2014 Washington Wildfires – One Year Update

Red Cross volunteer Pascal Chevalier

Red Cross volunteer Pascal Chevalier

The summer of 2014 brought the most destructive wildfires in Washington state history. The firestorm that swept through Central Washington consumed 363,000 acres and hundreds of homes and decimated infrastructure across the region, creating unprecedented challenges.

One year on, the summer of 2014 is one few will forget. Yet this year, the region is preparing for worse. Wildfires have already ignited in Central Washington, forcing thousands of Wenatchee residents to flee their homes.

“Experience has shown us that we cannot overstate the value of a robust network of highly trained volunteers and the resources to be on the ground right away,” said Amanda Appel, Red Cross disaster program specialist.

In response to last year’s fire disaster, the Red Cross:

  • opened 18 shelters
  • operated 12 fixed feeding sites and served nearly 45,000 meals and snacks
  • established 5 bulk distribution sites to distribute more than 6,000 items
  • provided casework assistance to 680 individuals
  • provided health and emotional support contacts to more than 2,000 people impacted residents.

Looking back and looking forward

“Our community was hard-hit last year and they will be even more vulnerable and have fewer resources to cope this year,” Appel explained. “Therefore we need to be persistent and be creative and flexible to ensure the help is meaningful.”

A corps of trained volunteers helps to strengthen communities, making them more resilient and prepared should an emergency strike. Volunteers come with diverse skills and backgrounds. Last year, the fire disaster prompted Pascal Chevalier, born and raised in the war-torn country of Lebanon, to join.

“I’ve been a direct recipient of Red Cross assistance for all my life, so this is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Chevalier said. “When I walked in, I said, ‘I’m here, put me to work.’” He was trained immediately and assigned to support shelter operations.

Last year’s firestorms hit close to home for other Red Cross volunteers, such as Kay MacCready. “I’d worked on a couple of national disasters in the past, but it’s different when it’s in your own backyard,” said MacCready of Winthrop, a small town heavily impacted by the fires and repeated evacuation orders.

The wildfire disaster came uncomfortably close to home, MacCready admits, “But I couldn’t quit. I was working alongside volunteers who were kind and giving and I really learned a lot from them.”

Lessons in Preparedness, Giving Back

Guillermo CarvajalBy Nicole Ginley-Hidinger

Each week, the Girls’ and Boys’ Achievers Academy students at Northgate Elementary hear from speakers about a variety of topics. On this day, representatives from the American Red Cross were on hand to teach emergency preparedness skills. To introduce the Red Cross presenters, Instructor Guillermo Carvajal, a Family Support Worker with the Seattle School District, begins by sharing a story about how the Red Cross helped him after a house fire.

“We lived in a very old house and under the stairs leading to the main floor, a fire had started,” Carvajal said. “We didn’t know how … we lost everything. It moved fast. The Red Cross called me and asked if I needed some help.”

For nine years, he held onto the Target t-shirts he received through the Red Cross for sentimental reasons.

“I was able to get blankets and bedding and I was able to get beds later when I secured another apartment,” he said. “[The Red Cross] made me feel comfortable and safe … that there were people behind me, and the resources they provided were enough to make me feel comfortable. I have never forgotten that.”

Nearly 15 years later, he invited the Red Cross Youth Preparedness instructors to teach Basic First Aid to his students.

“I wanted to at least give them an idea what should be done and who to talk to in the case of an emergency,” he said. “Kids need to have the tools so that when a situation appears in front of them, they don’t panic. They think, ‘oh yeah, I can handle that. I remember this piece.’”

The Basic First Aid class teaches kids what to do to help someone who is choking, how to wrap a bandage, and how to tie a sling. It is one of five classes the Red Cross youth department teaches to prepare youth for natural disasters and emergencies.

“The Red Cross is hugely important,” he added. “If you get a cut, what are you going to do? If you wipe out on your bike, what are you going to do? Who do you call? I think it’s something we should have instituted in all the schools to start getting the basic idea of what it is to help somebody.”

