A five-alarm fire that gutted an historic building in downtown Salinas on February 13 drew approximately 125 firefighters and just as many other emergency responders to the scene. Also responding were Red Cross disaster workers, mostly volunteers, from the American Red Cross of the Central Coast.
"Because of the size of the fire, we provided canteen services to nearly 250 emergency responders," says Patsy Gasca, disaster program manager for the chapter that covers Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz Counties. The fire, which was reported around 2 p.m. that Saturday, kept Gasca and her Red Cross colleagues busy serving liquids and food until nearly 11 o'clock that night.
"It was one of the larger fires we've responded to recently in Monterey County," Gasca says of the blaze, which destroyed the historic Dick Bruhn Building on Main Street. Dozens of engine companies from the tri-county area were called in to battle the blaze and prevent it from spreading to adjoining buildings.
With that many firefighters and other emergency responders on site, Gasca dispatched Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) from both Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties. Staffing the vehicles were 8 dedicated Red Cross volunteers.
In addition to water, coffee, and Gatorade, the Red Cross provided pizza, sandwiches and snacks at no charge to the large number of responders.
In addition to providing canteen services late into the night, the Red Cross caseworkers provided financial support to a family of four that needed overnight accommodations for two nights because of the fire. "They lived in an apartment across the street from the fire, and they were literally smoked out of their home," Gasca says. "We were able to help them pay to get into a motel for a couple of nights."
"We really appreciated the Red Cross's assistance with this significant incident," says Sam Klemek, Battalion Chief and Fire Marshal for the Salinas Fire Department. "As always, the Red Cross provided an invaluable service to our community in a timely and compassionate way."
The kind of support the Red Cross offered in Salinas would not be possible without the dedication of volunteers and the generosity of donors, says Michele Averill, American Red Cross of the Central Coast Chapter Executive.
Averill, who was part of the Red Cross contingent providing canteen services at the fire, says the work of the volunteers in Salinas was truly exemplary. "They would have been there all night long if they needed to be," she says. "It is always inspirational to me to see our volunteers come together to make sure that a community's needs are met when disaster strikes."
While the American Red Cross is chartered by the U.S. Congress to provide emergency services, the federal government provides no financial support to enable the organization to fulfill that commitment, she adds.
"The individuals, businesses, corporations and foundations that make financial contributions to the Red Cross make it possible for us to provide emergency support in communities just like Salinas," Averill says.