By Gordon Williams, Northwest Region Volunteer
When the phone rings late at night at Bruce Crist’s Snohomish WA home, it could be a wrong number.
But it could also be a Red Cross duty officer alerting Bruce to a disaster somewhere nearby, with individuals in urgent need of help. Bruce is a volunteer with the Red Cross Northwest Washington chapter, based in Everett. As a volunteer, he is a member of the chapter’s Disaster Action Team (DAT). It is DAT members who respond to disasters — bringing Red Cross emergency assistance to those who have been displaced by fire or storm.
It is challenging work but deeply gratifying. “We are making a difference for folks who really need it,” Bruce says.
If the idea of making a difference to someone in need appeals to you, the Red Cross is the right place at the right time. March is Red Cross Month, making it the perfect time for those with free time and good intentions to volunteer. Some Red Cross workers are full-time, paid employees, but 90 percent are like Bruce — volunteers.
Bruce himself is a retired school teacher and administrator who first volunteered for the Red Cross in mid-2022.
There are plenty of roles a volunteer can play at the Red Cross. The organization collects 40 percent of all the blood consumed in the U.S. and blood drives rely heavily on volunteers. The Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) helps members of the military and their loved ones through family emergencies, but Red Cross teams around the country respond to 60,000 disasters a year — mostly home fires but also floods, earthquakes, winter storms and more.
So the need for DAT volunteers is constant. If joining a DAT strikes your fancy, here is how the Red Cross describes the function. “Most of the 60,000 emergencies that the Red Cross responds to each year are local personal disasters like home fires,” says a national release. “Trained and available, Disaster Action Team volunteers are ready to respond to these emergencies, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. From offering a shoulder to cry on, to meeting immediate needs for shelter or supplies to connecting people with long-term recovery services, our volunteers ensure that families don’t have to face tough times alone.”
To learn how that plays out in real life, look no further than the fire that destroyed a mobile home in Darrington WA in early January. A late-night phone call alerted Bruce to the fire. A 45-minute drive brought him and DAT partner Chris Sutton to a small trailer park in Darrington — a remote logging community deep in the North Cascade Mountains.
The Red Cross team had to wait until daylight to drive through the wilderness that surrounds Darrington. “When we got there, the fire was out and all that was left was the frame of the trailer,” Bruce says. “Everything else had burned.”
Three people lived in the trailer. Two had left the scene and the main occupant had been taken in by neighbors. That meant there was no need to seek emergency shelter for the night. That resident lost several pets in the fire and was deeply distressed. He definitely was in need of a shoulder to cry on.
Plus, “his daily medication had been destroyed by the fire,” Bruce says. “He was very concerned with getting the medication replaced as soon as possible.” Red Cross DAT teams don’t carry replacement medicines, but they can quickly get in touch with Red Cross Disaster Health Services who were able to speed up the process of getting a new supply of medication.
Bruce and Chris registered the client into the Red Cross system — opening the door to longer-term assistance from a trained caseworker. They issued a Red Cross Client Assistance Card with a financial allotment to help with immediate needs. The team also provided a voucher for the nearest Goodwill store.
In his six months as a DAT volunteer, Bruce says he has already responded to several dozen calls — up to two or three a week sometimes. All have been house fires. Chris Sutton, his response partner, has logged more hours and more responses, making him a valued teacher.
“Chris has been at it for a long time,” Bruce says. “That makes him a good person for me to learn from.”
Bruce moved to Washington a few years back to be closer to family. Looking for a way to do more for his adopted community, he opted for the Red Cross. He considers his choice of volunteering for a Red Cross response team a good one.
“I find it very gratifying,” he says. “When we arrive at a disaster, we find people in shock. They are appreciative of any help we can give.”
If providing a helping hand when it is needed the most appeals to you, make the most of Red Cross Month and volunteer. To start the process, go to redcross.org/volunteer.