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Disasters Don't Stop During the Holidays and Neither Do Volunteers

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"We can't promise recovery will be easy, but we can promise you won't have to do it alone."

During the 2015 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, L.A. Region Disaster Health Services opened a whopping 100 cases in response to 45 local disasters – the majority of which were home fires related to cold weather conditions. 

A small cadre of Disaster Health Services volunteer caseworkers assisted 229 people impacted by the disasters. (Each incident affected from one to 10 people.) One of these dedicated volunteers is Katherine Stradling, R.N., from Santa Clarita. 

Stradling, 24, has been a Red Cross volunteer since her nursing school days at the University of Arizona. She is one of the many volunteers who wear multiple volunteer hats. As a member of a Disaster Action Team (DAT), she helps clients immediately following a disaster, and as a Disaster Health Services (DHS) volunteer, she provides follow-up medical assistance resulting from the disaster, such as helping replace medications, eye glasses and medical equipment, in addition to providing resource information. DHS volunteers must be unencumbered licensed or certified health care professionals. In tandem with Disaster Mental Health volunteers and volunteer caseworkers, they make sure the client has a plan for a path to recovery. 

“What I say to people is, ‘We can’t promise you that it (recovery after a disaster) will be easy, but we can promise you won’t have to do it alone,’” said Stradling. As an example of what she provides as part of the DHS team, Stradling describes back-to-back local disasters she went to during the holidays. The first call was a single family fire in the Pacoima area, where she provided Health Services follow-up for the 12 people (four families) who lived there. Since they lost medications and eye glasses, Stradling called the pharmacy to have medications replaced and was able to obtain a new pair of eye glasses for one client. 

The next day, after her shift as an overnight ICU nurse at a local hospital, she was called to go to a home fire in Palmdale. When she arrived, members of the fire department were still putting out the flames. Stradling saw a despondent woman sitting on the curb. “I don’t know how my mom is going to be taken care of,” the woman said. She told Stradling she was concerned about her 90-year-old mother, the homeowner, who lived alone. The Red Cross volunteer reassured her. “We will make sure we find you a place to stay and something to eat.” In the following days, she checked in with the daughter about her mother’s health to ensure she was taken care of. “People are resilient once they get the right support.” Being on the front lines, as well as behind the scenes, 

Stradling sees first-hand the devastation caused by home fires, which is why she is a huge supporter of the Home Fire Prevention Campaign. “I like it because it’s proactive.” The initiative, which brings together Red Cross and community volunteers to install free smoke alarms at homes in vulnerable neighborhoods, is aimed at reducing home fire deaths. “I have been on several disaster calls where there are fatalities, and in those cases there were no smoke detectors.” 

As a 20-30 hour-a-week volunteer who works full-time as a nurse, Stradling believes the Red Cross is very important to the local communities. “Without the Red Cross, who is going to help?” For more information about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, please visit