By Carl Manning
American Red Cross
It’s the middle of the night and you awake to the smell of smoke and are quickly seized by panic and fear: Your house is on fire!
You have maybe two minutes get out safety with your family. In a matter of minutes, the fire department shows up to save what’s left of the house.
But there you are on the sidewalk looking at the smoldering ruins, huddling with loved ones and thankful that everybody is OK.
Then a jumble of questions rushes through your mind – What should I do next? Where do I go? Who can help me?
Then, you see two people walking toward you in Red Cross vests. They are volunteers, but more specifically members of the Disaster Action Team (DAT), specially trained to help those dealing with home fires to get through those first hours of feeling helpless and alone.
The job of the DAT volunteers is to provide for the immediate needs of those displaced by a home fire such as food, clothing and a place to stay, along with offering hope and compassion. Sometimes it may be locating a family member or friend who can help, or it may be simply taking the time to sit down with them and let them talk about their ordeal and offer them a sympathetic shoulder to lean on.
It’s a scene repeated scores of times in the Red Cross Western Missouri Region. In 2016, the Red Cross opened 1,318 home fires cases and assisted 3,845 people in the 62-county Region. Broken down, that’s 717 cases and 2,016 people in the 15 counties making up the Greater Kansas City Chapter; 114 cases and 346 people in the 18-county area of the Northwest Missouri Chapter in St. Joseph; and 487 cases and 1,483 people in the 29-county area of the Southern Missouri Chapter in Springfield.
One thing DAT members learn quickly is that no two situations are the same and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. But they always show up ready to help those in need. They listen so they can come up with a recovery plan and often have to adapt to the situation they have walked into. In the end, they have accomplished the Red Cross goal of providing needed assistance in a timely manner.
For instance, during one apartment fire in the Kansas City area, the DAT team arrived to find most of those who escaped didn’t speak English. But a youngster whose family fled their burning apartment was fluent in both English and his native language so the DAT team utilized him as a translator to explain to the others what the Red Cross was going to do to help them.
In another case, a DAT team arrived at an apartment fire where residents had been displaced and most had no place to go. Additional Red Cross volunteers were summoned and a shelter was opened in a nearby community center to provide the residents with a safe place to stay until they were able to return home several days later.
It was another example of a DAT team arriving to find the needs were greater than first thought but being able to quickly improvise, adapt and overcome to help those in need.
But Red Cross assistance for those displaced by a home fire doesn’t end when the DAT team packs up to leave after asking if there is anything else they can do to help.
Red Cross caseworkers in the coming days will be in touch to help people to develop a long term recovery plan and often bringing many of its community partners to provide additional assistance such as furniture, medical supplies or help in finding a new place to live.
There always is a need by the Red Cross for DAT volunteers. If you would like to become a DAT member and help those in need, go to www.redcross.org and sign up to start the process of becoming a Red Cross volunteer or call 1-800-Red Cross for more information.