Every eight minutes, the Red Cross responds to a disaster to offer care, comfort, financial support and relief. But we don’t show up in a community after a disaster – we’re already here. As you’ll see on this page, the Red Cross touches lives in each of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts. We are your neighbors, your teachers, your students, your friends and maybe even your family. Explore some of what we’ve done recently – and if you’d like to make the Red Cross mission even stronger, please consider making a financial or blood donation or joining us as a volunteer.
The SOS came in on a Friday night—a multiple building fire was wreaking havoc in a Massachusetts town, and the Red Cross dispatch operators were overwhelmed with callers, desperate for help. Newly trained volunteer Tycho Dickerson was asked if he could jump on dispatch and help with the call volume to assist those victims. At the time, he had no idea that this would be a nonstop eight hour shift.
Only 15 years old at the time, Tycho felt the adrenaline and urgency flow through him like a potent electrical current. From the moment he said, “yes,” the calls came in one after the other. When asked if he felt out of his depth, being so young and with only a little experience, he touted the leadership and support of one of his supervisors and lead disaster coordinator, Jim Mosso.
I am positive that I am petrified and hate needles. Over the years and still to this day at 26 years old I: cry, scream, become nauseous, almost pass out, try escaping, skip routine bloodwork, only receive required vaccines and in the past even lied about an appointment’s location when a family member took me for bloodwork. Needles and I do NOT get along. I suffer from myofascial pain syndrome/fibromyalgia as well as other health issues; all of this causes widespread pain thus making needles even more difficult for me. I can vividly feel the whole process, from the needle going into my body and staying in to either the vaccine going into my body or with bloodwork the removable of my blood. It is extremely painful, and I try to avoid them at all costs, until now.
Cary Quigley has been with the American Red Cross of Massachusetts for nine years and has spent her time working to improve the community. Quigley feels a call to this work; she is a bereavement counselor by profession and spends both her professional and volunteer life devoted to providing witness and validation to those in need.
Quigley lives and volunteers in Berkshire County and has fully committed herself to her role in the Red Cross. Through the work she has done she has brought the Berkshire Red Cross team into a role of more prominence and has undertaken the task of actively continuing to make the group visible.
The reputation of the Red Cross as a large-scale service provider and its contributions first attracted Quigley to the idea of working with them. However the bond was solidified after the traumatic events of a fire.
“It was a smoldering fire, by the time the smoke alarms went off the visibility was about 10 inches,” Quigley recalled. “Myself and my two dogs left the bedroom and entered a house that was completely engulfed in smoke… I ran out of the house, no shoes, got my dogs into the car and moved my car onto the street.”
Because Quigley lives in the rural Berkshire area the Red Cross didn’t come to her until the next day, however they got in touch with her through local volunteers. She met her future fellow volunteer, Glenn, and he provided her with the care she needed. “It’s a very vivid memory standing in my driveway having him respond. He was by himself because this was back awhile, no big fancy vehicle or a team, just Glenn.”
The personal connection made through the local volunteers is what Quigley wants to emphasize in her Red Cross work. “For me it’s an opportunity to provide witness and validation to a population that doesn’t necessarily have another vehicle for that to happen except through the Red Cross.”
Quigley has been focusing on building the Berkshire team. Because the area is so rural there aren’t many fires, and even if there is one there is guarantee that all the volunteers would get called. However recently the team has undergone a resurgence of interest. “For whatever reason we’ve had five really phenomenal people all sign up in the last two and half months, a retired fireman, a retired EMT, solid grounded people who get how hard this is. It’s two o’clock in the morning and they’ll come in.”
Volunteers are the heart of the Red Cross, and Quigley thoroughly articulates what is needed not only as a volunteer member but also as a good member of the community. “You have to have compassion, you have to have patience. You have to know how to put your ego in the back pocket; it has to be about them. You have to be perceptive to understand what that person's truth is vs. what your own truth is. You have to be really open to all different diversity of people that you meet and respect and value how they put their lives together and help them restore that life and not necessarily try and create a new life for them. This means you have to be really respectful, people put their lives together in different ways.”
The team has worked very hard as a small group to maintain an investment in the Berkshire community. The Berkshire team is under the umbrella of Springfield but they have a keen awareness of their own identity. Their sense of community urges Quigley to become self sufficient within her own county.
“What I say to our team is ‘thank you, and I know this is hard, but these are our neighbors, this is our community, and we don’t want to have to ask for Springfield to come and back us up, we want to be able to take care of our community. We have a strong sense of identification.”
The major challenge Quigley has faced is the lack of visibility the Red Cross has in the community. “We’ve lost a way of being recognized. We don’t have a tangible representation in town or any town anymore. We come from all over, which is a good thing, but we don’t have a place with a big flag out on the main street that says ‘here we are, here’s your Red Cross.’ We have to find a way to create a buzz and create a presence in the vacuum.”
She herself has endeavored to become the face of the Berkshire Disaster Action team and has gone to several meetings to have a physical representation. Quigley is also trying to get more Red Cross representatives at Response Team meetings in trying to determine how to give the Red Cross a presence. Quigley is the Red Cross representative for the Western Massachusetts Community Organizations Active in Disasters, or COAD.