After his experience with the Red Cross, Carvajal connects his friends and the families he supports with their services.

“I tell people I went to the Red Cross,” he says. “I was involved in a fire and here’s what happened. I want you to feel comfortable asking for first aid classes or earthquake classes or going there and purchasing something.”

For more information on Red Cross Youth Preparedness, visit redcross.org.

Volunteer Spotlight: Ron Conlin

Ron ConlinBy Tiffany Koenig,
Red Cross Volunteer

“Being involved in the community is second nature to me,” says Red Cross volunteer Ron Conlin. And it’s no wonder. Ron has been serving communities for
more than forty years, starting as a police officer patrolling the projects in New Orleans—“some of the toughest in the world at the time.”

Ron joined the police department after getting off active duty in the Armed Forces and worked his way up to homicide detective. He first got involved with the Red Cross in 1985 as chairman of the emergency services group for New Orleans. Years later, after retiring from law enforcement and starting his own national consulting firm in Washington state, Ron reconnected with the Red Cross to help his Whidbey Island community.

Ron now serves as the Washington state coordinator of Life, Safety, and Asset Protection (LSAP), responsible for ensuring the safety and security of Red Cross staff, volunteers, and clients and protecting Red Cross assets. He is also the Northwest Washington Deputy Disaster Cycle Services Manager and Government Liaison for the area and serves on the South Whidbey unit of the DAT team, which responds to everything from fires to floods to windstorms across the Islands area.

“DAT teams are usually the first ones to respond to any disaster before the rest of the volunteer force is called into action,” he says. On any given day he might be assisting disaster clients, providing canteen services for fire or law enforcement agencies at a site, preparing shelters, or ensuring that his unit has strategic locations for supplies and equipment. “Our whole chapter works together as a team to get things done as needed. The community depends on it.”

So what’s it like performing his role on Whidbey Island? “There are different cultural nuances about working on all the islands,” Ron says. There are also logistical challenges that can make disaster relief difficult. “The mainland has more resources. If the islands are cut off by a major disaster compromising a bridge or the ferry system, then those areas need to be more prepared until support from the rest of the state can come in. The lack of transportation avenues is an area of concern.”

One of Ron’s most memorable deployments was the two months he spent in New York after Superstorm Sandy. “That was memorable as far as the scope and complexity of such a large-scale disaster. It was so vast because of the concentration of the population and extensive damage throughout a geographic area.” As part of LSAP, Ron helped ensure the safety of mobile feeding sites, staging areas, staff facilities, and hundreds of shelters set up throughout the area. “It was a different way than the Red Cross normally operates,” he explains. “It’s normally available for temporary and immediate assistance after a disaster, but this has been a long-haul effort.” In fact, the recovery effort is still going on after all this time.

When he’s not volunteering with the Red Cross, Ron teaches for the FBI Academy Alumni Association (founding president), serves as president of the Crime Stoppers Association of Washington, is heavily involved with the American Legion, and is recognized nationally as a crime prevention instructor. In his free time he enjoys fishing, firearms practice, and maintaining his Whidbey Island property overlooking Possession Sound, home to deer, eagles, owls, and raccoons—“like a mini-zoo.”

“Whidbey still has that quaint island feeling,” he says. “It’s a getaway from madness of the mainland.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Supriya Janarthanan

SupriyaBy Tiffany Koenig

As a volunteer with the Language Bank in King County, Supriya Janarthanan brings a rare skill to her role: she speaks the South Indian languages Tamil and Telugu. Originally from Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu in India, Supriya enjoys volunteering with the Red Cross because it offers an opportunity to meet different people and learn about diverse cultures while also making a difference in the community.

So what does the Language Bank do? “People move to Seattle from all over the world, and many face challenges communicating,” Supriya explains. “They can call the Language Bank coordinator and ask for a translator, and the coordinator sends out a volunteer to help.” The program currently offers translation and interpretation for 54 languages.

