Devastating wildfires continue to burn out west, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate. Many of these evacuees are depending on the American Red Cross for emergency lodgings, food, water and other assistance right now.
Some of the services the Red Cross provides is helping people with medical or disability needs or providing emotional and spiritual support during these challenging times. This includes replacing prescription medications, eyeglasses or other medical equipment. These services are provided by Red Cross volunteers who have thus far made more than 22,400 contacts to help people in need.
Here are two stories about our disaster health services volunteers:
NURSE HELPS FAMILY GET VITAL MEDICAL SUPPLIES
Just as she was waking up, Jessica Alvarez received a text warning to evacuate her home. Flames from the Creek Fire were bearing down on her neighborhood. A few minutes after this call, the air around the Alvarez home was filling with choking smoke. Her young, chronically ill daughter began to cough and experience shortness of breath.
With precious seconds ticking away, her mind began to race. “It seemed as if everything was moving in warp speed,” Alvarez recalls. “I immediately carried my weak daughter into the car with her two sisters following close behind. I started the car with the air conditioning running to help her breath easier, then I ran back to get a few things as the fire was approaching our home.”
But in the frantic move to evacuate, Alvarez forgot to pack her daughter’s critically needed medical equipment and medications. Remembering what she’d forgotten just a few miles down the road, she wanted to turn back but it was too late – the fire was too close and the roads were already closed.
Alvarez was able to get to a Red Cross evacuation center, where she was provided with a hotel room and other essentials like food and emotional support. Desperate for help to replace her daughter’s medical equipment and medicines, she turned again to the Red Cross, dialing the number she had been given earlier. She explained her predicament to a Red Cross volunteer and was met with compassion and understanding. She was quickly connected with a Red Cross nurse, Debby Dailey.
“When Nurse Debby called me back,” admits Alvarez, “I was crying hysterically. But she remained calm and reassured me that I wasn’t alone in this and that together we would get this figured out.”
Nurse Debby quickly tapped into her knowledge of available resources to provide overnight shipment of the lifesaving medications and equipment for Alvarez’s 7-year-old daughter. Her compassionate care and attention were met with tears of gratitude when she was able to meet the Alvarez family in person at the hotel where they were staying. Jessica Alvarez could not hold back the tears as she thanked Nurse Debby over and over for helping her little girl. Behind all the masks there were big smiles from the entire family as Jessica Alvarez tearfully shared, “I am so very, very thankful for the help and support from the American Red Cross.”
NURSING STUDENTS STEP UP TO HELP
“I didn’t know half of what the Red Cross does, despite having used their services when I was in the Navy. My grandfather got sick with pancreatic cancer, and the Red Cross got me home before he passed,” recalls Glen Golden, 46, a nursing student with less than four months to graduation. He belongs to a diverse graduating class, who are currently serving as Red Cross volunteers on the Creek Fire response in Central California. “It’s a fantastic organization and I really appreciate the chance to be involved.”
Jessica Lira, a Red Cross nurse volunteer and Golden’s National University clinical instructor, brought her community health students into the Red Cross for some real-world experience, training them since August in disaster preparedness and response. When wildfire evacuees from the Sierra Nevada foothills were displaced to the valley city of Fresno, this cadre of third-year nursing students were already trained, allowing them to step right up to conduct health assessments at area hotels.
“When people are told they only have 15 minutes to get out of their homes with a wildfire approaching, it’s common to forget something they might really need,” explains Lira who has been volunteering with the Red Cross for a year. “We are finding that even if they did grab their medications, it’s been more than a week since they left home. Evacuees with asthma or other respiratory problems are using up their inhalers from frequent use because of all the ash in the air. They are running out of medication to control blood pressure, regulate their heart condition, and so on. Doctors’ offices and pharmacies are closed in the evacuation zone, so people can’t get a refill. That’s one of the ways the Red Cross can help.”
Led by Lira, Golden and his teammates are attempting to visit all evacuees — hotel by hotel, room by room, conducting detailed interviews about their disaster-caused medical needs. Responses are triaged so that urgent cases are handled first. Red Cross Disaster Health Services and partners then may provide items such as replacement eyeglasses, medication refills, glucometers and supplies for diabetic home blood sugar testing, home medical assistance, referral to mental health services, pre- or post-natal care, and a vast array of other vital support.
“It’s because of my child that I am here. In 2014, my wife got pregnant. Our baby spent 56 days in the NICU. I realized then, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to be a nurse and help people,’” reflects Golden, whose son is healthy now.
Golden enrolled in National University’s nursing program upon retiring from his career as a Navy flight corpsman attached to a Marine Corps helicopter squadron at Camps Pendleton and Lejuene. His wife is still active duty and stationed in Guam with their kindergartener. Golden hasn’t seen them in two years, first because of the demands of school, and now because of travel restrictions enacted since the coronavirus pandemic, which are especially restrictive for an island territory like Guam.
“I miss them so much. FaceTime and WhatsApp are lifesavers,” says Golden, who meanwhile has recruited a new volunteer. “I called my brother in Delaware and told him what I was doing. He went and joined the local Red Cross there. He said I inspired him.”