Something that will never go away: Two Red Cross responders on the 20th anniversary of 9-11

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

For those of us old enough to remember, the September 11 terrorist attacks have left a lasting impression. This is especially true for two American Red Cross staff members deployed following the attacks: Debbie Chitester, disaster program manager for Greater Akron and Mahoning Valley, and John Gareis, regional manager, Disaster Preparedness, Northern Ohio Region. Debbie was in New York placing volunteers where they were needed, mostly to respite centers near Ground Zero. John was across the river in New Jersey assisting those impacted. I spoke with both about their experiences.

During our discussions, clear memories vividly emerged. John recalled photographs of those missing posted everywhere as loved ones searched. Smoke rising from the rubble when the wind was still. A woman, covered in soot after escaping one of the towers, using a magazine cover photo taken of her as identification. Hearing Ray Charles perform “America the Beautiful.”

September 12, 2001. New York City, New York. The day after the World Trade Center collapse, an American Red Cross disaster worker joins rescuers at Ground Zero. Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Debbie remembered people from all walks of life volunteering to help. Being able to see and hear people with flags and signs thanking the Red Cross and others as she traveled to the volunteer processing center each day.

Both recalled the concern of their families, as at the time much was unknown, including whether there would be further attacks. But they focused on their jobs. How nearly everyone had either been deeply affected or was close to someone who was (not more than “two degrees of separation,” as Debbie put it).

Both also recalled how many sought to help any way they could, including here in Northern Ohio. While they saw the effects of a terrorist attack firsthand, they mostly spoke of the resilience and good they witnessed.

After news of the attacks, Debbie and John immediately responded. Debbie, then a disaster specialist, returned to the Cleveland office. While John, then the Wayne County chapter executive, was at a first aid station at the Wayne County Fair.

They saw Ohioans quickly respond. At the fair, 4-H children donated proceeds from animal auctions, over $30,000, to the Red Cross. Blood donors also responded. The Wooster office alone processed about 300 pints of blood the Saturday following the attacks. People in Akron donated a fire engine, The J.M. Smucker Company sent trucks filled with sandwiches, and several Red Cross volunteers and staff members deployed.

When commercial flights resumed, both Debbie and John deployed to New York for three weeks.

At the volunteer processing center, Debbie met people from the world over coming to help. They included chefs, teams from Microsoft and IBM, businesspeople, cabbies, stagehands, celebrities who did not publicize their involvement, and two French men who had been on a backpacking trip, all doing whatever was needed. So many, in fact, that the volunteer processing center operated 24 hours a day.

Across the river, John assisted those directly impacted and recalled different ways they dealt with the events. Some were methodical, others clearly traumatized. He worked with each, listening, caring, helping. The Red Cross also learned lessons still in use today, such as providing more flexible financial assistance.

Both emphasized the need to remember those we do not talk about enough. While those in the World Trade Center and firefighters are rightly remembered, we mustn’t forget those in the Pentagon, those who sacrificed themselves to save others on Flight 93, nor those in surrounding areas.

Even with their decades of Red Cross experience, Debbie’s and John’s post-9/11 experience remains with them. Both are grateful they were able to help and remarked that, while the scale may be different, the core mission, to alleviate human suffering, remains the same.

As Debbie put it, the post 9/11 deployment will always be a part of her life. “The Red Cross was there,” she said. “We did the job, and it is something that will never go away.”

Volunteers and blood donors are currently needed. If you would like to volunteer, visit this link. To give blood, click here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Rd Cross volunteer

To learn more about the Red Cross’ response following September 11, please read the following previous blog articles of reflection and remembrance:

SHARE THIS:

Mike Parks recalls Red Cross response to 9/11 attacks

By Mike Parks, Rear Admiral, US Coast Guard (Retired)
Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

Family and Friends of the Northern Ohio Red Cross:  This Saturday, we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our nation.  Now known as Patriot Day, it’s a time to remember the victims and honor the brave responders.  Literally within minutes of Flight 11 crashing into the north tower of the World Trade Center, the Red Cross began mobilizing to provide immediate aid—aid that continued for years.

September 12, 2001. New York City, New York. American Red Cross volunteers receive a briefing at the site of an assistance center near the scene of the World Trade Center collapse. Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Our massive relief and recovery efforts were funded by nearly $1.1 billion in generous donations, which were used to help more than 59,000 families affected by the terrorist attacks.  The Red Cross provided hundreds of millions of dollars in financial assistance to families that lost loved ones, injured survivors, first responders, residents of lower Manhattan who couldn’t return home, and workers who lost their jobs.  More than 57,000 Red Crossers from across the country (including several from Northern Ohio) served more than 14 million meals and snacks, opened dozens of shelters for people who were left stranded, and connected some 374,000 times with people to provide emotional support and health services.  Hundreds of thousands of individuals lined up to give blood as people from all walks of life showed up to help in any way they could.

