Resiliency, optimism in her “home away from home”

By Kim Mailes, American Red Cross public affairs volunteer

For Frieda Ingram, right now “home” is a cot in the American Red Cross emergency shelter in Reno, Nevada. Despite being evacuated from the South Lake Tahoe when wildfires approached her apartment, she’s all smiles and maintains a positive attitude. This is just another bump in a long road that’s been filled with obstacles.

“I’m so grateful for the Red Cross,” she said. “I know I’ll be safe here until this is over.”

Continue reading Resiliency, optimism in her “home away from home”

Joy in the midst of uncertainty

By Barbara Wood, Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer

It’s been more than two weeks since Josephine Hernandez and her six children had 30 minutes to pack their car and to evacuate the looming Caldor Fire, but on Sept. 1 as the family awaited news that they could return to their Pollock Pines home, the children joyfully played on a lawn at the Green Valley Church Red Cross shelter in Placerville.

Five of Josephine Hernandez’ six children cool off in a kiddie pool outside the room at the Red Cross shelter in the Green Valley Church in Placerville that was their home for more than two weeks as they awaited word that they could return to their home in Pollock Pines. They are (l-r) Adriana, 13; Briana, 13; Camille, 6; Daniel, 2 and Steven, 4. Photo by Barbara Wood/American Red Cross

Hernandez and her six children spent the first two nights after their Aug. 17 evacuation sleeping very close together in the family’s Suburban. Then they heard about the shelter that had been opened at the Green Valley Church in Placerville. After a few more nights in the church parking in two borrowed tents, the family was moved into a classroom at the church.

“It’s been terrible,” Hernandez said. “More than a challenge.”

Continue reading Joy in the midst of uncertainty

Volunteers and Staff of the California Wildfires – Part 5

The Faces of a Disaster Response Operation

By Catie Ballenger, American Red Cross Public Affairs

Trained American Red Cross volunteers are working around the clock in California to help people impacted by the massive wildfires which have forced whole communities from their homes. Who are these incredible people who generously give of their time and talent in the face of disaster? In this series, we will introduce you to many of them. For part one of this series, click here, for part two, click here, for part three, click here and for part four, click here.


Name: Dana Goldsmith

Home Region: Colorado and Wyoming

Deployment Focus: Disability Integration

Dana and her DI Team

Dana Goldsmith had deployed with the Red Cross 27 times. These deployments have taken her to two different countries and 11 states. She has provided care and comfort to those impacted by hurricanes, wildfires, volcanoes and beyond. Her most current deployment brought her to Sacramento California as the Disability Integration team manager.

When Dana is asked about the importance of Disability Integration, she gave an example from her latest deployment. “A California Wildfire evacuee with severe autism was having a tough time adjusting to life in a shelter. All his normal structures and supports were gone. He was combative, continuously tried to run away and was nonverbal and couldn’t communicate his stress. His guardians were exhausted. We worked together with disaster health and disaster mental health to get the child back in school. We contacted social services to get parent assistance and provided self-soothing and fidget tools to help him stay calm and comforted when he is in the shelter. My team could secure a private room for the family where they could ‘nest’ and create a comfortable space for all. The child and his family are all safely thriving in our Red Cross shelter because of the herculean effort from both internal and external partners!”

Volunteering has very personal roots for Dana.  She became a Red Cross volunteer and later an employee because her parents were evacuated from the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “I watched my city come together in an amazing way to support each other. I wanted to be a part of that movement. I chose disability integration because I have a disability, my son has multiple disabilities and my husband has multiple disabilities. I spent a large part of my life advocating for them and a large part of my career learning to advocate for others. This work doesn’t feel like work. It’s what I’m meant to do!”

Dana has found family, not just friends, among her fellow Red Crossers. She encourages other volunteers to considered disaster deployment. “There’s nothing like this experience. It will be hard and confusing and feel chaotic and uncertain. But you will be stronger, smarter, better and more fulfilled than you ever have been. You will meet others along the way that struggle beside you, hold you up and teach you things. It’s a beautiful, life-changing experience that will change the course of your life for good.”