Supriya had a chance to serve as a translator through the Language Bank when a three-year-old South Indian girl and her parents needed help communicating with a speech therapist. Supriya visited the girl’s home during therapy sessions and played an integral role in the process. But opportunities to translate these languages are few and far between.

“People from South India often don’t need a translator because many are good at speaking English,” she explains.

In addition to providing general office support for the Language Bank, Supriya does public outreach at community events, like the fundraiser held in Seattle’s Chinatown for victims of the typhoon that hit the Philippines in 2012. While dancers performed traditional Chinese dragon dances in the streets, Supriya and other Red Cross volunteers spread the word about services available through the Language Bank.

Back in India, Supriya worked as a tutor and library teacher, and she hopes to pursue a teaching career in the U.S. She volunteers at an Eastside school during the week, and on weekends, she assists teachers at a Tamil school in Old Redmond Community Center, which brings in 200-300 students from surrounding communities.

“I love kids and would like to be with them and explore the education system here,” Supriya says. “I was brought up in India, where education culture is very different. I thought I should get experience in how this education system works.” She plans to begin a teacher training education course in September.

Supriya would like to volunteer in the field at a disaster if given the opportunity. For now, though, she’s happy in her role. “I’m proud to be part of the Red Cross. If any of my friends wanted to volunteer, I would definitely encourage them to try the Red Cross.”

Volunteer Spotlight – Dixie Ferguson

"Donut Dolly"

Volunteer Dixie Ferguson joined the American Red Cross in 1966 after she graduated from college with a degree in social work when she heard the Red Cross was hiring to work with the military members overseas.

“I learned about the Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas (SRAO), a special Red Cross program for women college graduates during wartime.  I was excited about the job description, a unique opportunity to serve my country, do humanitarian work and seek new adventures.”

Dixie worked as a recreation worker, nicknamed “Donut Dolly” by the service members. From 1966 to 1967, Dixie was in Vietnam helping military members in both An Khe and Bien Hoa. Dixie holds a special memory of the USO show from her time in Vietnam.

“The Bob Hope Christmas show came to An Khe, the army base in Central Highlands of Viet Nam.  The Red Cross girls sat with hundreds of fighting men and the wounded in their blue pajamas.   All of us enjoyed the wonderful singing, dancing and humor. It was a taste from home”

Later she went on to work as a recreational worker in several military hospitals state-side.

Almost fifty years later, Dixie is still very active with the Red Cross Service to Armed Forces program in Walla Walla, Washington. Her main responsibilities are as an outreach coordinator and emergency communications caseworker.

“The Red Cross is still serving the military and veterans every hour of the day and I am extremely proud to be a volunteer supporting the Armed Forces.”

Seeing the need in her area for more help with Disaster Services she also volunteers her time as a Disaster Action Team Lead and Emergency Response Vehicle member for national deployments.

Volunteer Spotlight: Bill Boyd

Bill BoydBy Tiffany Koenig

Bill Boyd’s drive to help others got its start in an unusual place: a funeral home. Bill’s father was a mortician and disaster responder in Idaho during a time when ambulances were operated out of funeral homes, and Bill frequently tagged along with his dad to house fires.

Those early experiences watching his father, who was also a first aid instructor for the Red Cross, pointed Bill in the direction of public service. He started his career as a paramedic and eventually became chief of the Bellingham Fire Department, a position he retired from in 2012. “In my role as a fire captain in the field and as chief,” Bill says, “we relied heavily on the Red Cross to help people who were sitting on the curb in their bathrobes. The Red Cross would swoop in to help and took a big load off of us.”

The Red Cross also made a big impression on Bill after the Olympic Pipeline explosion in 1999. He was a fire commander during the first week, working with the pipeline president and government officials in a high-stress environment. Red Cross volunteers had food lines set up and ready for them. “I remember the Red Cross volunteers in their vests smiling and asking how we were doing. That meant a lot. It showed the community support during this horrific event.”

