At 4:30 a.m. I was startled awake by my phone ringing, and a DAT captain giving me an address. I scrambled in the dark to write it down, and ran to leave as quickly as possible. Despite the wee morning hour I was fully energized with adrenaline running through my body.
This was not even the first DAT call of the day. Earlier that evening, I received my first DAT call for a house fire in Lynwood, but only arrived there in time to see the team packing up to leave. I remembered how nervous and shaky I felt driving up to the scene. Normally I avoid a street with multiple fire engines with lights and sirens blaring… and here I was driving straight into it. I still wasn’t sure I belonged there walking through the scene to find the Red Cross team.
By 5:00 a.m. I was in Monroe and saw runoff from fire hoses running down the street. Up a little farther I saw the fire engines, firefighters, and neighbors huddled under blankets on their porches and sidewalks. Like ducklings, a train of kids in blankets follow a good neighbor into their home. For the next two hours the fire hoses would continue spraying the charred half of the house.
On the sidewalk across from what had been a home a few hours ago the DAT Team, led by Bob Leighton, found the homeowner and started listening to understand the situation. This was my first time witnessing what the DAT teams do on the ground. Every situation is going to be different, and I am starting to understand how important it is to be available to listen.
There were still fire engines and groups of firefighters everywhere, so Leighton took the residents around a corner of the street where it’s quieter and more private. In an oversized jacket and flip flops a woman recounts her plan to get supplies and ready the kids for the day ahead. Kind neighbors stepped up to give them a place to stay. I know they will be taken care of, but I still ache listening to her and wish I had a cup of coffee or some meager form of comfort to give her in the moment.
Leighton pulls out his laptop and the hood of his vehicle becomes a makeshift workstation in a surprisingly streamlined process. The team gently coaxes the information they need from our clients to help them get back on their feet. It can be a process and it requires sensitivity when working with people who have just experienced such a crazy night. Leaving the scene at 6:30 a.m. the tiredness hits me. My eyes are barely open but I can’t stop smiling. It feels like I did something worthwhile, something that matters. Every time a DAT team goes out and cares for strangers, and changes their night is something that matters.