaster usually in another state.
When I was deployed to Katrina, another volunteer and I drove the Emergency Response Vehicle better known as the ERV to Montgomery, AL to pick up a load of water and snacks. The ERV is the size of an ambulance and it is a feeding unit to go out in affected areas and feed those who are without electricity and maybe running water. We did 2 meals a day with a Baptist group cooking big kettles of food and there were maybe 20 ERV’s delivering food and water to all parts of the area. We were first assigned to Mobile, AL and drove anywhere up to a 50 miles range to serve lunch. We would serve hot food from a serving window in the truck and when finished or the food was all gone we would head back to our base camp and do it all over for dinner. All the people we served would be so appreciative as they hadn’t had a hot meal for 3-5 days by then.
Another disaster I worked on was the 35-W bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Another volunteer and I were in charge of seeing that there was hot food for the divers, police, federal officials when the first lady and again when the President came. We were only using 2 ERVs to send out food but had many volunteers who came to the Red Cross building to eat which is almost right under the bridge. I was able to go down on the river one evening and take food to the divers. Many days after the incident happened it was still a disturbing event to look up at the bridge and see cars still hanging there.
Hurricane Sandy was another unique disaster because of the size and how long the recovery went on and how large it was. By now I had changed from working with the feeding unit to the staffing unit. That job is to take care of the volunteers that are working on the disaster. They may be doing disaster assessment, mental health work, client casework and feeding those who are without a home, and most likely were staying in one of the many shelters the Red Cross operated across parts of New York, New Jersey and some of New England.
Because the job was so large for Sandy our Staff Services team was divided into several parts. I was the manager of all volunteers coming on the job and leaving the job. Some mornings we would have 50 new volunteers reporting to check in and get their assignments. The Red Cross headquarters where I worked for three weeks was two miles from my hotel. Every morning I walked past some interesting sights like the Good Morning America studio and the jumbotrons on Broadway. I picked up breakfast from a local deli or a street vendor and did the same on the walk back in the evening.
The night before Thanksgiving some of my group decided we would go up to Central Park and look at the parade floats. You cannot imagine the number of people who had decided to do the same thing. There were eight of us in our group and we had to hang on to the coat of the person in front of us or we would have been lost. We decided that we had walked about eight miles that evening, but it was fun. None us would do it again.
My most recent deployment was the Idaho and Montana wildfires. Half of my time there was spent in Kamiah, ID which is way up in the mountains. My workplace was the local American Legion. There was a reception center, called a MARC, that brought many groups into one place where those affected could get different kinds of help. There were 16 families that had totally lost their homes as they burned to the ground in a matter of minutes. Many others had lost part of their homes or all of their out buildings and a lot of cattle.
Everything the Red Cross does because of disasters–and we’ve had many this year ranging from Washington wildfires to South Carolina flooding–is done with help from caring people like us. The Red Cross is always grateful for our help. If any of you have 4-5 hours a week to volunteer, we always need more help. If it would not be your thing to go out to fires or to be deployed, there are simple jobs in the office that can be done, such as addressing birthday cards for volunteers. If you would like to become a Red Cross volunteer, just click here.
Story and photos by Dave Schoeneck, Red Cross Volunteer
More than 160 Red Cross volunteers, staff and community partners came together during the North Star Disaster Training Institute (NSDTI) at Camp Ripley last week to learn fundamental and advanced skills to help prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.
Organized by the American Red Cross Minnesota Region, the third North Star Disaster Training Institute, included more than 30 classes on client assistance, psychological first aid, disaster assessment, volunteer supervision, sheltering and more.
Twin Cities disaster volunteer Jennifer Pluhar said, “The Institute was definitely time well spent. From a variety of training offerings, to networking opportunities and overall Red Cross team building – I’m leaving better equipped to serve my community and with even more admiration for the truly amazing people I’m privileged to serve with.”
To test skills learned at the Institute, the weekend culminated in a four-hour tabletop disaster exercise simulating an F2 tornado ripping through St. Cloud. More than 80 people participated in the exercise, including community partners from the city of St. Cloud and Stearns County: Erin Hausauer, Emergency Manager, Stearns County; Kristen Tschida, Stearns County Emergency Management Planner; Dean Wrobbel, St. Cloud Fire Chief; and Jerry Raymond, St. Cloud Fire Battalion Chief. They helped Red Cross volunteers understand how the government would coordinate its disaster response and work with the Red Cross and other agencies.
“We were very pleased to again be able to utilize all of the wonderful facilities at Camp Ripley, including the newly constructed classroom and cafeteria wing of the Education Center,” said Art McIntyre, Director of the NSDTI planning team and a Red Cross volunteer. “We also had excellent assistance from the staff at Camp Ripley, which made the Institute run very smoothly and efficiently.”
Joe Kelly, director of Minnesota’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management agency and a member of the American Red Cross Minnesota Region Board of Directors, delivered the Friday night keynote address. He told the volunteers, staff and Red Cross partners, “I was reminded of what you really do this summer when I visited the Brainerd Lakes disaster area. It made me proud of my association with this organization. If not the Red Cross, who would be there to help? I don’t have an answer for that. I couldn’t really do my job without you.”
Terry Sluss of Baxter, MN, lead Red Cross volunteer on this summer’s Vigilant Guard Exercise, was presented the Minnesota National Guard’s Commander’s Award for Public Service by Major Joe Sanganoo. Phil Hansen, Regional Chief Executive Officer, presented Vonnie Thompson with her 65-year service pin and plaque for her tireless work as a volunteer Red Cross nurse.
The NSDTI Planning team included Steve Bonnie, Judy Pike, Paul Baker, Cheryl Thompson, Mike Hofmann, Rick Graff, Rick Solheid, Eric Adams, Dan Hoffman, Megan Mrozek, Brenda Mead, Bill Satterness, and David Schoeneck.
The institute was made possible by a private donor and the Fred C. and Katherine B. Andersen Foundation, and several in-kind donations of materials and food. Planning is underway for the next training institute. Meanwhile, additional online training for Red Cross staff and volunteers is available through EMBARC.
For information about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, click here.