Name: John Mathews

Home Region: Missouri and Arkansas

Deployment Focus: Community Engagement and Partnership


As a retiree, John Mathews likes to travel. Often he and his wife will vacation to places he has previously deployed as a Red Cross volunteer “to see them at their best since I have seen them at their worst.”

John has volunteered his time and talent on nearly 40 Red Cross disaster relief operations. He became a full-time volunteer in 2012 when he retired. Now he deploys several times a year.

On his most recent deployment, the 2021 California Wildfires, John served on the Community Engagement and Partnership (CEP) team. “CEP is the part of Red Cross that provides network possibilities for our governmental and non-governmental partners. Not one organization has the resources or staff to provide help to every person affected in any disaster. CEP provides a platform for faith-based groups, such as Salvation Army or Southern Baptists, to provide resources to be used by the Red Cross, local, state or national response teams,” explained John. “CEP is a ‘Force Multiplier’ in that it adds value to everything that we do with other groups.”

John volunteers and works disaster response operations with the Red Cross because he can. “Many volunteers are trained but unable to deploy due to work or family obligations. I am trained, prepared and available, John said.

“I volunteer out of a sense of compassion for those who need the resources and personal touch that I can deliver. I feel that my whole life has led me to this moment. I am a composite of all my experiences. And I’m compelled to share what God has given to me to help others in times of need.”

John can still see the faces of those impacted by the California wildfires who have lost everything. He is proud that the Red Cross is in California to help.


Volunteers like Dana and John make up 90% of the Red Cross workforce, responding to more than 60,000 disasters every year. Large disasters like the California wildfires, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes are increasing in frequency and intensity. It’s critical to have a trained, ready volunteer workforce to make sure we can provide comfort and support to anyone who needs aid after a disaster. Join us to make a difference in our community and help someone in need after a disaster. Learn more at redcross.org/volunteer.

Reframing My Reality

August 25, 2021

By Catie Ballenger, American Red Cross Public Affairs

Sheri Cum-Alarcon is strong. She has needed to be strong her whole life but especially now that wildfires are threatening her home. When asked how she does it, she said, “I reframe the situation in my mind. I make a conscious decision to look for the positive and then I move forward. Sometimes the only way to get through a situation like this is to count your blessings.”

Sheri, her husband Chris, and her mother were evacuated from Happy Valley Ranch last week and have been staying at the American Red Cross shelter at Green Valley Community Church in Placerville, California, for nine days. Sheri is a caretaker for both her husband, who has epilepsy and her mother, who has Alzheimer’s.

“Chris and Mom don’t go out very often and the thought of evacuating them was overwhelming. The Red Cross was able to put Mom in a special area with a medical-grade cot. She is very comfortable.”

Sheri brought the family’s medications but had to leave other critical medical items behind during the evacuation. Red Cross health services volunteers, who are licensed health care professionals, are on hand in Red Cross shelters to help provide or replace medications, supplies and equipment that may have been lost or destroyed during the wildfire. Because of this service, Sheri was able to replace items that both her husband and mother needed.

Many evacuees like Sheri and Chris choose to stay in RVs or tents outside of the shelter to remain close to their pets. They have access to hot meals, restrooms, showers and all other support that evacuees inside the shelters have access to.

“Chris, the dogs and I have a great space outside in the shade. Actually, our whole neighborhood is staying here,” Sheri said.

 “Even if the fire doesn’t destroy our house, there will be extensive smoke damage. I’m afraid that I didn’t close a single window before we rushed out. We will probably lose several hundred dollars of food from our freezers,” explained Sheri.

Happy Valley Road, the only way in and out of Sheri’s home, was closed and the power turned off because of the approaching Caldor fire. The house has not been destroyed, but it is in danger. “We are just waiting, waiting, waiting; waiting for good news; waiting for the bad news. Until then, I’m doing what I do at home, here at the shelter,” said Sherri.

