By: Chloe Hamilton
Michael Barber’s first experience with the American Red Cross came after receiving help during a disaster in May 2022. A member of that Disaster Action Team reached out to him about volunteering. Now, he is listed as a Disaster Action Team supervisor, although he does so much more.
In addition to his current position as a supervisor, Barber is also a chapter driver. This means he can drive the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERV), and is responsible for ensuring the vehicles are well-supplied for any use. Another position he mentions is called a “Hotshot,” helping install free smoke alarms and educating on fire safety during Sound the Alarm events.
When he’s on schedule and an emergency arises, Barber and his team, including new recruits and associates, are dispatched out, with him as the supervisor. He works directly with fire departments to “keep confusion down” in the event of emergencies. Cooperation and communication, as he stated, is important to keep panic down and help others. When training other volunteers, he is in charge of team organization and pointing the team to where they need to go.
Barber is a man of many hats, talents and positions. This includes his 30-year career as a healthcare benefits worker and a veteran medic, making it clear that he has made it his life’s work to help others. “It’s in my genes to help,” he describes with enthusiasm. “I’m so glad that I made the decision to join the Red Cross, and that the Red Cross accepted me.”
Though he does not volunteer for any sort of recognition, Michael was happy to tell several stories about his work, and the work of the Red Cross, visibly having an effect on others. One such example of this was when he was helping a family whose house had burned down. "When I told the family that they were going to order them items such as clothes, food, and essentials, the mother and her two teenage boys were so happy, they were in tears," he said.
"When I put on the Red Cross shirt…I get this sense of pride," he said. "Being able to help others is the main reason why he enjoys his volunteering."
In a more recent instance, when doing a damage assessment for the storm-impacted DFW area, he found a woman whose roof was blown off her house, but she was still living inside. Working with the local community, Barber was able to find a restoration team that would fix the roof for free if she had the supplies. Barber then found a Home Depot that was more than willing to donate the needed supplies. This community cooperation, as Barber affectionately described, is another one of his main highlights of working with a community-centered organization
On the front lines, he has also found gratitude. Barber described another emergency his team handled, where a couple lost their entire home to a fire late at night. By the time Barber and his team arrived, neighbors were taking care of the family. As Barber and his team introduced themselves to the couple and offered financial assistance, the couple refused. They did not want any financial assistance, rather they would donate to the Red Cross just for being there to help.
As with his line of work, Barber acknowledges that there is mental pressure that comes with the job that should be well-managed when on a shift.
“The last thing they need to do is see you stressing,” he states, before describing a couple of instances in which there could be a serious mental toll, such as with a fatal fire. As a member of the Red Cross, he explained, a volunteer needs to have “compassion, empathy and patience. If you don’t have those, you won’t survive in Disaster Services.”
Barber is open about reaching out to Disaster Services himself for mental health counseling, encouraging fellow volunteers to do the same. Being open about mental health issues is how they can be dealt with before problems arise in the volunteers’ work or way of life.
Despite any troubles though, Barber’s passion overtakes any obstacles that might prevent him from being able to help others. In every story he shares about working with the Red Cross, he emphasizes the excitement of working and helping others.
“It’s a pleasure to volunteer with the Red Cross,” and reiterates his readiness to go at a moment’s notice whenever disaster strikes. According to Barber, he has no intentions of stopping anytime soon. “My goal, when I retire, is to volunteer with the Red Cross or become a full-time employee.”
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