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.

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

Red Cross Comes to the Aid of One Family After Two Home Fires

Story by John Blomster/Photo by Matthew Foor

Leroy Dennis and his daughter stand outside their Oroville motor home which sustained severe damage after an accidental fire.

Leroy Dennis thought the worst was behind him after his family recovered from a devastating fire that left his Butte County home in ashes.

Sadly, he was wrong.

Shortly after relocating his wife and two children to Oroville, Calif., a freak motor home accident nearly identical to the first sparked a blaze that nearly destroyed their new home and displaced the family a second time.

In each case, the American Red Cross provided a critical safety net by putting the family up in hotels and providing vouchers for food. The organization’s support helped put them in the position to rebuild their lives.

“Both times, the Red Cross has been a really great help, not just for me, but for other folks in the community as well,” Dennis said.

In 2019, the Dennises were living on a farm in Bangor, Calif., among a loose collection of trailers scattered about the property. Leroy owned a motor home, and one day he commissioned a mechanic to perform some routine maintenance on it.

The vehicle backfired, sending flames across the dry ground and instantly igniting the buildings. The residents barely had time to react, and in a year in which the water table was particularly low, they could barely muster a defense.

“Everything caught on fire so fast, and we just didn’t have any water to put it out,” Dennis said.

Having lost everything and with nowhere to go, the family connected with the Red Cross, which lined up lodging and food services. Each month while they recovered, the family was able to visit the Salvation Army and local churches to pick up packages of food.

Fast forward to December 2020. The Dennises had put the pieces back together, and again, Leroy was having motor home trouble.

He turned to an acquaintance in the neighborhood for help.

As the amateur mechanic popped the hood, Leroy headed back to his house before a commotion turned him around. He emerged to find the motor home ablaze, and the flames quickly spread to his walls and roof. Residents tried in vain to fight the fire with an extinguisher and hose.

As it turned out, the mechanic had been using a type of flammable starter fluid that ignited unexpectedly. By the time the fire department extinguished the blaze, Leroy’s house had been damaged so badly that it would be uninhabitable for months.

Once again, the family was without a roof over their heads. Once again, the Red Cross helped find them one.

In a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded even the simplest issues, losing one’s home is certainly up there with the worst of them.

It is a testament to the family’s resilience that they have been able to bounce from these two major tragedies, and today they are continuing to recover, restore and rebuild their lives together.

“It was just so crazy that both of the fires happened the way they did,” Dennis said, “I’m grateful to the Red Cross for the help they gave us.”

For information on how you can prepare for home fires, visit RedCross.org.

May’s High Priority Volunteer Positions

The California Gold Country Region needs to fill the following volunteer positions as soon as possible. If you know someone who may be a great fit for one of these opportunities, contact CA Gold Country Volunteer Services at goldcountry.vol@redcross.org.

Do You Know Someone Who Should Fill One of These Volunteer Positions?

The workforce of the Red Cross is 90% volunteer-driven. From time to time, key volunteer positions open up that are critical to us carrying out our mission throughout the region.

Each month, we will post the highest priority openings here. If you know someone who may be a great fit for one of these opportunities, contact CA Gold Country Volunteer Services at goldcountry.vol@redcross.org.

Volunteer Karen Smith Celebrates 55 Years with the Red Cross

By Stephanie Gaito, Volunteer

In tough times, we all need stories to inspire us to keep pushing through challenges.  

Karen Smith recently celebrated 55 years as a Red Cross volunteer.

Karen Smith’s lifetime of community service is one such story.

A resident of Fair Oaks, Calif., she recently celebrated a 55-year span of volunteering with the Red Cross.

The retired registered nurse has used her professional skills and compassion for others to impact local families and individuals for decades.

She started her career as a neurosurgery intensive care nurse at Los Angeles County General Hospital, now known as Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center.

In 1964, Karen left her position to care for her growing family when her oldest son was born. Her desire to continue helping others pushed her to seek alternative volunteer opportunities that would support her schedule.

Her search led her to the Red Cross.

Smith received this pin to commemorate her 55 years of service.

Karen began teaching local Mother Baby Care classes which walked new parents through newborn care essentials such as breastfeeding and bathing.

After relocating to the Sacramento area, she continued her Red Cross volunteer work even after she returned to her nursing career, working flu shot clinics and first aid stations at state and county fairs.  Karen has been administering the flu shot for 25 years and has seen first-hand how accessible health care can positively impact a community.

“Fifty-five years is a great accomplishment,” said California Gold Country Region Volunteer Services Officer Jennifer Campbell. “We value the lifetime she has given for others.”

 These days, Karen is working to helping to administer the Covid-19 vaccine.

“Part of my job is not just giving the shot, but making the patient feel comfortable,” she said. “What I like about it is being able to talk to people and explain to them what we are going to do. It gives me joy to see them happy that they have done something for themselves.”