The Caldor Fire continues to burn out of control and is threatening the heavily populated Lake Tahoe area. The fire has burned more than 126,000 acres, destroyed 637 homes and businesses, and is threatening nearly 17,000 additional structures. Red Cross disaster workers are helping California Wildfire evacuees find a safe place to stay, food to eat and emotional support.

Since June, Red Cross has provided more than 9,900 overnight stays for people in need and, with the help of partners, provided tens of thousands of meals and snacks, and distributed over 1,700 relief items including comfort kits, fire kits and other critical supplies.

“Things could seem really dismal right now, but I just keep reframing my reality to remind myself that things aren’t that bad. Happy Valley was our sanctuary and our home. Until we can return there, Green Valley shelter will be our sanctuary.”

Volunteers and Staff of the California Wildfires – Part 4

The Faces of a Disaster Response Operation

By Catie Ballenger, American Red Cross Public Affairs

Trained American Red Cross volunteers are working around the clock in California to help people impacted by the massive wildfires which have forced whole communities from their homes. Who are these incredible people who generously give of their time and talent in the face of disaster? In this series, we will introduce you to many of them. For part one of this series, click here, for part two, click here and for part three, click here.


Name: Terry Vollrath

Home Region: Gold Country

Deployment Focus: Mass Care with a Focus on Sheltering

Deployment Length: 23 Days

The Red Cross 2021 California Wildfire disaster response is very personal to Terry. He is local to the area, residing in Placerville California and has friends who have evacuated from their homes.

Terry is passionate about the work he does at the Red Cross.

“Sheltering is at the heart of Red Cross service delivery. We help reduce the stress on those affected by disaster by providing a safe place to stay and sleep, three meals a day, snacks, water, adequate toilet and shower facilities and access to other Red Cross services such as Disaster Health Services and Disaster Mental Health. But, sometimes, the most important part of my job is to sit down and listen to the shelter guests’ stories,” Terry said.

As a shelter manager, Terry is busy. He ensures that staff know what their job is, how to do it and have what they need to do it.  He assigns shifts, manages days off, sends in reports to headquarters. He attends meetings and works to address and solve issues as they arise throughout the day.

Terry deploys to disasters to give back to the community in times of need and stress.

“The Red Cross is an amazing organization of skilled volunteers from numerous walks of life. I’ve been able to meet some great people,” explained Terry.

“Please come and try it. You will never forget the experience, the look on a client’s face as you help them through an issue or provide for a need.”


Name: Patti Fogg

Home Region: San Diego

Deployment Focus: Disaster Health Services

Deployment Length: 9 Days

Patti Fogg’s experience as a Red Cross teen aide in high school can indeed be credited as one of the reasons she chose nursing as her career. First, she volunteered for 25 years, teaching CPR/AED classes. Then, after the pandemic hit, Patti began working as a disaster health volunteer.

Patti’s deployment to the California wildfires is her second deployment but her first virtual one.

“It was an excellent experience, especially working with a great, supportive team. It was fulfilling to help people get the medications and medical equipment they needed,” said Patti.

Patti loves volunteering for the Red Cross and has enjoyed her deployments. “Both times have been a very positive experience. I have made many friends and met so many wonderful people through the Red Cross. I encourage everyone to try volunteering. The Red Cross is an amazing organization and I know they will enjoy being a volunteer.”


Name: Jane Burke

Home Region: Northwest

Deployment Focus: Disaster Health Services

Deployment Length: 10 Days

After 42 years of emergency nursing, Jane Burke was not ready to give up her license. Volunteering with the Red Cross in Disaster Health services allows her to still nurse in disaster situations.

Jane was virtually deployed to serve those impacted by the 2021 California Wildfires from her home in Washington. “I was glad to help virtually. It worked for my family. But I do enjoy boots on the ground response,” said Jane.

While on her deployment, Jane was up early and on her computer every morning attending meetings via Microsoft Teams. She would then begin connecting with evacuees that may benefit from Red Cross health services. Jane explains that in addition to helping them replace medications and medical equipment, she would also be a resource to connect them to other services and organizations. In addition, Jane said, “much of my job was to listen. They needed to vent about the incredible loss and trauma they just went through.”