“To have somebody say it’s more than just fires, it’s more than just blood, it's more than just the other community things we do. It’s about participating with the emergency response teams as part of COAD. When a big thing happens we need to be able to stand on our own and I need to know and be recognized by the police department, by the fire department, by COAD, by the food bank. I need to know all of the systems because Springfield, as much as the team is fantastic, might be busy. So what I see as being important is not only saying that these are our neighbors and they need us to be there when their house burns down, it’s also our COAD and our town emergency managers and our regional emergency committee, they need to have us be a part of that. Even if it’s just we quietly sit at a table and say ‘we’re listening. We’re still here, and we’re part of the bigger picture.’”
Quigley finds rewards in helping in the personal face of disaster. Because of her own experience she truly understands how to emotionally support the victims and brings meaning to her work through her help of others.
Quigley reflects, “I am very acutely aware of the personal side of a disaster. I think there’s lots of ways the logistics of trauma are handled; where are you going to go, how are you going to eat, what you’re going to wear, how do you get in touch with your family, all those kind of logistical things are managed by Red Cross but not everybody who participates in that recognizes what’s going on under the surface. For me it’s rewarding knowing that I’m somebody who actually understands. When I look at and talk to somebody, I can sort of just ever so gently nod in a way that says ‘yeah, I know, I do, I really do know.’”
The rewards that Quigley gets from her volunteer work are solely altruistic. “I see when people feel heard, that for me is incredible rewarding. Just the smallest moment when you can see that they just kind of look at you and say ‘thanks, not thanks for the clothes or thanks for the food, just thanks.’”
Quigley stated that, though she hopes their team continues not to be an active chapter in terms of fires, she wants to be there when big fires happen to take a lead in the community.
“I want to be ready… two or three years ago we had Curtis hotel which for us was a very big fire. You know sad kinds of things happen where 80 elderly people become displaced. I want to know my team is ready and know how to lead on that. I take pride in that we are cultivating a team that’s going to be able to be there to lead on our own needs.”
Cary Quigley’s work for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts in the Berkshires is a testament to the hard work of a talented community devoted to helping the needs of others.
I’ve been telling the Red Cross story as a communications professional for four years and thought I knew the ins and outs of what we do. But nothing prepared me for the first moments of my first-ever national deployment assignment.
I was at a multi-agency resource center (MARC) in Lodi, New Jersey, assisting a member of the media looking to connect with a client. I introduced myself to a woman in her 60s and asked how she was doing.
She burst into tears.
The woman had lost nearly everything she owned in a flood. The water came in through her first-floor windows so quickly, she could only grab a few photos and run upstairs. Her husband has an autoimmune disorder that gives him constant pain and significantly impacts his mobility. They didn’t have flood insurance. They couldn’t afford a hotel room. He was running low on medication. They needed help.
I would love to say I was able to answer this woman’s questions, walk her to each table and sit calmly by her side while she received every bit of help she would need. But all I could do was rub her back, and let her cry into my shoulder until another volunteer reminded me, there were trained Red Cross caseworkers ready to help.
This would not be the first time I felt unprepared for what a post-hurricane relief effort felt like.
There are so many facets to the work the Red Cross has done in New Jersey in the two weeks since Hurricane Ida brought widespread, deadly flooding. Volunteers have brought hot meals, sandwiches and snacks into communities like Manville, where I met a family living out of their car because they did not want to leave their pets in an animal shelter.
In Rahway, I was explaining to a news photographer what was inside the cleanup kits we were handing out – things like mop and broom heads, a telescoping handle, cleaning solution and gloves. He says he knew all about the contents – because the Red Cross had brought the same kind of kit to his house after Hurricane Sandy.
In Lambertville, I saw at least three different expecting mothers – ready to pop – who had the presence of mind to accept not only emergency items but the teddy bears we offered, so that no matter when and where they delivered, they could have at least one soft, clean item for that new baby.
And at every step of the way, I have seen Red Crossers leaning in, lugging boxes of supplies, heating meals, driving emergency response vehicles, listening to tragic and horrifying stories, arranging financial assistance, providing emergency items, staffing shelters, connecting with partner agencies, providing emotional support, shelter, food and love. So much love. For strangers. From strangers. For New Jersey. From everywhere.
I’ve grown a lot in the last four days. And, while I’m still personally unequipped to make things OK for the lady at the MARC or the moms who might go into labor not knowing if they’ll have a home to bring their new baby back to – I can proudly zip up that reflective vest and say, I’m a tiny little part of an organization that is meeting those needs in tangible ways, one mop head at a time.
After four years at the Red Cross, I am finally a Red Crosser.
