Monday, March 26, 2012

Disaster Response -- Preparedness Planning and In Practice

This past weekend was a busy one for Red Cross disaster services in our region. Activities included both response and preparedness work.

A family in Wilder, VT was in need of Red Cross assistance after a kitchen fire caused enough damage, including smoke and water, that they could not immediately return home. With a few nights lodging provided, and some assistance for food and clothing, the mother, father and daughter received much needed support as they begin their recovery process. The helping hand was extended to this family through the work of our local disaster action team volunteers.

Meanwhile, disaster action team members in Chittenden County were on scene at a Burlington apartment fire, lending needed support to firefighters with rehabilitative services. The food and hydration offered were, as always, a welcome relief to first responders who are often working in difficult circumstances.

This weekend's disaster activities also included a bi-monthly meeting of the Vermont & New Hampshire Valley's Regional Disaster Coordination Team. These gatherings serve as an opportunity for staff and volunteer disaster leadership to review and plan our disaster services response activities. While no two events are alike, and the timing of when a disaster will strike is beyond our control, there is much that can be achieved through working to coordinate our response efforts in advance of an incident. Having this group come together provides invaluable opportunities to keep updated as to the many activities taking place in our constant efort to bring preparedness to ever increasing levels.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Governor's Proclamation Declares March as Red Cross Month

The work of the American Red Cross was honored today in a State House ceremony when Governor Peter Shumlin signed a proclamation declaring March as American Red Cross Month.

Among the special guests in the Governor's ceremonial office for the occasion was Ralph Barrows, who has been a volunteer with the Red Cross for more than 35 years. Ralph, who was an educator for more than 30 years, lives in Stowe. He has been volunteering his time and energy as an American Red Cross health and safety instructor for over three decades, teaching vital lifesaving skills such as CPR and first aid.

Governor Shumlin's proclamation praises the good work of our organization, from the close to 50,000 units of blood collected annually, to the valued and historic ties to members of the armed services and their families, to the vital disaster services provided to Vermonters in need, and more. The Governor took the opportunity to provide particular praise for the work of our disaster services volunteers who supported Vermonters during historic spring flooding and the devastation of Tropical Storm Irene.

In the photo here, Governor Shumlin is seen putting on a disaster services vest before signing the proclamation.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Unusually Busy Year -- Join Our Team & Help

With requests for Red Cross assistance locally up by 20% versus this same time last year, it is more important than ever to have a strong corps of disaster services volunteers.

At an afternoon fire in Winooski yesterday, the four responding volunteers included one disaster services veteran of 20+ years and one who was out on her first call. There is a tremendous need in the community for Red Cross services. Therefore, we must continue to recruit and train new volunteers.

March is Red Cross month and to help mark the occasion, we are offering "Disaster Services: An Overview" at six locations around the region. This class is the starting point for new volunteers, but we also encourage anyone with an interest in the Red Cross to attend. The class is free and there is no commitment involved upon completion.

The courses are being offered in the following locations:

· March 15th, Bennington – 6:00pm to 9:30pm at Bennington Rescue, 120 McKinley Street.

· March 19th, Hartford – 6:00pm to 9:30pm at the Hartford Fire Department, 812 VA Cutoff Road, White River Jct.

· March 21st, Springfield – 6:00pm to 9:30pm at 201 Union Street, Springfield.

. March 21st, Berlin – 6:00pm to 9:30pm at Berlin Elementary School, 372 Paine Turnpike North, Berlin.

· March 29th, Rutland – 6:00pm to 9:30pm at the Rutland Red Cross office, 117 Strongs Ave.

· March 31st, Burlington – 9:00am to 12:30pm at the Burlington Red Cross office, 29 Mansfield Ave., Burlington.

To register, contact Natalie Barrett at call 802-660-9130, ext. 106 (Natalie) or ext. 107 (Angela Russell).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

3 Days, 3 Fires, 3 Responses

It started with an afternoon fire in Charlotte, VT on Tuesday. Then, in the early hours of yesterday, a fire put the residents of a 4-unit apartment building in Morrisville, VT out of their homes. Today, for the 3rd time in 3 days, fire has again struck our area. This afternoon, a Bethel, VT couple has lost their home to fire. In each case, disaster services volunteers with the Vermont & the New Hamphsire Valley American Red Cross responded to help our neighbors in need.

On average, our region has 100 to 115 responses each year. With four months left in this reporting year, today's resposne marked the 90th time our volunteers have been their to help when an individual, a family or multiple families have been struck by fire, flood or other natural or man-made disaster. We can't say that there have been any more fires this year than last, just that the rate at which the Red Cross is being contacted and asked to respond has certainly increased.

While we would much prefer that the people of our region be unscathed by disaster, if disaster is going to strike, we are glad that people know that we are there as a resource to help in the recovery process.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Charlotte Blaze Displaces 4

An afternoon fire on Guinea Road in Charlotte left four people out of their homes. The fully-involved blaze drew a response from 7 area fire departments.

Red Cross volunteer Jeanne Keller (left) and Regional Volunteer Manager Angela Russell (right) help David Stewart of Charlotte and a fellow firefighter with some hot coffee.

Volunteers Alex Fuchs and Allan Hunt met with the two displaced couples to help assess their emergency needs. Temporary lodging and financial assistance for food and clothing was provided.

We are fortunate to have a corps of volunteers that find ways to drop what is going on in their lives to help those in need after a disaster strikes. Thanks to Jeanne, Allan and Alex and to all of those volunteers who help us respond to a fire or other disaster on average once every three days throughout the year.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Volunteers Train to Help Others

It isn't only our experienced volunteers that show incredible dedication. This past weekend, new volunteers interested in client casework gave several hours of their time to learn about this vital component of Red Cross disaster services.

Client casework is often at the heart of how the American Red Cross interacts with individuals and families impacted by disaster. The Red Cross recognizes that recovery begins the moment a disaster strikes. Sometimes on scene at a house fire, with firefighters still combatting the blaze, our caseworkers provide comfort and support. Many are reassured just seeing the iconic Red Cross logo on a volunteers vest, hat or vehicle. The emotional support provided by our volunteers let disaster victims know they are not alone. The caseworkers assess the disaster victims emergency needs and help establish a recovery plan. Often, these first steps include temporary, emergency lodging and Red Cross financial support for food and clothing. When appropriate, Red Cross disaster health and disaster mental health volunteers are called upon.

Yesterday, volunteers Dorothy Commo and Sue Shulman (left to right in the foreground) and Sophia Parker and Ellen Jarecki (left to right in the background) attended a client casework class taught by veteran disaster action team member Michele Packard.

It is crucial that we continual train new volunteers, including those with an interest in client case work. If you are interested in learning more about how you can help, go to or e-mail our volunteer manager, Angela Russell, at

Friday, February 10, 2012

Volunteers Respond to Call in Burke

While many people may see the work of the Red Cross during our response to large scale events such as Vermont's Spring flooding or Tropical Storm Irene, most of the work of our volunteers is done out of the spotlight and with little fanfare.

To a family who has lost their home, it doesn't much matter whether it was swept away by a raging river or lost to fire. Each family must start the process of recovery and the Red Cross is there to help. Most recently, at 2:30 a.m. this morning, the call came in that fire crews were combatting a fire in Burke, Vermont. Two members of the Caledonia Disaster Action team answered the call.

Today's devastating fire forced a Burke Hollow Road couple and their dog from their home and left them without a place to stay and their possessions were caught in the blaze. The Red Cross volunteers met with the couple to determine their immediate needs, arranging for a few nights lodging at a local hotel and providing some financial assistance. The aim of both is to help the family in the initial phase of recovery from their personal disaster.

In addition to work assisting the displaced family, the Red Cross volunteers provided rehabilitative support to the fire and other first responders. Such support is in the form of food and beverages to help those crews through their difficult work.

Over 100 times a year, Red Cross volunteers in our region are answering the call for help, whether it is a fire, flood, or other natural or man-made disaster. We owe a great deal to these dedicated and compassionate volunteers.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2012 begins just as 2011 went out ... BUSY!

Red Cross disaster services volunteers provided 9 responses in the closing 2 weeks of 2011. For 2012, at least so far, it looks a lot like more of the same. Fortunately, that includes the continued compassion of those very busy volunteers.

In just the first 4 days of 2012, Disaster Action Teams have deployed to the scene of fires in Chittenden, Caledonia, Orleans and Windham counties. In each instance, the primary interest is to ensure that those affected by these disasters know that a helping hand is there should they need it. In those instances where assistance was requested, our volunteers have also provided support to first responders who battled these blazes.

Winter brings both the cold temperatures and the stark reality that home fires are the single most common disaster across the country. While the cause of each of these recent fires is not known, it is important to note that heating fires are the second leading cause of home fires. Nationally, nearly half of American families use alternative heating sources such as space heaters, fireplaces, or wood/coal stoves to stay warm; a figure that is likely higher in Vermont.

Fire Prevention Tips
  • Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces.
  • Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
  • If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface, not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes.
  • When buying a space heater, look for models that shut off automatically if the heater falls over as another safety measure.
  • Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
  • Keep fire in your fireplace by using a glass or metal screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
  • Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, and furnaces professionally inspected and cleaned once a year.

Visit for more information on how to prevent heating fires.