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Volunteer Spotlight: Don Rowe

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Disaster Action Team (DAT) Captain Don Rowe has responded to numerous disasters through his involvement with the American Red Cross. Unlike most other DAT Captains, Don has a very personal connection with disasters that began long before his involvement with the Red Cross.

Don is an electrical engineer who lived in San Diego County in Southern California for 20 years. While living in the town of Julian in 2003, a large fire ripped through the area destroying more than 2,400 homes including Don’s. The fire catalyzed a significant turning point in Don’s life, and he decided to relocate from Julian and start anew. “After the fire, I just really didn’t want to stay there (in Julian). I was ready to start over some place,” he said.

With the remnants of his possessions—all fitting into the back of his pickup truck—Don headed north and settled back in his home town of Ukiah in Mendocino County where many of his family members still reside. Ironically, shortly after moving to Ukiah, the unimaginable happened.  “Two weeks after I moved here there was a major flooding. I started to feel like disasters were following me around,” Don said. He decided to get involved in helping disaster victims like him. The opportunity presented itself through an article in the local newspaper about a Red Cross shelter operating just a few blocks from where he lived. “I went down and asked if I could help out at the shelter and I spent the next few days helping, and I became an official Red Cross volunteer a few months later,” he said.

Initially, Don began his work at the Red Cross as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) responder. Over time, Don continued disaster training to become a DAT captain. With an average of 15-20 fires in Mendocino County annually, Don has certainly been kept on his toes on the job. He recalled responding to the Fircrest Apartment fire last year as one of those moments. “It really was a chapter-wide incident. I got the call at 1:00 a.m.,” Don said. “I’m used to hearing like two adults, a couple of kids and a dog need a hotel. This call, they said 60-70 people (need accommodations) and that woke me up pretty quick.”

Drawing from his personal disaster experience, Don describes the early stages after a disaster “like wondering around in a fog and wondering what is next.”  As a DAT Captain, it is crucial Don and his team provide the best support and care possible to ease the uncertainty felt by disaster victims. “We put our own needs aside and focus on the needs of the client. In general, they are pretty happy to have somebody come in and offer to take care of them for a few days,” Don said.

In addition to responding to disasters, Don is an instructor teaching basic disaster response training to new DAT recruits. “I really enjoy helping other people become volunteers and also helping the rest of the community in (learning) disaster education,” he said.

From being on the ground during a disaster to teaching the next generations of DAT responders, Don is involved in multiple facets of service within the Red Cross. The drive behind his extensive involvement lies in the feeling of fulfillment when helping others in need.  He said, “Just knowing you’ve helped somebody though a process like that is hugely rewarding. A moment that really stands out for me is when we were with a client in Mendocino County who had lost everything and she was saying that when she recovers she would like to join the Red Cross. Her last comment was ‘I’d like to be one of the angels’ and that just really made my day,” he said.

Don describes volunteering with the Red Cross as fulfilling and “a wonderful experience” which he intends to continue long into the future.