Of the many ways a person can volunteer their time, there's an option to directly impact people in a time of crisis and uncertainty. Whether it's a natural disaster like a hurricane, or more commonly an accidental one, like a house fire, the American Red Cross plays a critical role in helping children and adults as they begin to recover from losses. The organization relies primarily on volunteers, but there just aren't enough of them at this time. Deb Duxbury, disaster program manager for the American Red Cross of Northeast Massachusetts, says her current staff of 25 volunteers is barely big enough to cover the 59 communities in Essex County and part of Middlesex County they are responsible for. She said prior to the pandemic a disaster action team would typically arrive at the scene of an incident and begin gathering personal information from displaced residents. But as of March 16, 2020, her volunteers have been doing most of their work by phone, after fire officials gather essential information about those displaced and relay it to the Red Cross. Duxbury said residents displaced by a recent house fire in Haverhill were given money for hotel stays, food and clothing. The Red Cross also helped pay for medical prescriptions that were lost, she said. Follow-up case workers referred the displaced residents to other community-based agencies such as Ruth's House and the Salvation Army, Duxbury said. Her disaster action teams are available around the clock, working in six-hour shifts. "In the month of March, my team responded to 18 fires," she said. "It's taxing on our volunteers, about two-thirds of whom have jobs then come home to their families, to spouses, or to parents, and then sign in for their shift." TRENDING VIDEO One of those volunteers is retired Haverhill High teacher Dave Reed, 70, of Bradford. He joined the organization during fall 2017, about the time Hurricane Maria devastatingly swept across the northeastern Caribbean. Reed is now a member of three different Red Cross teams: The disaster action team led by Deb Duxbury, a recovery casework team and a Mass. Care shelter team, both of which are Red Cross functions. "I'd retired from teaching at Haverhill High for 36 years and the Red Cross was looking for volunteers," he said. "Deb Duxbury conducted some initial training. We also participated in training online." One of his first calls was to an early morning fire in a multi-family building in Lawrence. "Since I'm bilingual, I was able to speak directly to some of our clients," he said. "As a member of a recovery team, I call clients back in 24 to 48 hours to see how they are doing, where they are staying and what other needs they may have." Reed has responded to dozens of fires and other disasters, and helped provide shelter to people displaced by the Merrimack Valley gas explosions in Sept. 2018. "People don't often know where to turn while they are in the middle of a crisis, so we're there to provide some stability and peace of mind," he said. "It feels good to be able to help and I encourage others to get involved as much as they feel comfortable with." After a fire department calls the Red Cross, volunteer "duty officers" gather information about the clients then they call Duxbury's volunteers. "In addition to gathering personal information, we'll ask if they have a place to stay, if they've lost medication and if they would they like to speak to a member of our mental health team," she said. Volunteers might transfer money electronically while they are on the phone with a client. "If they prefer a debit card we'll send a disaster action team member to where they can meet the client," Duxbury said. Her volunteers average about 20 minutes or so on the phone with a client. She said the state manages recovery volunteers as well as duty officers and mental health providers. Her 25 volunteers are split into two teams: Northeast 1 and Northeast 2. Duxbury's first team is half the size it should be — with 20 volunteers instead of the preferred 40. Her Northeast 2 team should have 40, but only has five volunteers. "We've been shorthanded for a long time and COVID-19 brought it down lower, to where it is now," she said. "Pre-COVID we had about 45 volunteers, which is still short of the 80 that we'd like to have." For more information on becoming a Red Cross volunteer, visit online at redcross.org and click on the tab for "Volunteer" or call 800-564-1234.
Fall River, MA
When the Red Cross got the call from the New Bedford Fire Department to respond to a fire involving 144 units, the eight Red Cross volunteers heading to the scene prepared for the worst. The Red Cross of Massachusetts sends volunteer emergency response teams to almost 700 house fires a year; while most are single family house fires or apartment fires involving up to 50 people, the teams rarely see a disaster of this magnitude.
Mark McLoughlin, Red Cross Volunteer from Fall River, and his wife Rhonda, arrived on the scene around 11pm. Mark described what was going on, "When I got on scene the residents of the building had been evacuated to the parking lot across the street. We handed out dozens of blankets, snacks and water as the night was a bit chilly and the people were understandably in shock."
"At this point, all we could do was wait for the Fire Department to determine the condition of the apartments in the building. A 'non-livable' unit means the resident must find alternate accommodations. And with 144 units in play, we were floating the possibility of opening a shelter. We just didn't know how many people were going to be allowed back into their homes - if at all."
While waiting, Red Cross volunteers worked through the early hours of the morning making sure people had what they needed. An elderly gentleman needed to sit so he rested in the Red Cross emergency vehicle. Several mothers needed diapers for their children. Others just needed reassurance. The Salvation Army showed up to to provide additional food and hot drinks.
After a few hours, it was determined that only ten of the 144 units were unlivable. Families who had been out in the parking lot all night were able to return to their homes. Families of the remaining ten apartments needed help so the Red Cross volunteer trained in providing individual casework set to work to provide assistance so that they would have emergency lodging, food and whatever basic needs (such as clothing or medication) they might need. Red Cross volunteers also coordinated with the New Bedford Police to provide transportation to the affected families to their respective hotels.
Mark and Rhonda McLoughlan got back home about 4am. The next morning, Rhonda was back at work providing additional casework assistance to families that needed.
Said Mark, "Rhonda and I were both aware that there was a tremendous amount of people in need at this fire. To be able to help, to make sure everyone had what they need - this is why both Rhonda and I joined the Red Cross."
Special thanks to all of the volunteers who helped: Shawn Curran, Andrew Enos, Rhonda McLoughlin, Mark McLoughlin, Christopher McNeil, Anthony Lessa, Rachel Keen, Paul Hoy and Ellen Sullivan.
The American Red Cross is working to reduce the incidence of harm by residential fire by 25% by providing home fire education to adults and children and by installing free smoke detectors in homes across the Commonwealth. For more information, to get yours free or to join us in our fight to #endhomefires, visit us here.
Ron and June Beckley
Sharing a love and passion for one another after years of marriage is something to celebrate this Valentine’s Day. Ron and June Beckley also share a passion for helping others, and that passion is shown nearly every day with the American Red Cross of Massachusetts.
The Beckley’s story began like so many volunteers. In 2005 just after Hurricane Katrina had let loose her destruction on the Gulf Coast, the Beckleys saw the devastation nightly on television news. Gulf Coast residents wandered home-town streets that storm surge from the hurricane had wiped clean. A constant visual on the news was the red disaster vest worn by volunteers from across the United States, called to help as part of the American Red Cross response to the disaster. Red Crossers walked the streets of coastal towns helping residents piece their lives back together while yet more Red Cross volunteers worked to provide a safe and dry place to spend the nights.
