American Red Cross volunteer Gary Coffey, of Russell in St. Lawrence County, was one of the key responders from the Northern New York Chapter of the American Red Cross following the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Gary’s experiences in Boston as a Disaster Mental Health Supervisor help frame why Red Cross volunteers willingly give so much of their hearts and souls to the Red Cross mission of alleviating human suffering.
Gary’s background as a responder is too diverse to list all of the duties he has performed for the Red Cross. But essential to this story is that he is both a licensed mental health practitioner, and he specializes in Polytrauma.
Polytrauma is a medical term describing the condition of a person who suffered a traumatic brain with other multiple traumas. It’s a common term among U.S. military members because Polytrauma often results from injuries caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). In those cases, the injured very often suffer both mentally and physically.
Gary’s background expertise made him a highly qualified candidate to travel to Boston and why he felt especially suited to offer his help.
Upon reaching Boston about five days after the bombings, Gary helped with the healing process of family members related to those who were directly injured or who had died. He was also available for the developing mental health needs of the responders, and became a resource for the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
Gary helped moderate the memorial service for the MIT officer killed in the line of duty shortly after the bombings. And Gary accompanied the families of the injured and dead when they were first taken to Boylston Street, the location of the bombings, where many family members kissed the street and wept in agony and pain.
Gary, who has been a Red Cross volunteer for 15 years, was in Boston for 10 days. When asked about what he’ll remember the most about his trip, he said it was the way the community supported and cared for the people who were affected. He has been on many deployments, including 9/11, Hurricane Ike and Superstorm Sandy, but the compassion in Boston was unparalleled, he said. And the community support for the efforts of the Red Cross nurses and client caseworkers, and compassionate response from spontaneous volunteers and other mental health workers, will always be etched in his memory.
Following his return to the North Country, Gary Coffey did what he so often does following a deployment of this nature: He went into the woods near his home for a few days to find the solitude and strength he needs to be available for his next deployment.
As we all know, there will be another disaster and Gary will be there, proudly representing the Red Cross and helping those who need it most. Most volunteers don’t consider themselves heroes, but they all know they make a difference. Gary’s work in Boston was yet another example of why volunteers do what they do for the Red Cross.