Jane encourages volunteers who are considering disaster deployment to be flexible.

“The first few days of a new disaster response operation can be chaotic as things are still getting set up. Then, in a few days, the team expands and the structure becomes better defined. It can be stressful if you like order. But, it is worth it.”


Red Cross disaster volunteers, like Jane, Patti and Terri are an important part of our team. Join us to make a difference in your community and help someone in need after a disaster. Learn more at redcross.org/volunteer.

Volunteers and Staff of the California Wildfires – Part 3

The Faces of a Disaster Response Operation

By Catie Ballenger, American Red Cross Public Affairs

Trained American Red Cross volunteers are working around the clock in California to help people impacted by the massive wildfires which have forced whole communities from their homes. Who are these incredible people who generously give of their time and talent in the face of disaster? In this series, we will introduce you to many of them. For part one of this series, click here. For part two, click here.


Name: Dick Ditore

Home Region: Southern California

Deployment Focus: Distribution of Emergency Supplies

Deployment Length: 9 days

Dick Ditore volunteered with the Red Cross for four years and each of those years, he has deployed. The 2021 California Wildfire response is his third deployment.

“I love deployment because it is so hands-on and even though you meet people at the worst time of their lives, you can make a connection and possibly help them right away,” said Dick.

Dick had to drive over a closed mountain road over Donner pass to make his delivery on time.

Dick’s most significant memory of his recent deployment was driving an Emergency Response Vehicle from Sacramento to Reno, Nevada. Many roads were closed due to wildfires stranding him on the freeway for over two hours.

He knew he had to reach his destination to deliver emergency supplies. He was able to obtain permission to reroute through a closed mountain road over Donner Pass and made his delivery on time.

“Red Cross volunteers never quit until we get the job done,” Dick said, proudly.

Dick tells new volunteers to “jump in, the waters fine! It has been great for me.”

In fact, that was exactly how his volunteer career with the Red Cross began.

Dick’s Emergency Response Vehicle

I called the local chapter office to find out about volunteering and they asked if I could go to Texas to support Hurricane Harvey relief the next day. I said, ‘yes.’ It was baptism by fire” explained Dick.

Dick likes having the opportunity to give back. In addition to doing disaster work, Dick also delivers lifesaving blood to hospitals one shift a week.


Name: Des Church

Home Region: Northwest

Deployment Focus: Disaster Mental Health

Deployment Length: 10 Days

Des Church loves to help others in times of crisis, which she had ample opportunity to do on her most recent deployment to the California Wildfires.

Des Church stands in front of the staff shelter in Lassen county.

“It warms my heart to do little things to help ease others’ stress. Sometimes it’s giving a listening ear as people retell their experiences, other times it is rocking a baby, entertaining a child to give parents a break, loving on a family pet or just giving a simple smile!”

Des pulled double duty on her California wildfire deployment as a Disaster Mental Health manager from the field.

She explained, “In addition to the management part of this response, I was working at the Lassen Community College and Lassen High School shelters.”

At the time of her deployment, the Lassen County shelter was the largest, providing refuge to roughly 50 people inside and about 150 people staying outside in tents and campers.

“We had a variety of age groups and needs, especially mobility issues. However, the people staying with us were resilient. Many had experienced shelter moves more than once as the Dixie Fire kept spreading.” 

Des enjoys a Friday Funday treat for volunteers.

Des recounts her favorite mission moment from the deployment. “Every day, I’d visit with an elderly man, Larry. He was concerned about his growing facial hair. He was bothered by the feel of his whiskers and he took great pride in his appearance. I pointed out that the comfort kit he’d received had a razor in it. He wasn’t a very verbal gentleman, but he made it known that he wasn’t accustomed to using a regular razor. He was more comfortable with an electric razor. I immediately made that request known to the shelter supervisor, who added it to his Walmart list. This simple purchase, I am convinced, made Larry’s whole year! The next day, he proudly gave me a big smile as he showed me his baby soft chin. Red Cross proud!”

Des encourages new volunteers to consider deployment.

A fire red sunset one evening outside of a Red Cross shelter.