It was these images that brought the Beckleys to the Red Cross. Within a year, they both gained disaster qualifications to respond to national-level disasters as well as disasters near their home in Gloucester. For over 10 years, Ron and June have become fixtures in Northeast Massachusetts.
“Right now I’m the Volunteer Recognition Lead for the state,” said June Beckley. The new position is part of an effort to keep volunteers consistently engaged with volunteer connection, and as the Volunteer Recognition Lead, June finds new ways to highlight volunteer efforts in order to help retain trained and active volunteers.
Ron Beckley has been both nationally and internationally deployed in support of disaster relief operations. His focus has been Disaster Services Technology (DST) support, helping improve communications in the disaster response area. Ron is one of about 15 DST managers from across the Red Cross. Ron was also an employee of the Red Cross Reserve program, using his past experience in law enforcement to investigate possible fraud that occurs as part of disaster operations.
Together, Ron and June Beckley have worn nearly all the hats the Red Cross has to offer, according to Ron. From sheltering, mass feeding, home fire response, administrative work and disaster deployments. And their commitment remains as strong as ever, nearly 12 years later.
There is a common thread with volunteers who have been involved with an organization for years. Conversations about the work usually turn to the good things volunteering has done for the volunteer. New friends, great experiences, a feeling of deep personal fulfillment; connecting with other volunteers and those affected by disasters is all part of the emotional experience that binds Red Crossers together.
But it’s the Red Cross that’s benefits the most from the years of service from dedicated volunteers like Ron and June Beckley. So on this Valentine’s Day we’d like to send our heart-felt thanks to all our volunteers who show so much passion every day for the humanitarian mission. Volunteers are what make the American Red Cross the organization it is.
Hyannis Port, MA
One day in the late 1990s, Tangley Lloyd was listening to the radio while on vacation on Cape Cod. A Red Cross volunteer working in disaster relief was being interviewed. Part-way through the interview, the Red Cross volunteer’s beeper went off and almost before the segment was over, he was on a plane heading to the disaster site. Tangley thought herself, “This is great! This is what I want to do!”
After Tangley returned home, she signed up to volunteer. As a licensed therapist and social worker, her mental health background proved an excellent fit for the Red Cross. As a Disaster Mental Health volunteer, Tangley’s mission is to be supportive to clients. She and her team help them “get back up and running,” restoring them to their level of pre-disaster functioning, offering plenty of community resources as needed and available.
Tangley’s first assignment was in 1998, helping out in Oklahoma after it was ravaged by their largest-ever tornado. This experience was very special to Tangley because she met Red Cross volunteers from all over the country. Some even came in wheelchairs and crutches, yet everyone had a job to do (e.g., computer work) and were a huge asset to the relief effort.
“I was there for two weeks and loved every minute of it. It opened my world to see the generosity of the American people. I see these massive group efforts at every disaster, big and small. People give above and beyond what they can. It’s amazing.”
Over Labor Day 2016, Tangley went to Baton Rouge as part of an Integrated Condolence Care Team. Many people had moved to Baton Rouge from Katrina after they had lost everything, including loved ones. “I listened to someone for 2 ½ hours who’d lost her grandma. It was hard but we were the best of the best, and I’m proud to be a part of the Red Cross.”
Supporting the Red Cross has special meaning for Tangley. Her father, who she never knew, was killed over Guam in World War II during a special Navy mission in June 1944, and his body was never found. Also, Tangley’s uncle served as a pilot in Korea, who became missing in action in 1952.
Tangley recently attended a Red Cross “Service to the Armed Forces” event: the inauguration of a memorial statue at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne. This emotional experience made her feel that “things had come full circle” with her family’s sacrifices, adding that, “My life is now moving toward getting more involved with the Red Cross.”
The Department of Defense (DOD) contacts the families of MIA, POW, and KIA soldiers. Tangley also attended a local meeting with her daughter for MIA families. This, too, was emotional for Tangley. “It was the first time I’d really talked about this with those who’d experienced the same thing.”
At the meeting, experts explained how in searching for bodies they look for bones and matching DNA samples. Tangley learned that reconnaissance missions in Guam recover approximately one person per year, and that a rice paddy farmer had seen her father’s plane go down in low tide, with only fuselage showing, so there was no chance for survivors.
“The DOD has done such an incredible service. I never knew there was a vehicle for this. The people are amazing; everyone is very respectful and appreciative. And they’re apolitical, which is fantastic.”
Labor of love
In addition to providing relief to disaster victims, Tangley supports Red Cross staff. Many volunteers become tired, especially if they’ve just come from another disaster in another state.
“I love volunteering with the Red Cross, and plan to be a part of it as long as I can. As long as I can still hear, which is key as a mental health professional, I know I’ll be able to help people. It’s very rewarding, and close to my heart. The Red Cross means a lot to me, and there’s a place for everybody.”
Ken Boyajian began volunteering with the American Red Cross in November 2018. A recent retiree, Ken was looking to stay busy in retirement, as well as working in his local community. Remembering the recent gas explosions in Lawrence, Ken knew helping with the Sound the Alarm campaign would help families be ready in the event of another local disaster.
Question - What region were you volunteering for the Sound the Alarm campaign?
Answer - Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover Massachusetts.
