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 days 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!)
Once 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 so 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