Lake Havasu City (Oct. 25, 2017) – It can’t be said that Lake Havasu City resident Steve Irwin knew he would be in a Red Cross shelter, riding out Hurricane Irma with 2,500 evacuees, when he joined just weeks earlier. “Irma was very loud, the thunder was very close and the building was cracking and moaning!”
Irwin joined the Red Cross after years of experience in disaster assistance/recovery through his career in distribution for a big box retailer. The company works with government agencies distributing water, food, and supplies during an emergency event. They also dispatch employee volunteers to clean up after the events. Additionally, Irwin held a position of “Chief of Emergency” at a racetrack. “Now retired, I wanted to continue to give back and be a part of the before, during and after side of disasters and community needs,” he said.
Irwin got his wish on September 5th when he was asked to deploy to Florida in anticipation of Hurricane Irma. “It took seconds to decide I was going,” he reports, “but I was in wonderment about what I was about to walk into.” He boarded a plane where a number of people, adorned in Red Cross shirts, were bravely headed in that same direction.
When landed, he was assigned to a team and eventually reached a shelter where evacuees were already lined up to pre-register. This was an evacuation shelter set up for people and pets to safely ride out the storm. He and other Red Cross volunteers got to work handing out water, meals, and snacks and providing comfort. Because of Irwin’s abilities to provide calmness to people, the shelter made him “spiritual/social manager or something like that,” he said modestly.
“The storm lasted for 4+ hours, then complete silence,” he said. Slowly, people began to regain cell service so they were able to confirm, via the internet, the storm had passed. The shelter was on lockdown by law enforcement. By daybreak, the lockdown had been lifted, the doors opened up, and the place cleared out but not before evacuees sought out Irwin for hugs and handshakes of thanks. “That is what makes this work so rewarding.” By noon, the shelter was closed and Irwin was traveling to another shelter.
In route to the next destination, Irwin saw mass power outages, serious flooding, damaged homes, downed trees, long gas station lines and traffic jams. “I saw people, some standing in water, looking at their houses most likely assessing the damage,”
He arrived in St. Augustine Beach to a shelter that would hold about 33 people. “It received the same amount of attention as the big shelter,” he said.
Upon his return, Irwin summarize his experience as this: “It was rewarding and I learned a lot. The challenge was worrying about people and keeping them calm by example. I drew from my experience in being flexible, on my toes and accepting constant changes. That is key in doing this kind of work.”
When asked if he will deploy again? “Absolutely! It is an amazing experience helping others! Anyone interested in being a part of something bigger than themselves needs to join the Red Cross. There are many projects other than being deployed that are just as rewarding!”
Irwin’s wife, Kathy, joined the Red Cross a month ago. She is doing casework. I think we can all rest easier knowing Team Irwin is helping to take care of us.
Written by Christine Sorenson - Executive / Event Coordinator, American Red Cross – Arizona/NM/El Paso