Q - Was this After the gas explosion disaster?
A - Yes, the gas explosion was a year before, last September.
Q - What is your background?
A - I am retired, I retired last July and joined the Red Cross in November
Q - Are you a member of the Disaster Action Team?
A - Yes, it is a team of first responders with the Red Cross, responding to a disaster scene in your local area. You volunteer by registering online and committing 4-to-6 hours, several times per month. In case of a disaster, these team members respond by providing comfort and necessary resources, like finding a hotel, food, clothes - anything to help the victims of the catastrophe until they can recover.
Q - Are most disasters fire related?
A - Yes, most of the tragedies in the area are fires, but in other parts of the U.S., such as the Midwest and Southern States, there are hurricanes, tornadoes, and other major national or regional disasters. I am in the mailing list of those too. They mainly occur in June, July, and August. I help in setting up shelters for the victims, for two weeks at a time.
Q - Is there anything that surprised you, or you unexpectedly encountered during the Sound the Alarm smoke detector installations?
A - Yes, I thought you had to be an electrician to do so, but I learned they were battery powered and not connected to electrical wires. So, you don’t have to be an electrician to do the installations, and it was an easy activity.
Q - What was your assessment of smoke detectors in homes, are there many homes without them?
A - In most instances, the smoke detectors are old and therefore malfunctioning or not working at all. Smoke detectors have a 10-year life span, and therefore, people quickly forget about them. We were, thus, going in and checking if the ones installed are functioning. It was beneficial to many that needed new units. People were very appreciative of the campaign.
Q - What challenges did you encounter doing the installations?
A - It was an easy straight forward process. We were well prepared beforehand, and the campaign was professionally managed
Q - Why do you volunteer?
A - Two reasons: keeps me busy, and I love helping other people. I have made many friends from the Red Cross, and our efforts and contributions are well appreciated. Sound the Alarm was an excellent service that hopefully will prevent significant disasters and unnecessary deaths from fires. I applaud the Red Cross for this service, and I am happy to help.
Just before 5 p.m. on a cold Monday night, the Red Cross received a call to respond to a house fire on Sheridan Street in Fitchburg. Steven Oskirko, Owen Mangan responded with me to the fire scene where we saw that the entire third floor of an apartment building was burned out. The two floors below were completely flooded from the hoses of the Fitchburg Fire Department. Firefighters had brought the fire under control before it severely damaged any surrounding buildings, and placed all 20 residents, wrapped in blankets, inside a warming bus just away from the building.
Our Disaster Action Team (DAT) did its evaluation of the scene and we planned out how to best help the four families affected by the fire. We opened the Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) and brought water and snacks to the families, trying to provide some comfort to them inside the bus, out of the cold night where overnight temperatures hovered around 16 degrees.
The look on all their faces was plain shock. While everyone was thankful for making it safely out of the building, a few residents were visibly upset. It’s a look DAT volunteers see across the United States.
While I was speaking with a few residents, a young girl came over to me with a questioning look. She looked up and asked if I was going to help her ‘big family?’ I told her, ‘Yes, we were going to help,’ and I would see that she and her family would have a place to sleep tonight. She smiled and went on to tell me she smelled something weird before she heard the smoke alarms, and alerted her father who was sleeping in the next room. Her family lived on the third floor, the floor completely destroyed in the fire. As other caseworkers assisted her family, I went and found one of the small stuffed teddy bears we carry in the ERV. With a smile she gladly accepted the bear and told me thank you.
Luckily, the building’s smoke alarms sounded the alert and all the residents were able to make it out of the building safely with their pets. As it is in so many cases, they were only able to make it out with what they were wearing.
A resident said to me last night, ‘I never thought this would happen to me.’ So many fires everyday around Massachusetts and we still don’t believe it will impact us, we never think that the home affected will be ours.
I can’t say thanks enough to the Fitchburg Fire Department. They do a wonderful job taking care of those affected until the Red Cross arrives.
While recovery is difficult and personal items can be replaced, the building smoke alarms worked wonderfully. Hands down, those smoke alarms saved lives that night.
There are common threads Red Cross disaster volunteers see every day at home fires. The smell of a home fire is generally described as that of a campfire, and it’s the first sensation every new disaster volunteer experiences. Then there’s the sound of controlled chaos as firefighters, police, residents and bystanders crowd into what was a quiet street just hours before. Fire trucks, police cars, yellow tape strung from fences to porch railings, flashing lights, TV cameras; home fires are quite literally an assault on the senses.
Paws of hope - A Massachusetts State Police officer holds a cat who miraculously lived through a home fire in Lawrence.
However, the most common scene that sticks with me at a home fire is the look of complete shock on the faces of those most affected by a home fire - people who in an instant have lost their home and often their sense of safety and security.
In late November, a fire ravaged a multi-family home in Lawrence at around noon. Several families spilled out onto the cold and rain-soaked streets to escape the flames, taking shelter in a local Disabled American Veterans (DAV) meeting hall. The fire consumed the three-story building along with pretty much everything in it. Residents lost everything, fleeing the flames with literally the clothes on their backs, and in several instances, without shoes or coats. One person ended up in the emergency room after suffering a seizure, but largely everyone escaped unharmed, at least physically. Red Cross volunteers were there to assist those affected by the fire and help them with the first steps in recovery.
If you can find a bright moment among all the loss, and believe me, most look for that moment; it was a lost pet that was thought to be taken by the devastation.