Her advice is, “Be prepared and be flexible! Every deployment is different, but variety is the spice of life. Leave your baggage at home so you can be there for the clients in their time of need. You will have long and tiring days but intrinsic rewards! Have fun and do great work!”

Des is honored to be associated with the Red Cross and to work with the other volunteers.

“We may start as strangers, but we quickly form a team with a common focus. I love that about Red Cross. We are trained in our areas of expertise and brought together like different puzzle pieces to form a great team!”  


Volunteers like Des and Dick make up 90% of the Red Cross workforce, responding to more than 60,000 disasters every year. Large disasters like the California wildfires, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes are increasing in frequency and intensity. It’s critical to have a trained, ready volunteer workforce to make sure we can provide comfort and support to anyone who needs aid after a disaster. Join us to make a difference in our community and help someone in need after a disaster. Learn more at redcross.org/volunteer.

Evacuating a Second Time is Harder than the First.

August 20, 2021

By Catie Ballenger, American Red Cross Public Affairs.

Ruben Garcia, his father Baltzar and mother Maria, longtime residents of Greenville, California, quickly packed their most precious belongings and rushed from their home. Dixie, the second largest wildfire in Californian history, was on the warpath and they were in its way.

“We were scared. They told us to leave and that we were in danger. It was extra hard on my mom,” explained Ruben.

Ruben and his father sit in the sunshine in front of the shelter.

Wildfires are incredibly unpredictable, so when the winds shifted direction, changing the course of the fire, the evacuation order was lifted, and the family was allowed to return home.

“Our home is everything to us, so when we were told we could go back, we were so relieved,” said Ruben.

When another evacuation order forced them to relocate again, the  Garcia family took refuge at the American Red Cross Shelter in Quincy, California.

“My mother didn’t want to leave a second time. Both my parents have a hard time getting around and the first evacuation was difficult for them. Mom just didn’t want to do it again,” explained Ruben. “It was hard. We left hoping this wouldn’t be the last time we saw our home.”

Ruben and his family have been in the shelter for about two weeks. Baltzar and Maria both have limited mobility and English is their second language.

“Staying at new places makes them anxious. But both Mom and Dad have felt very comfortable here,” Ruben said.

Ruben helps his father set up his new cell phone.

Everyone is welcome at a Red Cross shelter. The Red Cross does not discriminate based on nationality, race, religious beliefs, class, disability, political opinions, sexual orientation or gender identity. To support individuals like Ruben and his parents during natural disasters, specially trained Red Cross volunteers help assess physical shelters for accessibility. They coordinate any shelter modifications or items that may be needed, ranging from walkers or wheelchairs to sensory kits or interpreters.

Thankfully, the Garcia family home was not destroyed by the fire.

“Our house is still standing. There might be smoke damage but we can go home once it is safe.” Ruben and his parents are grateful. “I didn’t know that the Red Cross could help us like they did. They even got us a ride so we could go to the assistance center.”

A Red Cross volunteer chats with Ruben outside of the Local Assistance Center in Quincy, Calif.

Many of the residents at the Quincy shelter require specialized transportation or do not drive. The Red Cross arranged transport to the Local Assistance Center, a centralized location where the Red Cross, local organizations and government agencies provide information and recovery assistance resources. It was here that Ruben and his parents were able to replace lost identification documents and file insurance claims.

This is a heartbreaking situation for families who have lost everything. Trained Red Cross volunteers continue to help them cope as they await news about whether they will have a home to return to or when they can return. Volunteers have already made more than 5,000 contacts providing emotional support, health services and spiritual care for people who’ve been evacuated.

The threat isn’t over. Elevated to critical fire conditions and extreme heat are still spreading across the west and experts say there could be an above normal threat of wildfires through September. The Red Cross will continue to support individuals who have been affected by the devastating wildfires, like Ruben, Baltzar and Maria, until we are no longer needed.

Home is Where the Heart is.

