Red Cross volunteers in the Greater Kansas City Chapter responded to numerous home fires during 2017, helping those who were displaced by providing for immediate needs such as food, clothing and lodging and working with them on their long-term recovery (Red Cross photo by Carl Manning)
By Carl Manning
American Red Cross
For the Red Cross volunteers at the Greater Kansas City Chapter it was a very busy 2017 dealing with fires, floods, tornadoes and occasionally doing a little cat wrangling.
Homes fires accounted for the majority of disaster responses and assistance provided, although there were other disasters such as tornadoes, floods and hurricanes where volunteers from the GKC chapter responded.
Last year, the chapter provided disaster assistance to 2,928 people in the 15 counties it serves. Of that, 2,112 were people displaced by home fires with 1,013 of them in Jackson County.
In some cases, people were displaced when their homes caught fire and they had to flee for their lives. Others were forced out because of a fire in a nearby apartment rendered their place unlivable because smoke and water damage.
Those responding to the fires are members of the Disaster Action Team, or DAT, a specially trained group of Red Cross volunteers who arrive with firefighters and other first responders to provide comfort and care to those facing what likely is the worst time in this lives.
DAT members talk to those displaced and provide for immediate needs such as food, clothing and lodging, often working with Red Cross partners such as church groups or community centers.
Red Cross caseworkers then work with those displaced to assist with their long-term recovery and any special needs they might have.
Often if a large number of people have been displaced by something like a fire in an apartment building, the Red Cross will open a shelter to provide a safe place for people to stay.
Sometimes DAT volunteers will go the extra mile to help out like providing a flashlight and helping a person searching for car keys or a wallet amid the ashes.
In one recent fire, a mother of two was forced to leave her cats behind when she and her children had to flee in the middle of the night because of a fire in an adjacent apartment.
The next morning, the tenant and a Red Cross volunteer returned and found the cats hiding under the bed and in a closet. The cats were rounded up and taken to a nearby animal shelter that works with the Red Cross to assist in such instances.
Last year was made even busier by a spate of natural disasters like the tornadoes that struck Oak Grove and Smithville. Red Cross volunteers were on the scene to assess damage to homes and provide initial recovery assistance. At both locations, the Red Cross was part of multi-agency resource centers set up with other agencies to help in the recovery process.
July and August brought repeated flash flooding in the Kansas City area where Red Cross volunteers provided assistance with such things as cleanup materials for residents dealing with flooded homes.
But the assistance didn’t stop there. Many GKC Chapter volunteers also were busy helping out with flood recovery throughout southern Missouri and later in the year were part of the national response to hurricanes that devastated parts of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
As Red Cross volunteers start another year of service to others, they will be ready to help those in need. Time and circumstances may change many things, but one thing that won’t change will be their desire to help others.