As Lawrence firefighters and the Massachusetts State Fire Marshalls began to gain access to the structure after the smoke had cleared, a resident asked a fireman if they had come across a cat anywhere near the fire. The fireman passed along a few comforting words, saying most pets naturally find their way out or find a safe spot to hide out in.
Being a relative rookie to home fire response, I thought these were merely comforting words meant to distract from an already horrible situation. I for one could not imagine what it would be like to “ride the fire out” (as the fireman had put it) as a cat inside a burning building. Needless to say, I had little hope for the owner and assumed it was another terrible aspect of how fires devastate a person’s life.
Hours went by as Red Cross disaster team members spoke with residents, helped them find hotel rooms and gave out debit cards loaded with the financial assistance the Red Cross provides. Dinner was brought in for everyone, final conversations were had and those affected slowly started those first steps in moving forward from what was likely the worst day of their lives.
One person stayed longest, and before she left she made sure we had her cell phone number in case the fire inspectors found her missing cat. As she walked out the door, I knew I would do the same. I would be filled with the same worry over a pet, even after a great loss.
I learned two final things that night in Lawrence; that we seem to have everything in the back of a disaster vehicle and that it’s okay to hold out hope in tragedy. Eight hours after the fire started, a Massachusetts State Policeman walked into the DAV building. In his arms was a medium sized grey and white cat, a little soggy from the day, but who did indeed ride that fire out. Mathew Georges-Coker, a seasoned Red Cross volunteer, miraculously brought in a collapsible, cardboard pet carrier from the back of the disaster truck and neatly tucked the cat inside, where he waited until his owner picked him up.
I work in the Communications Department with the Red Cross, helping tell the story of our volunteers and the good they do in local Massachusetts’ communities. The fire scenes I’ve been to never leave me. When I go back to take photographs of the remaining burned out structures, it’s sobering to imagine the lives and the living that went on inside. I can see through doors that no longer close, into kitchens and living rooms filled with singed and soaked furniture that made a house a home. Small possessions – teddy bears, photo albums and kitchen utensils - are still there, but they are either burned, muddied or trampled by the firefighters working to save the building. These possessions can never be replaced, and that’s the real tragedy I see on the faces of people in shelters or the back of an Emergency Response Vehicle, people in their first hours of starting over, taking those first steps.
I’m glad the Red Cross is there to provide the first steps for the faces I see. I’m glad there are dedicated volunteers like Lisa, Bob, Mathew and Justin; who dedicate themselves and donate their time to help others. Most of all I’m glad I have the chance to work for an organization that is dedicated to humanitarian service to those faces in need.
Provincetown businessman Steven Latasa-Nicks has been trained in CPR and First Aid for as long as he can remember. But it was during his freshman year of college he took his skillset to the next level.
“I was working as a dispatcher for the campus police and they needed someone to train the department in CPR.”
Training up as an instructor was something Steven was happy to do. But it wasn’t until he and his husband opened their restaurant Strangers & Saints in 2016 that he realized his training set him apart from many people.
“You just don’t think about the number of emergencies you might encounter in the restaurant business,” he said, citing everything from kitchen to choking hazards to other customer medical emergencies.
Steven worked out a deal with Provincetown’s local health department; if they would budget to purchase the necessary training supplies, Steven would re-train as an instructor and teach classes on his own dime.
His involvement with Training Services led Steven to other Red Cross lines of service – most notably Disaster Cycle Services. Soon, he was leading DAT responses and preparedness trainings around the Outer Cape.
Steven secured Red Cross vehicles to participate in the 2019 Provincetown Carnival parade. He says, while the vast majority of the spectators he encountered were grateful to see the Red Cross logo, every so often he would hear a chant of “You don’t belong here!”
While Steven understands some members of the LGBTQIA+ community are frustrated with the FDA’s policy deferring some men who have had sex with other men from donating blood – he says that policy does not represent what the Red Cross truly stands for.
“In all the Red Cross responses I have been part of, one thing that comes through is that members of the family unit receive the same support no matter what the family looks like, with no bias. That support is baked in to all our trainings, too. Photos of same sex families feature prominently, and all volunteers are instructed not to consider race, gender, sexuality, religion, legal status or anything else other than the need that is there to be met.”
And, Steven says, the best way to ensure those needs are always met – and that the Red Cross continues to evolve along with the communities it serves – is to build from within.
“The more LGBTQIA+ volunteers the Red Cross recruits, the more inclusive our services become.”
If you would like to learn more about volunteering for the Red Cross of Massachusetts, please visit redcross.org/volunteertoday or email MAVolunteers@redcross.org
Steven Latasa-Nicks has been a Red Cross volunteer since 1984. In addition to his work as a CPR/First Aid instructor and Disaster Cycle Services first responder, he and his husband own Strangers & Saints, a restaurant located on Commercial Street in the East End of Provincetown.
When a life is spent serving and protecting your fellow citizens, retirement can leave a void that was once filled up with the simple idea of helping people.
After a 25-year career as a Massachusetts State trooper, Keith McAuliffe was finally home to shovel snow instead of out patrolling slippery roads across the state. When hurricanes stormed into coastal cities across the Northeast, he no longer had to answer the call for volunteers to deploy for weeks away from home.
It didn’t take long for Keith to realize helping people wasn’t just part of his job, it was his true self.
“I always looked at my law enforcement career as more helping people, and the Red Cross gave me a way to continue that on a local level. It’s exactly what I was looking for,” said Keith.
