Retirement and a whole new beginning

When a life is spent serving and protectingrco_blog_img_kmca 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.hfc quincy

 

Local volunteer works to reunite families

Every volunteer is drawn to an rco_blog_img_edorganization 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. Ed 1

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.

RC volunteer recalls the exhilaration of volunteering during blizzard of ’78

Red Cross volunteer recalls what the storm was like in Boston

Social media helps us connect and reconnect with Red Crossers. The communications team was monitoring Facebook and discovered a volunteer from many years ago posting about his experience with the Red Cross.

 – In the mid 70s + I was privileged to be a part of Mass Bay. A group of us would do the Arlington parade in the morning then come over to help with 1st aid along the marathon course. Remember, in those days OEMS was not what it is now!! 20 years of memories at many events and disasters. A growing up experience I will always be proud of!! – Jack Duncan

We invited Jack to talk about his Red Cross experience for our blog.

__________________________

For many years I have referred back to my daysblizzard-personal with the American Red Cross as a volunteer on the Mass Bay Disaster Team. I started around 1974, continuing in Boston until the mid-1980s when I moved to New Hampshire. Because of physical issues, I never joined the field team but I did work with the then Director, representing the team by sitting in on planning committees for disaster and hazardous materials plans.

The communications team asked me what impact the Red Cross had on me? Well, lack of sleep was likely the biggest. That period was a very busy period in time with many early morning fire responses.

But the Blizzard of ’78 had an enormous impact on me and stands out among all of my experiences as “my Red Cross story.” I was 24-years old and a student at Bridgewater State University (then College). I was majoring in Earth Sciences and we had been watching the development of the storm. A good friend, Donald Walker, was in charge of the Mass Bay Disaster Team and helped me arrange an overnight stay at the National Weather Service (NWS) at Logan Airport to fill my role as the Meteorology liaison where I would be focused 100 percent on tracking the storm.  I spent the night working with senior Meteorologist Tom Fair, and I can say I learned more in that one night than in years at college.

As there were no online radar systems at the time, all we had to work with was satellite feeds over a very large Radioteletype plotter. I will never forget the 2 a.m. feed we received that showed the low had developed into an ‘eye’. When I left the following morning, Tom gave me that printout and his non-public forecast.  Thanks to National Weather Service (NWS), the Red Cross team was able to stay a step ahead in the game and positioned multiple teams across the Mass Bay area before it even snowed! My best friend to this day, Ben Gedaminski and I set up multiple meteorology measuring devices on the roof of our former site. (Yes, I admit, I had a blast going up to the roof to take readings during the storm — still the same geek to this day!)

blizard-3Once the storm ended the reality of what hit us was beyond belief. Since Emergency vehicles were the only ones allowed on the streets (thank you Governor Dukakis), Ben and I were able to travel to our homes in a Red Cross vehicle to West Roxbury to grab a week’s worth of clothing and extra gear. We made it to his house with little trouble but my mom and family lived on the highest hill in Boston and the city plow could not make it up that hill. On arrival we had to climb six-to-eight feet snow drifts to get there.  (We brought my mother milk and dry milk to weather the storm.)

On returning to Boston proper we now had the next job: Build a helipad!! We truly thought our leader, Don Walker, had lost it but he went out on the street and negotiated a very large front end loader. After clearing the space, the Boston Fire Department came and hosed down all of the snow walls so the helicopters would not get caught in a snow blind condition when they landed.  While this was occurring Ben and I, along with other volunteers, pulled a large four-point lighting system together and ran it off our large wheeled emergency generator. Don Walker pulled off a miracle with his team and created a pad large enough for 4 military choppers.

One of the critical needs was food soBOSTON BLIZZZRD we needed to get to our supplier off route 128 in Needham.  I was the only one who knew how to get there so I was quickly assigned to a National Guard helicopter. It was amazing watching other National Guard teams rescue people off their roofs because in that area the snow was well over the first floor. Shelters were opened quickly by other Red Cross volunteers and staff.  All of this activity went on for seven days, working in shelters, getting food to those stranded and pretty much doing anything and everything.  All of us Red Cross workers slept where we could and averaged about three hours of sleep per night. When all was finally said and done, the storm was nicknamed the “Blizzard of Love” because except for a few minor incidents it was the love and human resilience that got us all through the winter of 1978.

You asked what impact the Red Cross had on me. To this day there are two things that stick with me.  The first is that all of the inventing and creativity we had with communications during the storm operation lit a radio bug in me; I get to tinker here at work where I am in charge of the New Hampshire Parks communication system.  The second is another skill I brought to New Hampshire with me!  The knowledge gained through years of working with the NWS helped me land a “Weather Forecaster” position with a radio station here in New Hampshire, where I worked for seven years.  It seems I’ve come full circle as I continue to provide severe storm updates for the New Hampshire Parks Service and with Facebook.

All in all, my Disaster Team and First Aid team experience with the Red Cross will stay with me forever!