By Catie Ballenger, American Red Cross Public Affairs

August 19, 2021

“Horrible. Horrifying. Unimaginable.” These are the three words that Johnnie Brookwood used to describe the wildfire that drove her out of her home in Greenwood, California. The Dixie Fire, California’s second-largest wildfire in modern history, forced the community to evacuate Wednesday, August 6, 2021, destroying the tiny Northern California mountain town.

Johnnie sought refuge at the American Red Cross shelter in Quincy, Calif. Here she has a safe roof over her head, access to hot meals and relief items. Trained Red Cross volunteers are on hand helping evacuees cope as they await news about whether they will have a home to return to when the fires subside. Volunteers are also replacing prescription medications, eyeglasses or critical medical equipment, like canes and wheelchairs, that were left behind in the rush to get to safety. A Red Cross health services volunteer was even able to connect Johnnie with a local dentist who provided much-needed dental care.

“I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t stay here. I am so stressed, I can barely remember if I have been here for two weeks or two months,” said the 76-year-old woman. “Everyone is so nice here; sometimes I forget I have lost my home. This has become home. Home is where the heart is.”

Johnnie has indeed made her Red Cross cot into her home. She surrounds herself with the things that she loves, wildflowers, rock collections and her artwork. She enjoys welcoming people “inside her home” to offer them candy and show off her prized possessions. Johnnie tries to always keep a smile on her face.

“Things are bad enough, so I stay as cheerful as possible,” she said. “I think it keeps everyone’s spirits up.”

Like many shelter guests, Johnnie still cannot believe that “this devastation happened” to her and her neighbors. “At first, I didn’t think the fire would affect us at all. I have lived in California since 1982 and have never experienced anything like this,” said Johnnie. “Surely Greenville won’t burn, but then it did.”

Johnnie has called the Red Cross shelter in Quincy home for over two weeks. She knows each volunteer by name and they, in turn, have learned how to keep a smile on her face.

“My colored pencils were no longer sharp enough to color with,” Johnnie noted. “A Red Cross volunteer noticed I hadn’t been working on my art and when she found out about my pencils, she went out and bought me a pencil sharpener. I am grateful to the volunteers. I am grateful to be here, and I am grateful that I am alive.”

Johnnie will stay until she is allowed to go back to the wreckage that once was her home. After that, she doesn’t know what will happen.

Red Cross teams will stay in the community as long as needed, helping those affected by wildfire to begin recovery. Caseworkers will be assigned to follow up with evacuees to continue to support them in the weeks ahead to ensure they are connected to available resources.

Volunteers have been here since early July and will continue to support people like Johnnie affected by the dozens of fires that have forced tens of thousands across multiple states from their homes. 

Volunteers and Staff of the California Wildfires – Part 2

The Faces of a Disaster Response Operation

By Catie Ballenger, American Red Cross Public Affairs

Trained American Red Cross volunteers are working around the clock in California to help people impacted by the massive wildfires which have forced whole communities from their homes. Who are these incredible people who generously give of their time and talent in the face of disaster? In this series, we will introduce you to many of them. For part one of this series, click here.


Name: Carmela Burke

Home Chapter: Los Angeles

First Deployment Focus: Community Partnerships

First Deployment Length: 18 Days

Second Deployment Focus: Government Operations

Second Deployment Length: 9 Days

Carmela Burke is interviewed by the news during the 2013 memorial service for Yarnell 19 granite Mountain Hotshots.

Carmela Burke served 28 days on the Red Cross California Wildfires Disaster Response Operation (DRO). She deployed twice, back-to-back, first focusing on Community Partnerships and next as a Government Operations representative. Carmela’s day-to-day centered around communication, making connections and filling any gaps during the disaster response and recovery.

Carmela was raised to care for others. “It was just what my family and classmates did,” she said. As a Red Cross volunteer, she has deployed more than 35 times, including to the 9/11 recovery efforts in New York, operating the public hotline during Hurricane Katrina and flying into New York before landfall for Superstorm Sandy. 

During the pandemic, Carmela virtually deployed several times. While not responding in the face of disaster, she is an instructor for the International Services International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Dissemination Program and is a caseworker for the Restoring Family Links (RFL) Program. 