With his new-found free time, Keith signed up as a volunteer with the Mass Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross. As Keith worked his way through the different trainings required to become a member of a Disaster Action Team (DAT), he started to gain a better understanding of Red Cross mission and the different activities designed to achieve that mission.
“I always thought of the Red Cross as blood donation and big disasters around the country and around the world,” said Keith. Having just retired from a position that had him often away from home in the worst conditions, he wasn’t looking to go all over the country on deployments. “I was surprised when I started going to the trainings and they talked about the local stuff they do.”
Keith began responding to home fires as part of a Boston Metro DAT team, finding that staying local and helping his neighbors piqued his interest. “This is what I’m looking for. It’ll keep me busy and I can continue helping people, and do it on my terms, on my time without being overwhelmed with it every day,” said Keith. He later added, “Once you get into the work, you want to do it every day.”
It’s been nearly three years since Keith joined the American Red Cross. Now he works primarily behind the scenes, updating documentation and building and distributing the Disaster Morning Report. He works with Red Cross paid staff to make sure home fire response documentation is entered correctly, ensuring the smooth delivery of services to those affected by local disasters such as home fires.
Keith also takes pride in training new volunteers, helping them understand how they fit into the Red Cross and can achieve fulfillment from their work.
“The feeling you get when you’re out helping people who are at one of the lowest points in their lives, that feeling of good that you get makes your feel better as a volunteer. Knowing that you’re helping people who are at the point of taking those first steps after a home fire, it renews the good feeling you get as a volunteer.”
Keith knows everyone comes to the Red Cross for his/her own reasons. But the humanitarian spirit lives within every mission of the Red Cross, and it’s that spirit that draws in so many volunteers who are there, night and day, to bring comfort to those in need.
Every volunteer is drawn to an organization for a different reason. However, it is the desire to help their fellow humans that binds Red Cross volunteers together around the world.
Eduardo Sagarnaga came to the Red Cross about four years ago. He, like many other Metro area volunteers, felt compelled to help their fellow citizens in the Boston area after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
When the American Red Cross announced a new program in 2014, aimed at reducing the number of people in the United States killed in home fires, Eduardo was one of first volunteers to engage in the Metro area. Eduardo worked to adapt the program’s materials for use in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods, first focusing on Chelsea.
Eduardo continues as member of the Metro area’s Disaster Action Team, responding to home fires around Boston and other outlying communities.
Eduardo now splits his DAT volunteering time with International Services, working with coordinators in Cambridge as well as Washington D.C., to help reunited families through the Reconnecting Family Links program.
“We have a liaison with the International Red Cross, and we’re helping people find members of their family who have gone missing,” said Eduardo. Currently he’s working with a Guatemalan family who has a son who tried to immigrate to the United States and who hasn’t been heard from since 2008.
“It’s a tough job because it’s hard to find people who have gone missing,” said Eduardo, who knows sometimes even bad news can give closure to families in search of hope. “Sometimes we are successful, sometimes not, but we keep on doing what we do to help these people going through difficult times.”
Armed conflict, international disasters and migration leave millions of people around the globe in urgent need of humanitarian assistance every year. In turn, violence, natural disaster, forced migration or other humanitarian emergency can cause families to be scattered to places unknown. Through its worldwide network of volunteers, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent helps find out what happened to the sister who disappeared after boarding a boat in Viet Nam, the wife whose husband was presumed dead in Uganda, or the American family of a Pole whose father fled to the U.S. during WWII.
Eduardo's role in providing this free and confidential "tracing service" is invaluable. His volunteer work gives hope to families looking for loved ones and supports Massachusetts residents affected by local disasters. By volunteering with Disaster Services and International Services, Eduardo makes a difference here and abroad.
Since the spread of COVID 19, disaster response has been different within the American Red Cross. Responders aren’t able to talk to clients face to face, as social distancing keeps people six feet apart at all times. Pivoting to comply with COVID 19 practices, Bonnie Norton’s sleeves are rolled up, her heart is open, and she is all in, just as her email signature says! Six years and 11 deployments since a former Red Crosser named Larry S. introduced her to Red Cross, Bonnie’s energy, kindness and compassion remains apparent to all.
Bonnie’s sleeves have been rolled up as a caseworker and recovery lead, and more so even now as she has assumed the new responsibility of actively engaging volunteers and regional partners within the Northeastern MA territory. Once at a multi-level apartment fire in Reading, she helped residents by reassuring them that all would be okay, and their cats would get out safely. In this single incident she wore two hats at the scene--one as a responder and one as a caseworker.
A couple of days later at a Multi-Agency Resource Center event, this same family instantly recognized her. These clients were very grateful for Bonnie, and she was grateful that both the clients and their cats survived!
Community members also might remember Bonnie from teaching Preparedness in schools using ‘The Pillowcase Project’ and ‘Prepare with Pedro’. She fondly remembers getting inspired by the responses she would hear from children. “They are like sponges in that they instantly absorb the information given to them.”
Bonnie’s heart is open, whether it's for those she helps or for those who help her. Coming from a large traditional family, where she didn’t have a lot, she looked to her mother who helped her neighbor who had six children. It was this early development of Bonnie’s caring attitude towards others that led her to become a stand out Red Cross volunteer.
The humanity and impartiality that Bonnie provides clients fits in with the Red Cross mission. “I've been able to talk to the same clients that I service the night before and the level of trust that builds from this single interaction has been impactful for not only me but also for them, and I like that part a lot.”
