March 22, 2011


Red Cross volunteers plan for disaster

Local agency conducts refresher course; volunteers needed for fire, flood

Living and Leisure Editor

Allan Ferguson said it’s part of his personality to be a Red Cross disaster volunteer.
A retired Homer Methodist pastor, he is a firefighter and EMT, a CPR instructor, and does “volunteer chaplain stuff” at the Cortland Regional Medical Center.
“When things go bad, I tend to be there. I am the guy, your life has gotten (horrific) and there he is,” said Ferguson, adding with a laugh, “Do you really want to see him?”
Ferguson and about 12 other volunteers with the Cortland Red Cross were getting a refresher course or training on how to set up a shelter Saturday at the Cortland County Office Building, in case of an emergency. A ham radio operator was there, and an observer with the Medical Reserve Corps.
“I think we should all be aware as citizens,” said Cindy Stockholm of Cortland. “Disaster comes up. We need to be prepared,” she said.
She was trained about eight years ago in shelter management and was getting a refresher Saturday. “I think I’ve only worked one shelter,” she said.
Staff learned how to properly set up, staff and take down a shelter at the Senior Center activity room, in the event people need to leave their home because of flood or other emergency. The drill was part of a statewide Red Cross exercise to have at least one shelter open in every Red Cross jurisdiction, said Alice Anderson of Homer, who was leading the exercise with her husband, Charlie.
There are 39 shelter possibilities in Cortland County, depending on where or what type of emergency there is, Charlie Anderson said. Typically, a shelter is open in a Cortland County disaster one night, he said. But it can go on for days. The North Country ice storm went on for weeks, he said.
The Andersons are long time disaster relief volunteers, who are active for the Red Cross nationally as well as locally.
The Cortland County chapter has 15 to 20 active disaster volunteers who can respond to a fire, flood, ice storm or other disaster, said Alice Anderson. They would like to triple the number.
“Ideally we would have trained people in every town,” said Charlie Anderson.
All disaster training is free. People interested in being a disaster volunteer need to first take a 3 1/2-hour course, and then additional training depending on how they’d like to be of service. Courses are generally 4 to 7 hours, and people can delve into feeding, sheltering, nursing, damage assessment and client casework. This last is what people take if they want to respond to fires, Alice Anderson said.
“At this point, I’ve just been training,” said Ferguson. “I was on call last week to be on stand by for a shelter. We got lucky. The flooding didn’t require a shelter ... I have been on standby more than called up.”
Frank VanSickle of Cortland has been a disaster volunteer for about three years, and has responded to a couple of house fires, a trailer fire, and was out at the Tully Trailer Park in this month’s flooding.
“You need good listening skills, and to be able to show calm, even though you are not,” he said. Empathy is also important, he said.
The Red Cross can help victims of fires by putting them up in a hotel if they no longer have a home. They can issue a debit card for clothing and food, if that is what people need. Disaster volunteers assess the need and try to get the people help they require. Along the way, they are tracking everything they do, which must be reported to the National Red Cross.
VanSickle said potential volunteers can be as active as they want to be. Instead of going to the site of a disaster or fire, they can help by fielding calls to volunteers.
About a dozen cots, each with a blanket, some with toys, and each with a bag of personal care products were set up on the floor at the activity room. Charlie Anderson said part of a shelter manager’s job is to inspect the room for any damage done in the course of Red Cross use.
“Who gets the food for the people?” one volunteer wanted to know. That all depends, Alice Anderson said. The Red Cross has handled feeding in a number of ways. Trained Red Cross cooks can prepare the food, if the shelter has a kitchen, or if it has been catered, said Charlie Anderson.
“Just because it’s an emergency, we are not exempt from health department rules,” he added. “We don’t want our clients to get sick while we are taking care of them.”
Maggie Shultes of Cortland has been a disaster volunteer for three years and got called for possibly staffing a shelter in this month’s flood.
“OK, I am here if you need me,” she said. She has not been out to do anything yet. But she feels capable, especially after taking he Red Cross’ First Aid/CPR /AED training.
“It’s good knowledge to have. OK, I can save someone,” she said. But at the same time: “You hope you never have to use it.”
Anyone interested in Red Cross training can call 607-753-1182.


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