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 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 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
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
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’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.