Story by Cassi McCarrick, Red Cross Communications Volunteer
A lot of us grew up hearing stories about how the Red Cross offers assistance of various nature in major disasters all over the world, it was only recently that I became aware of the work they offer locally.
“One of my biggest fears came true when I woke up to the smoke,” describes a Tampa woman whose home caught fire in June of 2019.
“Not only do I live alone, but I’m elderly, and I don’t have family in the area. The rebuilding process can be a hectic and confusing time,” she adds.
Fortunately, Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteers are on call 24/7 and respond to emergencies every eight minutes, 90 percent of which are house fires.
“The Red Cross really helped put my mind at ease. They were quick to respond, sitting down with me to make sure I was okay, quick to offer assistance, and they didn’t waste any time getting that assistance to me,” she explains.
“I lost just about everything in the fire; they were definitely a saving grace in the situation. I also appreciate the fire department, I don’t want to downplay anyone who helped, but once their job is done, and the fire is out, what happens then? The way they sprang into action shows they really care.”
Curious about how the DAT program works, I spoke to John Lanzetti, a 5-year volunteer DAT coordinator of the Greater Orlando Chapter, who gave me the rundown on the entire process.
He explained that Red Cross national dispatch receives the initial call, then notifies the regional DAT duty officer, who then dispatches a team. After making contact, the trained volunteers go to work, reaching out to connect with the fire survivors, sometimes on the scene.
“Our first priority is the health and well-being of everyone involved,” Lanzetti explains. “We sit down with them to explain our process, see what they need -- whether it be medication that was lost, clothing, temporary lodging, and food.”
After the details are sorted out, the Red Cross provides a donation of financial assistance so the family can meet their immediate needs.
He adds, “We also offer comfort kits consisting of the basic necessities like toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner. We want to make sure they are as comfortable as possible. We then connect them with a volunteer case worker who follows up to help walk them through the next steps in their recovery.”
The Red Cross also offers health and mental health services to the families involved, if needed.
“Being a volunteer with the Disaster Action Team has calmed me down,” says Lanzetti. “I’m retired military, sort of had that ‘my way or the highway’ attitude, but seeing those affected by these disasters and being able to help out has taught me compassion, there’s bigger things happening in the world.”
About the author: Cassi McCarrick is a recent graduate of Florida State University. She plans a career in writing and production.