A conversation with Fito Ruano, Red Cross Volunteer
By Jesus Sanchez, Public Affairs Volunteer
There was civil war in El Salvador in 1984. Soldiers were everywhere trying to recruit men to fight, “I was 15 years old and I didn’t want to kill people,” said Fito siting at a table in a local coffee shop in Turlock.
I asked Fito how he came to be a Red Cross volunteer, he told me how one day he was recruited by the state National Army and put on a truck en-route to an army base… “So what I did, as we were passing the market… I jumped out of the (army) truck and I ran to the Red Cross.” He hoped they could help.
“The soldiers chased me through the market to the Red Cross. When I got there, my friend, told the soldiers not to take me or he would call the international Red Cross.”
A few days later, he returned to the Red Cross and asked the workers how he could join.
The Red Cross continued to save Fito from joining the army, in one occasion Red Cross workers went into the army base to get him back when they found out he had been taken. That was more than 30 years ago and Fito, now 47, continues to volunteer for the Red Cross.
The Red Cross in El Salvador or Cruz Roja Salvadoreña is very involved with the community. As one of the most important pre-hospital services in the country, the organization responds to everyday accidents as well as large scale disasters. In those days, the civil war between government guerrillas and paramilitary forces together with high levels of poverty throughout the country resulted in a dire need for Red Cross services. Fito saw the need and recognized the opportunities to help within the organization.
Over the next couple of years he received training, becoming certified in first response as well as Search & Rescue.
As Fito showed me old photographs of his early days volunteering with the Red Cross, he admits: “there are happy times and there are sad times with the Red Cross.” Some of those sad times where the loss of fellow volunteers to the war. “Wearing a Red Cross t-shirt or logo doesn’t mean bullets aren’t going through your body,” explained Fito.
Ultimately it was this chronic violence and the lack of opportunities in his homeland that took Mr. Ruano to move to the United States in 1989.
Fito is energetic and speaks a slightly accented English. He is quick to smile and a conversation with him reveals a profound commitment to the welfare of others. A commitment he developed as a young man and one that would positively affect those around him time after time. He recalls how he jumped into action on October 17, 1989. He was in San Francisco when a magnitude 6.9 earthquake shook the city.
Fito used his Red Cross training in Search and Rescue, joined rescue teams and helped those trapped in the rubble.
I first met Fito at a community outreach event where I handed out Red Cross pins and toy ambulances to kids while he educated parents on disaster preparedness and first aid. He’s also a part of the Disaster Action Team (DAT) and helps teach courses for the Red Cross Modesto office.
Fito enjoys teaching what he’s learned over the years as a volunteer and shared how he is now a local celebrity guest on Spanish Radio shows in the area. His hope is to energize the Latino community to get involved and develop their emergency plan in case of a disaster.
Fito has been involved in responding to many national disasters including Hurricane Katrina. He is a visible figure within the Red Cross and his efforts have been recognized. Fito appreciates the recognition, but explains that Red Cross volunteers do what they do because they love it. He added that the presence of the Red Cross in his life during hard times has made a lasting impact that he hopes to pay forward. “I will be with the Red Cross for as long as I live, I’m not planning to retire from volunteering.”