He also remembers a Bellingham house fire that had been started by a teenager while his parents were gone. “The volunteer team that arrived to help showed so much compassion and guided the situation for the parents and kid,” Bill recalls. “They brought the family together.”

After Bill retired from the fire department, he turned to the Red Cross as a way to continue serving the community. “I believe in the mission of the Red Cross. It’s a noble mission. The organization is made up of people who are drawn to helping. Board members are well connected in the community and have a passion for helping the community, and the Red Cross is an excellent vehicle for doing that.”

Now, as the chair of the board of directors for the Northwest Washington chapter, Bill is responsible for coordinating with executive and regional directors to make sure the board supports the Red Cross mission by acting as conduits to local businesses and public agencies. Board members serve as ambassadors and champions for their local chapter, seeking new volunteers and funding sources and advocating with the public. Bill says, “The thing I like about it the most is interfacing with the other board members, all of whom are business leaders, believers, and champions for the Red Cross. They are proud but humble in their support of our great group of volunteers and staff.”

Bill wants current and potential volunteers to know that their participation is extremely valuable. “Don’t underestimate your talents and your ability to help,” he says. “Just the

fact that you’re willing to step out and help—the Red Cross will find something for you to do. Everyone’s got a niche or a skill that can come into play. Everyone can have a role in fulfilling the Red Cross mission, whether it’s answering phones, office work, bookkeeping, or disaster work. We can use the help.”

Recruiting AmeriCorps Members for 2015-2016 Service Year

americorpsLaunch

Are you looking for an opportunity to make a real difference in the community? Do you want to gain new skills and experiences? Are you passionate about empowering people to prepare for and recover from disasters and emergencies?

The American Red Cross, Northwest Region, is seeking 30 enthusiastic individuals to serve as full-time AmeriCorps Team members from September 1, 2015 through July 15, 2016 in the following positions:

Communications Coordinator 1 position:  Seattle – The AmeriCorps Communications Coordinator will promote and publicize face-to-face preparedness training opportunities conducted by volunteers and other AmeriCorps team members to broad audiences within targeted communities; Develop strategies and processes for utilizing new media as an enhanced tool for successful delivery of disaster preparedness training and awareness resources; Build capacity for future program promotion by recruiting, training, and developing communications volunteers; Deliver disaster preparedness education presentations in a variety of formats to a variety of audiences.

 

Disaster Preparedness Coordinator 9 positions: (Seattle-3, Tacoma-1, Everett-1, Spokane-2, Kennewick-1, Bellingham-1).  2 of the positions in Seattle will focus strictly on youth audiences.  The other positions will target adult audiences but applicants must also be comfortable with presenting to youth audiences. The AmeriCorps member will deliver disaster preparedness education presentations in a variety of formats to a variety of audiences; Recruit, train, develop, and assist support disaster preparedness volunteers in various communities throughout Washington State.

Disaster Preparedness and Response Coordinator 10 positions: (Seattle-2, Tacoma-1, Sequim-2, Bremerton-1, Vancouver-2, Wenatchee-1, Yakima-1). The Disaster Preparedness & Response Coordinator will deliver disaster preparedness education presentations in a variety of formats to a variety of audiences; Respond to surge demand for client program delivery across rural and vulnerable Communities; Recruit, train, develop, and assist disaster preparedness volunteers in various communities across Washington State.

Service to Armed Forces (SAF) Coordinator 5 positions: (Tacoma-2, Bremerton-1, Spokane-1, Kennewick-1). The SAF Coordinator will deliver services, programs, and educational presentations to audiences within our Washington military community; to better prepare service members and their families during times of emergencies and deployments. Programs include disaster preparedness, first aid and CPR training, resiliency training courses and information on Red Cross emergency communications services.