As we remember the terrible tragedy of September 11, 2001, we come together as members and supporters of the American Red Cross to mark this day in solemn remembrance and with a renewed commitment to serve those in the face of disasters.  Large scale disasters often bring a nation together—9/11 certainly did.  Here is a short video clip that helps make that point with its stark contrast.  My sincere hope and prayer is that our nation does not have to experience another tragedy like 9/11 to unite us in the pursuit of our precious freedom as Americans.  Thank you for your tireless support of our American Red Cross—the world’s premier humanitarian organization—as we honor those that perished and salute those who preceded us in service. 

Godspeed…Mike

Reflections from two Northern Ohio Red Cross responders will be posted here tomorrow, on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Back-to-back disasters require nationwide Red Cross response

More than a thousand volunteers deploy to help those affected by wildfires, Hurricane Ida and flooding

Back-to-back massive disasters have more than 1,200 American Red Cross volunteers, including 32 from Northern Ohio, working tirelessly from coast to coast right now providing food, shelter and comfort to thousands of people in need. We are working around the clock with our partners to provide help to people struggling with the heartbreaking damage left behind by Hurricane Ida.

The Red Cross is working to provide help to people struggling with the massive flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. Wednesday night, some 430 people sought refuge in 13 Red Cross and community shelters across Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Some 130 trained Red Cross workers are on the ground now to support relief efforts. The Red Cross and its partners have already provided some 1,300 meals and snacks and distributed more than 100 relief items. Trained Red Cross volunteers have already made nearly 100 contacts providing emotional support, health services and spiritual care for people who’ve been evacuated.

Wendy Halsey of the American Red Cross hands boxes of Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) to Cassandra Simon in LaPace, LA, one of the areas of Louisiana which suffered extreme damage from Hurricane Ida. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

While massive flooding affected many states in the northern U.S., many southern states continue to deal with the aftermath Ida. Nearly 900 trained Red Cross workers are on the ground now to support relief efforts. The Red Cross and our partners have provided nearly 51,000 meals and snacks and distributed more than 16,000 relief items to people in need.

And, in the midst of responding to Hurricane Ida, the Red Cross continues to help people in California where tens of thousands of people are under evacuation orders as massive wildfires continue to spread. Red Cross workers have been on the ground since June helping evacuees find a safe place to stay, food to eat and emotional support during this heartbreaking time.

Red Cross volunteer Dave Wagner looks over damage from the Dixie Fire in Greenville, CA, a small town that was devastated by the fire on Saturday, August 7, 2021. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

The Red Cross expects to respond to more disasters in the coming months, as the season is only beginning. Financial donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters. To give, visit redcross.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

Individuals in unaffected areas of the country are urged to make an appointment to give blood to ensure a sufficient blood supply remains available for patients. Schedule a blood or platelet donation appointment by using the Red Cross Blood Donor app, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (800-733- 2767).

The Red Cross needs more volunteers now. If you have the time, you can make a significant impact. Review our most urgently needed volunteer positions at redcross.org/volunteertoday.

Northern Ohio volunteers respond to disasters at home and across the country

Busy weekend highlights need for additional volunteers

Over the weekend, disaster action team members from the American Red Cross Northern Ohio Region responded to local events and traveled across the country to assist those affected by national disasters. Locally, nine incidents occurred, affecting more than two dozen individuals. The Red Cross provided more than $7,000 in immediate assistance.

Fire damaged home in East Cleveland – Photo credit: David Huey, American Red Cross volunteer

As of today, 12 Red Cross workers from Northern Ohio have been deployed to a variety of national disaster responses, with a majority in California for the ongoing wildfire response. As tropical depressions like Grace and Henri are expected to continue in the coming weeks and wildfires continue to burn, the need for more volunteers is urgent.

Brigit Jackson is a nurse from Wooster who deployed to Portola, California to assist those affected by the Dixie Fire. She’s a nurse serving as a disaster health volunteer. In a message this morning, Brigit notes the winds have shifted southwest and more evacuations are expected.

Portola, California – Photo Credit: Brigit Jackson, American Red Cross Volunteer

“Just a little update! The smoke is dense today and it smells like burning wood/fire. Air quality is terrible. The Red Cross shelter in Quincy is probably being evacuated today as the fire is getting too close. We only have 3 nurses in this section of the disaster response operation. There are so many fires and not enough nurses. Most of the roads are closed, so travel is not easy.”

The Red Cross needs new volunteers to support disaster shelters. Volunteers will help with reception, registration, food distribution, dormitory, information collection and other vital tasks inside disaster shelters. And, like Brigit, the Red Cross also needs volunteers who can work in disaster shelters to address people’s health needs and provide hands-on care in alignment with their professional licensure (registered nurse and licensed practical nurse/licensed vocational nurse). Daily observation and health screening for COVID-19-like illness among shelter residents may also be required. If you are an RN, LPN, LVN, APRN, NP, EMT, paramedic, MD/DO or PA with a current and unencumbered license, this position could be right for you.

To learn more, please visit RedCross.org/volunteer.

Local volunteers and blood donors needed for busy disaster season

Many weather experts predict a destructive wildfire and hurricane season this year. The American Red Cross needs volunteers to help people who are affected by these disasters.

