Written by Heath Wakelee, Red Cross Volunteer and Placer DAT Lead
Yesterday morning at 6:10 AM, my phone rang. I’d just finished a big breakfast in preparation for a hike that was now not going to happen. It was [Red Cross volunteer] Bob Eger asking if I could respond to a fire in Auburn with nine adults needing assistance.
“Sure,” I said.
There were at least three reasons I was ready to roll – 1) Because I was on-call and had made a commitment to help when and where needed, 2) There were nine people who had just lost everything and needed help, and 3) My friend and hiking partner for the day will soon be a Placer County Search and Rescue member, so he understands the call to respond takes priority over other plans.
Bob Eger asked me how many Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteers I wanted and I said at least two, perhaps three. Bob wisely recommended four or perhaps more. We agreed on four. Bob then called [Red Cross Disaster Program Manager] Tami Martin to recruit volunteers as I headed to the scene. Tami quickly called me and said she had the four volunteers and recommended that I have one more.
I agreed, though I was slightly concerned that there may not be enough work for all of these volunteers so eager to help out. But Tami and Bob, being the seasoned experts that they are, had a good idea of what to expect with an incident this size. I was grateful for their wisdom and advice as we needed each and every volunteer that turned up.
The fire impacted five townhouse units. Two units were severely damaged and three units had minor fire but heavy smoke damage. Nine adults were left homeless by the fire. Utilities were turned off, so while some may not have lost their homes completely, they were still left with no place to go…at least temporarily.
Among the needs, one man worked nights and he needed to get into a hotel/motel to sleep ASAP. Another woman had two cats, and she feared they had suffered from smoke inhalation.
Three of the volunteers had never been on a DAT call before, and one only had a single call under their belt.
A neighbor was kind enough allowed us to use her wi-fi so that we could begin the process of authorizing what we call “Client Assistance Cards”. These are cards we provide to displaced residents so that they may obtain items such as food, clothing, and other essentials following a disaster. I had arrived at the scene with six CAC’s, but it quickly became clear I would likely need nine or ten.
No sooner had that thought occurred when Tami and volunteer Jeremiah arrived with additional cards AND an extra computer to help expedite the CAC authorization process. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief knowing that our team would be able to meet the needs of these residents without delay. We are truly fortunate to have such good thinkers and great volunteers.
As usual, all of our volunteers worked very well as a team. The new members had a lot of good questions and, with everyone’s help, we were able to comfort and guide nine people through a very challenging and traumatic event. The gentleman who needed to sleep was handled first and we called a local Veterinarian (Dr. Rice) who agreed to examine the distressed cats for free. We ended up providing five motel rooms, food, clothing, comfort kits, street sheets and a few hugs. For this event it did take seven volunteers to serve our clients and I’m sure glad that we had so many responders.
While the hike that I missed would have been good physical exercise, the DAT response was better both physically and mentally. I made the right choice.