Jack Duncan, former volunteer, Mass Bay and New Hampshire Red Cross

 – Jack continues to run a Facebook page called Concord NH Weather 

 

 

MA Volunteers head south following deadly storms

As photos and stories of the devastation in therco_blog_img-tornado Southeast United States stir emotions around the country, volunteers from Massachusetts have deployed to help ease the suffering of so many affected by the deadly tornadoes that struck a week ago.

The American Red Cross is on the ground providing shelter, food, relief supplies and other support to help people across the country after a tumultuous weekend of severe weather. Dozens of tornadoes and severe weather left a path of destruction in areas of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida over the weekend. In addition, southern California has been hit with another storm, bringing heavy rains, increased risk for landslides and leaving thousands without power.

People continue to deal with the devastation from severe storms and at least 60 tornadoes over 48 hours last weekend. The American Red Cross is with them, providing food, shelter and help with recovery. Red Cross workers will support those affected for as long as help is needed.

At this time reports indicate more than 1,100 homes have been affected across Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida. The Red Cross anticipates this number could increase once all inaccessible areas are accessed. Red Cross response vehicles are circulating through the hardest-hit areas, delivering food and relief supplies as people clean up their homes. In Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, Red Cross and community tornado-2partners have served over 30,000 meals and snacks, distributed over 8,000 relief items, and provided 900 Health Services and Disaster Mental Health contacts. At this time the Red Cross has mobilized over 500 workers to help those in need.

“Red Cross disaster volunteers across the country are responding to severe weather with comfort and support for people whose lives have been interrupted and turned upside-down,” said Ralph Boyd, CEO of the American Red Cross of Massachusetts. “Our volunteers will deploy for two-week shifts, helping residents in affected areas with financial assistance and offering a safe place to stay after these deadly storms. We will be there, in multiple affected states, standing alongside our partners as these communities recover.”

As of January 24, 2017 the Red Cross estimates it will spend more than $1 million helpingtornado-3 people affected by Southern tornadoes and storms in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. We need the public’s support to help the hundreds of people still suffering. This cost range represents our best estimate at this time and may change upwards or downwards as the situation continues to evolve and more information becomes available. It includes the costs of providing food, shelter, blankets, cots, emotional support, health services, relief supplies and initial casework support. It also includes some of the costs that make relief possible including logistics, staff and technology expenses to support such a significant disaster.

A teddy bear’s comfort on a cold night

by Jim Mosso, DAT Supervisor, Central Massachusetts

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.fitch-pic-1

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.

fitch-pic-2A 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.

A Fire, a Cat & Renewed Hope

by Jeff Hall, American Red Cross of Massachusetts

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.

fire-cat-pic
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.

Grateful to Serve

Welcome to our new American Red Cross of Massachusetts Regional blog…

Welcome to our new American Red Cross of Massachusetts Regional blog, where we hope to open a window into how much good we do here at the Red Cross and how, each and every day (and night), we help people on what will most likely become the worst day of their lives.

So I went to WordPress today and set up a blog. I mined my daily experiences for little anecdotes, but the overarching theme that kept popping up for me was how grateful I am to be surrounded by such a wonderful, committed and hilarious group of teammates across the Commonwealth. These are the people – both paid and volunteer, who load supplies on our vehicles, draft and redraft planning spreadsheets, and give hugs and hope to families who have lost everything in a house fire at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Then it occurred to me: the Red Cross Family is about giving of themselves.  Sometimes a shoulder to cry on is enough, and we’ve had our fair share of those who make use of ours. Other times, we give food, mental health support, a warm place to sleep. It’s the hope that things will get better that inevitably seems to do an outsized amount of good.

Here’s an interesting statistic: our region deployed a total of 27 volunteers to the Southern States date to assist with the Hurricane Matthew response.  Thirteen of them are still there, sleeping on uncomfortable cots in group shelters eating their meals ladled out of sanitized rubber tubs known in the “trade” as Cambros. That’s thirteen sleep deprived people working 12 hour shifts six days a week with limited access to greens, drowning in coffee and far away from the comforts of home. It takes about a week to detox from these deployments.

Kathleen Connors, a woman from Ontario who went to North Carolina on vacation and returned as a Red Cross volunteer, said about her experience: “it’s great to see the looks on their faces when we say we have toilet paper…”

Sounds glamorous, right?

Actually, what it is is life-changing. Yes, for the people whose lives have been shattered, but also for all of the thousands of people who regularly give whatever they can to help improve the situation of others.  For some, it’s the time it takes to pour a cup of coffee. For others, it’s manning the telephones so that members of our community in need know someone cares. We have volunteers who coordinate teams to rush to fire scenes so that families burned out of their homes have a place to sleep that night. We have volunteers helping military families get through terminal illness, death, or the more general stressors of daily life. For the majority of us, it’s what’s in our hearts that compels us to step up, get up or just show up for the simple end of making a positive difference in others’ lives. Helping feels good. If you don’t believe us, believe the people in this video montage who needed our help the most:

So on this day of thanksgiving, and as you read these forthcoming features about our people and our work, we invite you to consider what you might do to make the world a better place. If you’re looking for ideas, we can certainly help. Get a preview of how you can join our family by going to http://www.redcross.org/volunteer.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.