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Why I Help - ‘I Get Back More Than I Give’

The Red Cross hit the jackpot when Bill Fortune signed up as a volunteer.

Fortune, a meteorologist by profession, spent 32 years with the National Weather Service. He retired as chief of the National Weather office in Pueblo, Colorado, in 2009. Two weeks after his retirement, Fortune started his second career in the Red Cross disaster communications arena.

"I wanted to give back to the American public and use my skills, so I chose the American Red Cross," Fortune said. “I knew about the Red Cross through the relationship the National Weather Service had with them, especially in disaster preparedness. And, I knew the Red Cross did a most important job; while we were on the front end in predicting weather warnings beforehand, the Red Cross was giving assistance/information to those affected,” he added.

Fortune has numerous roles as a volunteer for the Pikes Peak Chapter of the Red Cross in Colorado Springs. He is an instructor for disaster preparedness, public relations and CPR/First Aid, a recruiter for volunteers, and, most importantly in his estimation, a co-coordinator for the Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV) #4717. Each person has to undergo special training before being allowed to operate an ECRV.

Volunteers from the American Red Cross Pikes Peak Chapter, Bill Fortune (right) and his partner Lee Pickerel, stand by their assigned Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV #4717) as they take a break during an assignment in Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Bill Fortune.

There are only 12 ECRVs in the country, and they have the capability of providing communications via a built-in satellite and other high-tech components.

“[My partner and I] are called in early to a disaster site, so that the follow-on wave of Red Cross staff and volunteers on the ground will have cell phone and laptop Internet capabilities when they get to the site,” Fortune said.

Fortune and his partner rarely directly interact with disaster clients. Yet they are an important link for the Red Cross disaster relief volunteers working with clients. As both support persons and behind-the-scenes volunteers, Fortune and his partner make it possible for those arriving after them to conduct communications with other parts of the country, so that service can be provided to disaster victims.

In talking about his experiences, Fortune was moved by one particular situation in Mississippi.

“I watched as the supervisor for client casework worked for a disabled veteran who was displaced by the tornado, on his last dollar, and whose home was about to be inundated by flood waters,” Fortune related.

“I was moved by the veteran’s situation. It was gratifying to see how the caseworker used communications that I set up in order to coordinate resources to help get the veteran relocated to a veteran’s facility in Tennessee. It made me feel good to be a part of this helping process.”

Without reservation, Fortune said he volunteers because the experience always positively answers the question, “How great is it to touch people with the knowledge that you are helping them be more self-sufficient in case of a disaster?"

He added, "Working with volunteers and seeing their dedication, and seeing them make a difference is what motivates me. I volunteer because I feel it does make a difference. I get back more than I give.”