Volunteer Program Coordinator 5 positions: (Seattle-1, Tacoma-1, Everett-1, Spokane-1, Yakima-1). The AmeriCorps Volunteer Program Coordinator will assist with the development of strategies and processes related to direct recruitment, engagement, retention and recognition of Red Cross volunteers; Build capacity to provide sustainable volunteer driven programs by developing volunteer leaders and recruiting and training volunteer support teams; Conduct informational presentations, volunteer interviews, and volunteer records management in order to optimize successful recruitment and retention; Deliver disaster preparedness education presentation in a variety of formats to a variety of audiences.

All AmeriCorps positions will require occasional travel to other Red Cross offices in Washington State.

BENEFITS:

  • Invaluable experience from a nationally and internationally-respected organization for school, a future job or new career
  • Extensive training
  • $5,730 AmeriCorps Education Award (upon successful completion of service term commitment and 1700 hours of service)
  • $1,195/month living stipend (before taxes)
  • Eligibility for health insurance coverage
  • Subsidized childcare (if qualified)
  • Student loan forbearance (on qualifying loans)

REQUIREMENTS: 

  • Commit to serve full-time for 10 1/2 months (September 1, 2015 – July 15, 2016)
  • Successfully serve in the position, serve a minimum 40 hours a week and meet the 1700 minimum requirement for a full term of service
  • Be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
  • Must be 18 years of age at the start date of service
  • Have a valid Driver’s License & clean driving record
  • Pass required criminal background checks

Members should also be comfortable working with a wide variety of people from all walks of life and backgrounds, and respect the Red Cross principles of neutrality and impartiality.

TO APPLY:  Click on the red position links below that will take you directly to a detailed description of the available position, as well as to an online application form.  The American Red Cross also requires a resume and one cover letter detailing strengths and skills for each position (max of 3 positions in order of preference).  Please make sure to also specify site location preference.

WSC, Red Cross NW Region, Communications Coordinator

     
Use your journalism, writing, social media and communications skills to help one of the world’s most respected humanitarian organizations – the American Red Cross. Position located in Seattle.

WSC, Red Cross NW Region, Disaster Preparedness

   
Join the American Red Cross to empower our community to be prepared for disasters. Our preparedness programs engage diverse populations and organizations through interactive education and outreach. Positions located in Bellingham, Everett, Kennewick, Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma. 

WSC, Red Cross NW Region, Disaster Preparedness & Response

     
Join the Red Cross to empower communities to prepare for and recover from Disasters. Prepare communities through education programs and provide support to people who have been affected by disasters. Positions located in Bremerton, Seattle, Sequim, Tacoma, Vancouver, Wenatchee, and Yakima.  

WSC, Red Cross NW Region, Service to Armed Forces

     
Use your enthusiasm and skills to facilitate outreach presentations, deployment briefings, and information fairs for active duty military members, their dependents, and extended family members. Positions located in Bremerton, Kennewick, Spokane, and Tacoma.

WSC, Red Cross NW Region, Volunteer Programs Coord

   
Take advantage of this unique opportunity to join the Volunteer Services Department at the Nation’s largest “volunteer led” organization. Learn best practices and create the vision for the future. Positions located in Everett, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, and Yakima.

 

PLEASE NOTE:  AmeriCorps team position offers are contingent upon AmeriCorps funding notification, to be announced by May 31, 2015.

Volunteer Spotlight: Judy Holz

Skagit Bridge Collapse Mobile Feeding

By Tiffany Koenig

For almost 40 years, Judy Holz and her husband, Howard, operated a dairy farm north of Bellingham. As they neared retirement, Judy began looking for ways to serve her community and became interested in the Red Cross when they inquired about using her church as an emergency shelter location. Now, after 12 years as a Red Cross volunteer, her motivation is the same as it was then: “The Red Cross allows me to help people who need help right at the time that they need it.”

Over the years, Judy has served as an instructor, disaster chair, and deputy director for Disaster Cycle Services of Northwest Washington. In February, she took a position as Mass Care lead, organizing shelter teams and making sure they understand what to do as soon as they get the call. Like most volunteers, though, Judy wears many different hats. “We have our titles and our activities, but most of us will do whatever we’re asked to do,” she says. Judy especially enjoys teaching disaster courses at her chapter in Bellingham. “I love to see other people learn how to help others.”

