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.

Published by

American Red Cross California Gold Country Region

The California Gold Country Region serves a twenty-six county territory including Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Yolo, and Yuba counties

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