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In Times of Need, South Bay Communities Rally to Help

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FAST members staff and provide emergency services at more than 200 events annually

Matthew Stein, a veteran emergency responder with the American Red Cross, expected a quiet afternoon at the “408K Race to the Row” in San Jose this past March. The adult portion of the annual event had concluded without incident, and only the children’s race remained to be completed. But as the youth participants ran, the Red Cross medical team suddenly got word that a female spectator had collapsed near the course.

The Silicon Valley chapter's First Aid Services Team (FAST) jumped into action. After quickly mobilizing, the medical volunteers located the victim, determined that this was a serious advanced call, phoned 911, provided emergency treatment, and prepared the spectator to be taken to a waiting ambulance.

She soon recovered, an outcome that Stein happily reports. But, he adds that the positive result that day is a reflection of more than just the presence of the Red Cross. “It’s amazing for us to see how the community we're in at the time comes together when there's an emergency,” says Stein, event chairperson for the Silicon Valley team. "FAST is an important part of the emergency response system, but it's just one of many parts."

When the "Race to the Row" incident occurred, it was as if the collective response had been choreographed in advance. Organizers temporarily stopped the race; attendees offered translation services when it became apparent the victim didn’t speak English; and a group of teenagers took it upon themselves to clear a path amid the throngs of onlookers so she could be ferried to an ambulance on the other side of the barricades. Event organizers had prepositioned that ambulance to ensure that serious incidents not able to be fully treated by a First Aid team could be quickly transferred to more advanced care.

Peg Geringer, who chairs Silicon Valley FAST, says their team members get plenty of practice interacting so critically — and successfully — with the communities they support. That's because, in Silicon Valley alone, the Red Cross FAST members staff and provide emergency services at more than 200 events annually.

From marathons to rodeos, and from corporate parties to wrestling events, Silicon Valley FAST members serve as a critical source of medical care. In the line of duty, team members have spent the evening aboard the USS Hornet, and even been on site in Pasadena for the Rose Bowl Parade at the invitation of a sister organization in Southern California.

And in at least one instance, Geringer says, the FAST team even helped a veterinarian save the life of a dog that was in the grip of heat-caused seizures.

Geringer says the make-up of the Silicon Valley team makes it one of the state's most experienced. At any given time, the team draws from an organization of 100 nurses, 7 doctors, more than 200 EMTs and paramedics, and 5-10 critical leadership support people, she adds. The team also has three specially outfitted emergency vehicles at its disposal, enabling mobile first aid stations to be located at a variety of community events.

Stein says Silicon Valley FAST plays another vital role in support of the American Red Cross itself. "In many respects, we are the gateway to the greater Red Cross community," he says. "The majority of the national organization's volunteers start with their local FAST, even if they later decide to work in other areas of the Red Cross.”

Geringer agrees, saying that because the average age of a FAST member is only 26, that part of the organization is often a birthplace for the next generation of American Red Cross volunteers and leaders.

But, it's clear that helping refresh the ranks of the Red Cross is not the primary motivator for members of Silicon Valley FAST. "The joy of volunteering is real, and so is the desire to help people who are in need," Stein says. "People come from all over the world to attend many of these events. Whether it be a scrapped knee or tightness in the chest, members of our team are there to lend a hand when the need arises."

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About the Photo: Matthew Stein, a key member of Silicon Valley FAST, is pictured.

About the Author: Eric French is a communications volunteer affiliated with the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.