Through the years, Judy has traveled to 14 national-level disasters, each with its own personality. These deployments offer the chance to meet clients and coworkers from across the country and bring back valuable information to her home chapter. But she also gains satisfaction from helping people closer to home. “There’s nothing like being there right at the time when people need you after an event like a single-family fire,” she says. “When you’re called around midnight and people are just standing around not knowing where to go or what do to, and you’re there to say, ‘I can help you tonight and give you a place to stay’—that’s something that gets repeated over and over.”

Sometimes those who need assistance are emergency responders themselves. After the Skagit River Bridge collapsed, Judy joined other local Red Cross volunteers to provide food for the police, DOT investigators, and responders working to rescue people from the river. She also met with officials at the local emergency operations center to discuss what else the Red Cross could do.

It’s all a far cry from dairy farming. But it certainly keeps her busy and involved with the north Puget Sound community.

Judy is also a watercolor artist. In her downtime, she travels with her husband around Washington and to Wyoming to visit family, often taking her paints and brushes with her. Painting landscapes on location helps her connect with the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

Volunteer Spotlight: Anne Isenhart

Anne I In 2013, Anne Isenhart was representing the Red Cross at an event in Bellingham when her husband called to tell her that their daughter was in the hospital after falling out of a second-story window. Anne didn’t want to abandon the newly trained volunteer at her side, but her manager, who happened to be at the event, insisted she go and take care of her family. Anne’s daughter was airlifted to Harborview in Seattle. While she recovered, Anne took a break from her role coordinating speakers, and her colleagues at the Red Cross gave her the time and support she needed. One even came to her house to look after her kids so Anne could rest for a few hours. Her colleagues’ help embodied the heart of the Red Cross mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering. “My family was a priority, and they understood that,” Anne says. “They took care of me. That’s what I love the most about being a Red Cross volunteer—it doesn’t stop when I walk out the door. They’re invested in me as a person.” For Anne, it’s a relief to work with an organization that understands that its employees and volunteers are only human—especially after a career in the airline industry, where there was no room for mistakes. She’s even able to bring one of her two small children with her when she comes to the office. As for that frightening day when her daughter was injured, Anne now uses the story in her preparedness presentations, encouraging people to keep toiletries and a change of clothes in their vehicles. “I was in a jean skirt and flip flops, and I didn’t have any extra clothes in my car. I didn’t know I was going to be staying the night in Seattle….You never know what the day holds.” Anne got started at the Red Cross after meeting Stacy Rice, formerly the Emergency Services director for the Mt. Baker chapter, during an aviation drill for an airline out of the Bellingham airport. Stacy and other Red Cross volunteers made a strong impression on Anne, and when she left the airline, she turned to the Red Cross as a way to stay engaged in her community. Four years later, Anne now serves as the preparedness lead for her chapter. She teaches the Pillowcase Project, a youth-based program that helps kids get out of the house in a hurry during an emergency. Through the Speaker’s Bureau, Anne teaches people how to give presentations on preparedness for organizations. She’s also working to expand preparedness programs into Spanish-speaking communities. One of her favorite events to work is the annual Real Heroes Celebration in Bellingham. This Red Cross fundraising event allows people in the community to nominate someone who’s done something extraordinary in the course of their daily lives, like a Birch Bay woman who performed CPR on a man who collapsed next to her in the supermarket. Anne says of the event, “I always walk away from it with that warm, fuzzy, goosebump feeling that there are people in the world who do really awesome things. This is how we see our classes and trainings and programs being put into action within the community.” Anne’s message for other volunteers is simple: “The Red Cross will take as much or as little as you’re willing to give. It might not seem like a lot to the volunteer, but it’s huge and so appreciated by other volunteers and staff.” Story by Tiffany Koenig