Saturday, December 20, 2008

'Tis the Season - for Fires

This week, we had a family of 18 (yes, I said 18 - that is not a misprint) escape from a house fire here in Kansas City. Can you imagine? They managed to get all 16 children out, as well as about 2 dozen animals. No one was hurt, which is a true Christmas miracle. 

Being a DAT (Disaster Action Team) volunteer with our local American Red Cross chapter, I go to several fires each 'season'. This year has been a particularly busy season for us, unfortunately. People sometimes ask, what does a volunteer do? What does the Red Cross specifically do for the fire victims?

When I first receive the call to go to the fire, I make sure I'm dressed appropriately (steel-toe boots, warm clothing for winter, Red Cross apparel & identification, etc), have my paperwork, and head to the address immediately. There is always at least one other volunteer headed to the fire - the Red Cross never sends volunteers alone to fires; safety is always their #1 concern.

Upon arriving at the scene, I introduce myself to the family, and do a quick check to make sure they are okay - no injuries, etc. After introducing myself and the other volunteer, we tell them that we're they're to help in whatever way we can - and this will be a 3-part process.

The first step is doing some small paperwork - I need to fill out some forms with demographic information on the family and the house - addresses, phone numbers, names & birth dates of all of the residents of the address. Not too difficult - but sometimes, when a family is in shock from escaping a fire, their brains aren't working too well, and coming up with the birth dates of children can stump them. 

I then tell them that after the paperwork is done, I'm going to have them give me a brief tour of the fire. This is the damage assessment part of the process - I want to see the kitchen, the bathrooms, and the bedrooms. I check their clothing, and I check mattresses for water damage. I try to gauge where the fire started (I don't care at all how it started - doesn't matter); and I record all of this information in my paperwork for future reference.

The last part of the process - I have the family relax for a few minutes (I give them bottled water and comfort kits out of my trunk), while my partner and I assess how much money we need to distribute - for food, clothing, sleeping arrangements, etc. We try to do this as quickly as possible so that after giving this to the family, we can let them be on their way with the process of rebuilding their lives - contacting insurance, relatives, etc. 

I never leave a fire without assuring the victims that they're going to be okay - we're there to give hope - and that's what is most important. Hugs are always welcome. (if they're open to that). 

People ask what fires are like. They're messy. They're smelly. They're dirty. There's a particular smell of smoke that gets in your clothing that doesn't leave immediately. Besides the mess of the actual fire that you're dealing with, you now have the water from the firemen that has soaked everything in the house - the walls, the carpet, the floors. Yuck. Sometimes, I've been to a fire that I shake my head in amazement that no one was hurt. Sometimes, it's all I can do to not cry, when I see the extent of the damage that was done. 

I love being a volunteer with the Red Cross. I love knowing that when a family has gone through a traumatic experience, such as a fire, that there are other volunteers, like myself, who are there to help in any way. I guess it's my small contribution to making the world a better place. 

Are fires convenient to my busy schedule? No. But, SOMEONE has to be there for these people. I figure, these people are way more inconvenienced than I am - so I don't complain. If anything, working fires shows me how truly blessed I am - and my family and friends, as well.

So - the next time you hear about a fire in your community - pray for the victims, as well as the volunteers who left their family & warm home to go out to assist that family. Especially if it's at 2:00 am in the morning. Praise God for people who are willing to be inconvenienced by fires to help people in their darkest hours. 

Prayerfully consider if YOU have what it takes to be a DAT volunteer. If you're the least bit interested, contact your own local American Red Cross chapter to see what it would involve to become a volunteer. Tell them that Sherri sent you.

Be sure to do your part today to save the world - one act at a time, one day at a time. Make a difference somewhere.

No comments: