Tuesday, July 8, 2014

First Time Out in the Field

by Alice Ding

As an intern at the American Red Cross Greater New York Region, part of my job is to interview volunteers and blog about their experiences. After hearing heart-wrenching and inspiring stories from volunteers during phone interviews, I had the chance to experience the work of a volunteer disaster responder firsthand.

In the beginning of July 2014, I shadowed long-time volunteer disaster responder Gerald Rothstein, and volunteer-in-training Jason Gray during one of their shifts. This is what the Red Cross calls a ride-along.

Gerald, Jason and I were assigned to a fire scene in Queens. The fire had ripped through a three-story house with four apartment units.

Arriving at the scene, after speaking with the fire chief to get a better sense of the situation, Gerald sat down with the owner of the house, whose family occupied the bottom two floors. Gerald explained the Red Cross assistance available to the owner, who was planning to stay with relatives, and left him with a flier with the organization’s contact information. Through the entire conversation, the owner appeared distressed, not wanting to talk much. He kept repeating that he didn’t know what to do next.

As Gerald and Jason assessed the damage inside the house, the couple from the top floor arrived. We greeted them outside and asked if they needed temporary accommodation since their apartment was not in livable condition. The woman was pregnant; her eyes were red and I had heard her crying while I was still inside. Learning they had nowhere to stay, we provided them with temporary housing and financial assistance. Gerald also directed them to come to headquarters the next day and speak with a caseworker to help them start their recovery.

Residents in the fourth unit were not home. We left Red Cross contact information so they would know where to look for help upon their return.

I left the scene with a sense of sadness. Merely imagining losing my home while trying to start a new family would bring me to the verge of tears, yet this is a reality the couple has to cope with. However, knowing the Red Cross is there to help them to get back on their feet provided some comfort for me.

This experience helped me put the work of the Red Cross in perspective. I had the chance to see that disasters can leave people with a feeling of helplessness. Knowing the Red Cross is always there to provide assistance, I left the scene with a renewed sense of purpose in my job: letting people know that the Red Cross will be there for you in the face of disaster.

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