When on a Red Cross mission, Bonnie remembers taking a break and coming back to a note left on the windshield of the car saying, “Thank you for your service.”
Since COVID 19, the in-person service the Red Cross provides has changed temporarily, and with Bonnie also taking the lead, she and her team has had to adjust their delivery method. “We're trying our best to give them that same compassionate service that we normally would, but sometimes it's a little more difficult doing virtual because we’re unable to gauge the other person ... [their body language -- sense of nervousness and helplessness].”
For whatever role she takes on, Bonnie prepares for that role ahead of time whether it’s documenting the names of the people who would be involved or reading up on the mission. “Being prepared to fly” is her personal preparation motto. Her attentiveness and her caring and encouraging messages to volunteers has equipped her well in this new role where she is communicating regularly between Emergency Managers and other Red Crossers, and is feeling more and more confident in this role each day. Bonnie is very thankful for those around her, whether a volunteer or employee, and maintains that it’s all a team effort when getting things done. Bonnie’s suggestion to anyone that joins The Red Cross is to stay committed to the mission, don't do anything you're uncomfortable with, and rely on your peers and supervisors as they would have your best interests at heart.
Red Cross volunteer Heather Shampine, Senior Project Manager of Emergency Planning with National Grid, spent two weeks in Texas responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Heather wrote a two-part blog entry for the American Red Cross describing what it’s like to respond to a massive disaster, how she made new friends from across the Red Cross, and what it’s like to experience life-changing events while helping people profoundly affected by the flood waters brought by Hurricane Harvey.
September 15, 2017:
As I penned the story of the first half of my Houston experience, I was working at the George R. Brown Convention Center, set up as a then 2,000-bed shelter. About midway through my Texas deployment, after emailing a few leads to inquire if they needed additional help in other areas, I was able to move into the damage assessment role. This task required us to deploy in 2 or 3-person teams from the Red Cross HQ in Houston out to the various affected outlying communities to assess the degree of damage the flooding had done to homes. This provided the first real, up-close view of the devastating effects of Harvey. I was immediately overwhelmed at the sight of street upon street lined with piles of debris. The entire contents of homes – beds, clothes, stuffed animals, furniture, photos, carpets, and heirlooms- were laid out for a huge dump truck and claw to pick up. Unfortunately, the debris had a very distinct odor much like the city dump or a trash truck. That smell was everywhere. It was very sad to see people who were already very impoverished who had so little to begin with, who had now lost everything, not knowing what they would do next. On the other end, I also saw a neighborhood of homes that were new, large, and likely very expensive, all destroyed. There were people who opined they were “not so bad off as they had the money” to recover. One couple we encountered proved that assumption to be so very untrue. They had just bought their three-year-old house and had used their life savings to do so. The husband, nearly in tears, reminisced about how happy they were in their home, that at Christmas time it would still be in shambles. They were heartbroken. Hugs were given that day.
In as much as the scenes I encountered neighborhood after neighbored were sad, as I had at the shelter, I saw many examples of the resiliency and the fantastic attitude the people of Houston and Eastern Texas had. It blew me away and recharged me over and over again. So many people just refused to be down, said they’d get through it somehow, and many leaned on their faith to get them by and move them forward.
Just before I left Houston to come back home (and I was very homesick by then!) I bought a coffee cup and magnet at the airport to remember Houston by. But, what I will always remember and what will stick with me, is the incredible spirit of the people I met - that of my fellow Red Cross volunteers, but mostly of the courageous, kind, and tough people that Harvey just couldn’t keep down.
Three Red Cross volunteers were honored July 26 at the Regional Headquarters for their lifesaving work as Red Cross volunteers.
Interim CEO Chad Priest took time out to present commendations to William Marengo, Don Dooner and Louis Couillard, Red Cross volunteers here in Massachusetts.
The fire chief in Hopkinton, Mass., sent a letter to Volunteer Services praising the work of Red Cross volunteers and the important work they do daily across the Commonwealth.
Below is the text of Chief Stephen Slamen's letter.
Dear Ms. Flynn Jebb,
I am writing you in regard to exemplary actions that were provided by your staff in Hopkinton on June 17, 2017. While our crews were working a medical detail in support of a 5K road race, we witnessed extraordinary actions of your members in the response and care to a runner that had fallen due to a medical condition. On arrival of our crews, we found William Marengo and Don Dooner actively involved in providing lifesaving medical care to the patient. My paramedics reported that they found quality CPR being performed on arrival and as a result they were able to successfully convert the patient’s lethal rhythm back to normal. As of this date, I understand that the patient is making great progress in his recovery and I hope to update you with more complete news in the future.
My interactions with your Red Cross group was both professional and impressive. Your staff clearly understood their skills and worked well together as a team. It is my pleasure and honor to report to you that you have quite a talented team and we really appreciated their service in Hopkinton on June 17, 2017. In addition, I would like to recommend that you consider them all for a letter of commendation, they truly deserve it.
I spoke with Lou the team leader and informed him that I would act on this once I realized the patient’s outcome. If I hear more positive news from the patient I will see if we can honor your group here in Hopkinton with the patients consent and/or involvement. The members that I was able to identify and look to honor were team leader; Louis Couillard, William Marengo, Kelsey Sullivan and Don Dooner.
Stephen T. Slaman
Fire Chief, Hopkinton Fire Department
Do you have a great Red Cross experience to share? Has the Red Cross impacted your life as a client, volunteer or through one of our training programs? If so, we want to hear from you!