When asked why she volunteers, Karen said, “I would never think of walking away if there was something I could do to help.”

With those inspirational words, we thank Karen Smith for her decades of service to help alleviate human suffering and to inspire hope in her community.

California Gold Country Region Looks Back at 2020

UPDATE: Camp Fire Grant Recipients: Where Are They Now?

After the 2018 Camp Fire, The American Red Cross California Gold Country Region was able to award more than $10 million in grants to a select group of non-profits in Butte County to help them continue to serve the wide array of needs presented by Camp Fire survivors.

All funding for the grants was made possible thanks to the generosity of our donors.

As we mark the second anniversary of the Camp Fire we are looking back at the six grant recipients to see what they have done with the funding provided by the Red Cross: Youth for Change, United Way of Northern California, Hope Worldwide, Habitat for Humanity Butte County, Caring Choices and the Boys and Girls Club of North Valley.

This post will be updated daily so check back throughout the week!

Reflections on Camp Fire’s 2nd Anniversary: Volunteer Cynthia Bellina

On this 2nd anniversary of the Camp Fire in Butte County, we remember the more than 80 lives lost and the thousands of people Red Cross volunteers served.

Check back here this week as we will be revisiting stories of survivors, volunteers and the local agencies supported by the Red Cross so that they may continue to care for Camp Fire survivors in the months and years ahead.

Today, we look back at disaster spiritual care volunteer Cynthia Bellina who forged a strong connection with one evacuee who called her “my voice, my angel.”

‘What Can We Do to Help?’: Century 21 Support of Red Cross Endures Through Many Disasters

In February, 2017, Doug Love found himself at the Silver Dollar Fairground in Chico. Nearly 200,000 Oroville residents in the path of the Oroville Dam spillway had just been ordered to evacuate.

“That strange event sent a town full of people into Chico and I was just trying to figure out what we can do to help, so I just parked on a side street and walked into the shelter,” said Love, an agent with Century 21 Select Real Estate in Chico.

“I walked in and asked someone in a red vest staffing a card table with information. I didn’t know this shelter was facilitated by the Red Cross at the time. I said, ‘Hey, I’m here from Century 21, what do you guys need?’”

Love was directed to Amanda Ree, then-Executive Director of the the Northeast California Chapter. Ree is now the Executive Director of California Wildlife Recovery.

“I went up to Amanda and just said, ‘Hey, I’ve got an office with a bunch of people and we live in this town. Is there anything we can do?’” 

Love recalled Ree having at yellow, lined piece of notebook paper and said that she was trying to secure things on her list: baby formula, food, toiletries, blankets, etc.

“Amanda was just this wonderful person in charge of everything and she took that minute with me,” Love said.

He went back to the Century 21 Select Chico office and quickly mobilized the team, sending group texts, emails and posting notes on the door. Century 21 staff immediately began donating money and items on the list.

Later that same day, Love returned to the Silver Dollar Fairground, this time with the Century 21 team and trucks full of needed items. 

Thanks to their incredible support, Century 21 Select Chico was recognized at the American Red Cross Centennial event that year. “That awards night was really inspiring because we saw the awards given to the real heroes – the people who jump into the middle of a wreck or fire and save individuals,” said Love.

“The stories that were shared were incredibly touching and inspirational. We just witnessed what the Red Cross is really all about. It’s the on the ground volunteers giving their time and talents to just help others.”

That is where the partnership between Century 21 and the Red Cross began.

In 2018, the Camp Fire came as close as Love’s back fence. Sixty percent of the houses in his neighborhood were destroyed. Unfortunately, the Century 21 Select office in Paradise perished as well, along with the homes of all the agents. 

Amidst their personal crises, the team again asked, “Hey, what can we do to help?”

The Century 21 Select Real Estate Group came together to donate funds and goods to support relief efforts in their community.

“Realtors are really a group of people who really are in it for their communities. Whenever we as an office just say hey, this happened and there is a need, our agents are there writing checks, bringing items, asking what we can do,” said Love.

When the Berry Creek Fire hit this year, Love reached out to the Red Cross to see how the Century 21 Select Real Estate Group could help. Century 21 Select partnered with the Red Cross by creating a microsite to raise funds. Their marketing team leveraged their extensive email distribution lists and social media channels to promote fundraising efforts. Along with committing to company donation, Century 21 Select will match the first $10,000 donated by Nov. 2, 2020. 

“Disaster after disaster, we’ve all become accustomed to being prepared for the next disaster. We’re just there to do whatever we can,” Love said.

“The fact of the matter is it just started from one person to another, no corporate solicitation or marketing campaign, just one person to another in the middle of a crazy disaster.”

“That’s the way I think of the Red Cross. It’s just one person to another. I am just so impressed with who the Red Cross is and what they do.”