Carmela Burke’s workspace for her virtual California Wildfire Deployments.

Carmela said, “It is normal and admirable to want to help the moment you see tragedy.” However, she encourages people to consider volunteering for the Red Cross before disaster strikes. “Become a trained Red Cross volunteer before an emergency so you can quickly help when needed.”


Name: Donna Davis

Home Region: External Relations

Deployment Focus: Western New York

Deployment Length: 13 days

Donna Davis

As a former emergency services dispatcher and military aircrew, Donna Davis always went where there was a need and hasn’t stopped serving others, even though she is now retired. “As long as I am able, I will continue to respond where I am needed. Some day I may be the one that needs assistance and can only hope someone has it in their heart to help,” said Donna.

While deployed by the Red Cross to the California Wildfires, Donna worked in the Command Center to ensure that Government Operations, Public Affairs and Community Partnerships had what they needed to get their job done and facilitate streamlined information sharing.

As a volunteer since 2011, Donna has deployed 20 times. By far, her favorite deployment memories are seeing old friends and making new ones. “We are most certainly a family,” she said. Donna tells anyone who is considering volunteering with the Red Cross or thinking about deploying for the first time, “This can be the adventure of a lifetime. There can be joy. There can be heartbreak. There can be exhaustion. There can be boredom. This can be the most frustrating job you will ever love, but the payback can be enormous. You will know you made a difference.”


Name: Jan Fulfs

Home Region: Chicago and North Illinois

Deployment Focus: Disaster Health Services

Deployment Length: 13 Days

Jan Fulfs is heading home after her deployment.

As a nurse, Jan Fulfs is a caretaker at heart. In addition to owning and operating a home health agency in the northern Illinois area, she volunteers with the American Red Cross as a Health Services team member. “It is not often that we can truly make a difference in someone’s life. These disasters are devasting. If I can give just a little relief, an act of kindness, restoration of dignity to just one person, then I feel my time and energy have been well worth it,” said Jan.

Jan recently traveled to California to provide care for those affected by the wildfires wreaking havoc across the state. Working on the Disaster health team, she assisted evacuees with transfers, oxygen, personal care, ambulation and emotional support.

While working at the Susanville shelter, early one morning, Jan noticed an evacuee with her walker moving from the bathroom back to the dorm. “She looked at me and said ‘I’m tired’ and sat down on her walker seat. I asked, ‘Would you like me to wheel you back to your bed?’ She said ‘yes’. After we had entered the dorm, she suddenly went limp and quit breathing,” Jan said.

Jan Fulfs working from the Colorado Wildfire headquarters in Sacramento

Jan’s nursing instinct prompted her to quick action. “I was all by myself, so I began to yell for assistance. While waiting, I began mouth to mouth. After about five breaths, the woman started breathing again but did not regain consciousness. The paramedics arrived to take her to the hospital and once she was stable, she returned to the shelter.” The evacuee explained her situation to Jan. Because of a problem with her heart, she loses consciousness often but typically doesn’t stop breathing. “The woman told me she thought I had been placed in that shelter just for her. I’d like to think that, too.”


Red Cross disaster volunteers, like Jan, Donna and Carmela are an important part of our team. Join us to make a difference in your community and help someone in need after a disaster. Learn more at redcross.org/volunteer.

Volunteers and Staff of the California Wildfires – Part 1

The Faces of a Disaster Response Operation

By Catie Ballenger, American Red Cross Public Affairs

Trained American Red Cross volunteers are working around the clock in California to help people impacted by the massive wildfires which have forced whole communities from their homes. Red Cross workers are on the ground providing shelter, food and comfort. Behind the scenes, Red Cross staff coordinate logistics, conduct disaster assessments and assist in recovery.

Who are these incredible people who generously give of their time and talent in the face of disaster? In this series, we will introduce you to many of them.



