Dave Sanderson was the last passenger off the plane. When US Airways Flight 1549 made a forced landing into the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey, Dave risked his life to help others escape.
On that fateful day on Jan. 15, 2009, all 155 people aboard miraculously survived. That event became known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
After making sure others were safely out of the plane, Dave jumped into the frigid waters and swam to the nearest rescue boat. He credits the Red Cross with helping to save his life because of the swimming lessons he’d taken as a boy.
“When we got to shore,” Dave says, “there were three people waiting for me – two EMTs and a guy from the American Red Cross.” The Red Cross was there providing blankets and other support. Dave also remembers that “in the middle of the night, someone from the Red Cross went out and got me some sweats so I’d have something to wear in the morning.”
Meanwhile, back in North Carolina, the Red Cross reached out to support Dave’s anxious family. Dave says, “They were there taking care of my family. In a span of 14 hours I had three Red Cross experiences. The most important one was the Red Cross taking care of my family. That’s why I now speak for the Red Cross.”
This spring Dave will share his story as the keynote speaker at two major Red Cross events in Western Missouri. Tickets are available for the centennial celebrations of these two Red Cross chapters:
American Red Cross of Southern Missouri
“Centennial of Service”
May 16, 2017
American Red Cross of Northwest Missouri
St. Joseph, Missouri
“Heroes for the American Red Cross”
May 18, 2017
Dave reminds people, “The Red Cross takes people who are suffering, whether it’s from a fire, a tornado, a hurricane or even a military situation. They help people get through it. People have hope that life will be better because of the Red Cross.”
By Julia Lugon American Red Cross
If I could give one piece of advice for anyone joining the Red Cross Disaster Action Team in the winter it would be to wear warm socks.
My first fire call came exactly two months after training for the team of volunteers specially trained to go to home fires and provide aid, comfort and support for those whose homes were damaged or destroyed. With the weather getting colder, the chances increased for getting a call from the Red Cross disaster duty officer who is alerted by the Kansas City Fire Department that there’s been a house fire and people needing Red Cross assistance.
Most of the disasters in the Kansas City area that the Red Cross responds to are home fires – with more than 2,000 people assisted last year in the 15-county Greater Kansas City Chapter area. With winter and people trying to stay warm, accidents happen. This is because people often make unsafe use of space heaters, open flames like candles or overloading old electrical wiring.
After my initial DAT training, the plan was for me to shadow a DAT Technician until I had enough experience to qualify as a Technician. Every week, the Technician to whom I was assigned sent a text with her schedule and asked if I was available that night.
Most of the times I was, but for some miraculous reason, there were no fires during my shifts.
When my Technician finally called, I couldn’t even believe it. It was 10 p.m. and I had just gotten home from school. I read her name on my iPhone but didn’t immediately process that this was real – a house caught fire and they needed me. I was so eager to arrive at the scene I didn’t realize I left my house wearing a simple pair of jeans and what apparently were the thinnest socks in the world – never mind it was 19 degrees and I would spend most of my time on the street.
Driving to the scene, I was trying to picture what it would be like: fire trucks everywhere, smoke, tears, destruction. Would I cry? Would I be able to keep it together and help a family that needed all the support they could get? Because it was my first fire, I wondered how I would possibly be able to help. My training seemed so distant and I wasn’t sure I would be able to provide any comfort to those needing it.
Boy, was I wrong.
The household had 11 people – seven adults and four children. They barely spoke any English and I happen to speak some Spanish, enough to translate what was going on. I am Brazilian and my Portuguese also helped me a lot, since the two languages are similar.
My Technician would tell me what to say and ask and I would translate their answers, becoming a vital conduit between explaining their needs and informing them what the Red Cross could do to provide immediate emergency assistance. The family seemed desperate, and the fact that someone was speaking to them in their language helped calm them down and enabled them to fully understand what was going on.
With no electricity, a destroyed bathroom and water damage, the family was in great need of assistance. There were two DAT Technicians with me at the scene and they guided me every step of the way, explaining all the procedures and making sure we were helping that family the best way we possibly could.
After assessing the damage and determining that the home wasn’t livable, we assisted them with their most urgent needs – food, clothing, gasoline, hotel.
It wasn’t much, but enough to get them through the first 24 to 48 hours after the fire. We also gave each adult and each child a Red Cross Comfort Kit with shampoo, tooth paste, and other hygiene items they might need.
The kids also received a stuffed Mickey Mouse toy, thanks to a partnership of Red Cross and Disney. The toy seemed to make the adults as happy as the kids and brought a smile to their faces in such a harsh time.
After saying goodbye and giving a hug to the family and other DATs, I realized that I was so glad to be at that scene. My presence mattered. The simple fact that I was there, representing the Red Cross was something already. No matter how long ago I had my training, I could do something about the fire. I could help that family in some way. I felt that because of us, those people could now afford a hotel, take a warm shower, have a nice meal and make a plan for their next days.
Yes, being at home watching some TV show after a long day would have been nice, but not nearly as rewarding as being a part of that moment.
With all the adrenaline running through my body, I didn’t notice how much my legs were shaking from the freezing temperatures and staying outside for so long. I couldn’t even feel my feet anymore. As I left the fire scene I had two thoughts in my mind: I am so glad to be a DAT volunteer and I hope I don’t have to amputate my toes. I got home and immediately tried to get myself warm. It was all worth it. Next time, I will know better.
If you would like to become a Red Cross volunteer and became a member of the DAT team, go to redcross.org or call 1-800-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.