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John Lanzetti: Providing Light at the End of the Tunnel

The DAT responder is the eyes and ears at a disaster. We’re boots on the ground for the American Red Cross.

John Lanzetti epitomizes the Red Cross volunteer: He deflects the spotlight from himself onto the Red Cross by understating his invaluable role in helping the organization achieve its mission.

John served a distinguished military career, culminating in the position of Air Traffic Control Tower supervisor. Having retired from the United States Air Force (USAF) in 1996, he worked through 2012 for a company, providing air-traffic control expertise to software engineers developing air-traffic control tower and radar simulators for the U.S. and many foreign countries.

According to his supervisor, Mentha Antione, Disaster Program Specialist, “John Lanzetti is one of our best DAT volunteers. He is always willing to cross over county lines to help families affected by house fires in Orange and Seminole counties. He embodies what it means to be a DAT volunteer: reliable, caring, and professional.”

John’s affiliation with the organization began as a 16-year-old, when he took the Red Cross lifeguard training. You could say that the seeds were sown when his Red Cross patch was sewn onto his bathing trunks.

Even before his lifeguard training, the Red Cross had been part of John’s life. His parents and grandparents would share with him how the organization had notified them when his uncle died on Omaha Beach during World War II. But little did John realize that years later at Fort Hood, Texas, he would experience that Red Cross support first hand: as a USAF field officer who manned the phone for commanders at the fort, John received a call from the Red Cross alerting him about his mother’s ailing health.

“To this day, I can’t believe that they found me in the middle of a field and called me on an old field telephone (mobile phone intended for military use). I’m indebted to the Red Cross because they got me home to see my mom before it was too late.”

His gratitude to the Red Cross doesn’t end there. As a volunteer firefighter EMT in Washington State, John benefited from the organization and its volunteers, who provided drinks and other refreshments from one of its mobile canteens. “The Red Cross made a difference to me as well as others during a particularly difficult house fire. I was able to take a break that enabled me to get my second wind.”

But the catalyst for joining the Red Cross team occurred during a business trip when John met Red Cross volunteers heading out on a relief mission. “It was then I knew I wanted to wear the Red Cross hat and make a difference. Retirement was the perfect time.”

A dedicated Red Cross volunteer who excels at whatever the responsibility, John was promoted to DAT lead in August 2015, only two months after having joined as a DAT responder.

John explained how responders need to be available day or night. To him, the key to preparedness is assessing damages. He and his team provide comfort, prepaid financial assistance, and, when necessary, invaluable information for dealing with insurance companies, something that victims might not focus on during a life-altering experience, such as a fire, flood, or other disaster. John also talks with local authorities in order to determine what type of assistance the Red Cross can provide.

“Whatever is necessary, whether it be housing, clothing, food, follow-up counseling, or medical attention, the Red Cross is there.” John emphasized that as a team lead, you need to think on your feet in order to determine whether to call a supervisor in order to initiate further Red Cross involvement. “You must adhere to stringent criteria and write a comprehensive report of every emergency.”

The Red Cross logo captures the crux of the organization: The meeting of the two red parallel bars represents lives intersecting lives. And those lives—whether they be of the client facing a potential life-shattering event or the Red Cross volunteer—are strengthened. To quote John, “Volunteering for the Red Cross keeps me alive.”