Name:
Sean Grady

Region: Greater Carolinas

Deployment Focus: Shelter support

Length of Deployment: 12 days

July 2021- Sean Grady, Red Cross volunteer, organizes the dining area in the shelter he is working at. Photo provided by Sean Grady

Sean Grady, a Red Cross volunteer who calls the North Carolina Smoky Mountains home, recently gave his time and talent to provide not only a shelter but a temporary home to wildfire evacuees in Chester, Calif.

As soon as Sean arrived at the shelter, he got right to work. He was asked to work a few night shifts and agreed with a smile! “The nurse working at the shelter asked me if I would work overnight, 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. She needed a man who would work with male clients who had health issues and might need help during the night. So, of course, I told her I would be glad to,” Sean said.

The first night, Sean and fellow volunteer Holly Ebdon cleaned and organized everything. The following morning, one of the evacuees came to Sean and said, “What you did is amazing! This was a shelter. Now, it’s a home!”

Sean has been with the Red Cross since early 2014. He spends much of his volunteer time responding to house fires with the local Disaster Action Team, helping families with immediate needs following a fire. “I receive so much gratitude from the people I help. That is why I volunteer,” said Sean.

Sean encourages any volunteer who is considering deployment to do it at least once. “It is hard work and long hours, but especially, if you are on the front lines, you get to see the effects of our work right in front of you and you will receive the deepest gratitude.”


Name: Bill Dorman

Home Region: Central and South Texas

Deployment Focus: Mass Care Lead (Shelter support)

Length of Deployment: 15 Days

Bill Dorman, Red Cross Volunteer, Central and South Texas Region

Bill Dorman is not a stranger to rushing from his home to stay out of a wildfire’s devastating path, making him an excellent mass care volunteer. He lives in Austin, Texas, but he and his wife spend summers in Sonoma County, Calif. “Last summer, my wife, my brother-in-law who uses a wheelchair and I had to evacuate due to wildfires,” Bill said.

Most of Bill’s deployment was spent at operation headquarters, planning, organizing and leading the mass care team. However, he did get a chance to work directly with evacuees at the Local Assistance Center in Doyle, Calif.

In the 16 years Bill has been with the Red Cross, he has deployed 40 times. (Yes, you read that right, 40 deployments in 16 years!) He contributes his tenure to the camaraderie between Red Crossers. “My best Red Cross memories come from working with dedicated volunteers from all over the county,” said Bill.

As a deployment veteran, the advice he gives to first timers is, “Be ready for a seemingly chaotic experience. Be patient. Be flexible. And most importantly, remember that it is not about you.”


Name: Elizabeth Alvarez

Home Region: Arizona New Mexico El Paso

Deployment focus: Logistics

Length of Deployment: 18 days

Elizabeth Alvarez, a Red Cross volunteer of 4 years, was one of the many responders who deployed to the Campfire disaster response in California’s Gold Country in the fall of 2018. This summer, she returned to Gold County to work logistics for the 2021 California wildfires. “My Campfire deployment memories are still very powerful in my mind, so I empathize strongly with my colleagues and the people in this region. I was very motivated to do my part to support them,” said Elizabeth.  

During this summer’s wildfire response, Elizabeth supervised several first timers. She said, “I was so excited to see how committed they were to support our mission, how eager they were to learn and how quickly they came up to speed. They showed the best of the Red Cross spirit. They were flexible, as they were pushed beyond their comfort levels and rose to the challenges. They were here for the right reasons and demonstrated how lucky we are to have such a talented, skilled and dedicated workforce.”

As a seasoned disaster responder, Elizabeth’s team was in good hands. She has deployed 11 times to different parts of the country, helping those impacted by wildfires and floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes.

For Elizabeth, trust is essential in a disaster response operation. “If you’re willing to trust your colleagues to support you and you support them back, you will receive more than you originally asked for,” she said.


Volunteers like Sean, Elizabeth and Bill make up 90% of the Red Cross workforce, responding to more than 60,000 disasters every year. Large disasters like the California wildfires, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes are increasing in frequency and intensity. It’s critical to have a trained, ready volunteer workforce to make sure we can provide comfort and support to anyone who needs aid after a disaster. Join us to make a difference in our community and help someone in need after a disaster. Learn more at redcross.org/volunteer