“We’re preparing for another extremely busy disaster season, and it’s critical to have a trained, ready volunteer workforce to make sure we can provide relief at a moment’s notice,” said Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio. “This year’s wildfire season is already very active and dangerous because of the severe drought and dry woodlands across the west. And experts are predicting we could see 10 or more hurricanes in the upcoming weeks.”

“We’re preparing for another extremely busy disaster season, and it’s critical to have a trained, ready volunteer workforce to make sure we can provide relief at a moment’s notice.”

Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

SHELTER VOLUNTEERS AND HEALTH PROFESSIONALS NEEDED

The Red Cross needs new volunteers to support disaster shelters. Volunteers will help with reception, registration, food distribution, dormitory, information collection and other vital tasks inside disaster shelters. Both entry and supervisory-level opportunities are available.

The Red Cross also needs volunteers who can work in disaster shelters to address people’s health needs and provide hands-on care in alignment with their professional licensure (registered nurse and licensed practical nurse/licensed vocational nurse). Daily observation and health screening for COVID-19-like illness among shelter residents may also be required. If you are an RN, LPN, LVN, APRN, NP, EMT, paramedic, MD/DO or PA with a current and unencumbered license, this position could be right for you.

Red Cross volunteer Dave Wagner looks out damage from the Dixie Fire on the outskirts of Greenville, CA, a small town that was devastated by the fire on Saturday, August 7, 2021. Many of the evacuated residents found shelter with the Red Cross in nearby Quincy and Susanville, CA.
Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

DISASTER ACTION TEAM MEMBER

Local Disaster Action Teams provide 24-hour emergency response to local disasters, particularly home fires, ensuring that those affected have access to resources for basic necessities such as food, shelter and clothing. If you are team-oriented and want to help your neighbor, the DAT responder may be just the thing for you.

Disaster Action Team members from Northern Ohio respond to a fire in Lakewood on Aug. 4, 2021.

At 1 p.m. today, the Red Cross will host a Facebook Live event where our experts will discuss the various volunteer roles and how you can get involved in helping families after disasters here locally and across the country. Tune in to learn more and get your volunteer questions answered.

Last year, the Northern Ohio Region provided immediate emergency assistance to more than 5,100 people after nearly 1,200 home fires and other disasters.

If you can’t join us this afternoon but are interested in helping your community when disasters occur, you can sign up online or contact our area offices at 216-431-3328 or neovolunteer@redcross.org.

BLOOD AND PLATELET DONORS NEEDED

Wildfires, record-breaking heat and a busy hurricane season can also impact the nation’s blood supply. On top of the toll extreme weather events take on the lives of millions, disasters can cause blood drive closures or prevent donors from being able to give safely. Eligible donors can help overcome the critical need for blood and ensure blood is readily available by making an appointment to give by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enabling the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device.

The power of personal connections: Transitioning back to in-person disaster response

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, many American Red Cross services are transitioning back to being in-person, especially in Disaster Response and Sheltering. While virtual response and other safety measures helped the Red Cross effectively respond to disasters during the height of the pandemic, in-person assistance was missed. As Mike Arthur, regional mass care and logistics manager for Northern Ohio, explained, the ability to provide hot coffee and a hug can mean a great deal.

In addition to Mike, I spoke with Tom Revolinsky, Red Cross disaster program manager for Northeast Ohio, and volunteer Mark Cline, whose many responsibilities include serving as lead for Disaster Action Team (DAT) and Sheltering Applications in Northern Ohio. Each spoke about how effective an in-person connection is for Red Cross responders and clients recovering from a disaster.

Red Cross volunteers respond to an apartment fire

Tom said the transition began a month ago and is going very well. The DAT team is ensuring volunteers are comfortable with the change, and it is safe. As we learn more, he said, we will adapt to ensure everyone’s safety.

Currently, 80% of disaster responses in our region are in-person. For the other 20%, virtual response remains the best option. Northern Ohio DAT has been highly active. Over the past two weekends they responded to 14 home fires, assisting 73 people.

Mark said an in-person meeting gives a chance to better connect with those in need of assistance, as it is much more personal. Similarly, Tom spoke of how meeting in-person better provides the opportunity to give hope, show someone cares and help with recovery. 

Tom recalled how after an exceptionally busy day, he received a late-night call to respond following a home fire. Upon arrival, he met a woman, in tears, sitting in front of her burned-out house. His being there greatly helped, provided comfort, and she soon moved from tears to smiles. Tom said it was empowering for him.

Disaster responder Jan Cooper assists resident Gabriella Asseff after a condo fire in Westlake

I had similar experiences during my time with DAT. The instances when I could see a person begin to recover, to smile and hope again, remain with me.

As for sheltering following a large disaster—fortunately not common in our region—Mike and Tom said congregate housing is now the first option. This will ensure enough space is available, as many hotels are currently near capacity. Safety protocols will be in place. Both Tom and Mike said the Red Cross remains flexible and adapts to each situation, and non-congregate housing remains an option.

Such adaptability has been a hallmark of the Red Cross. When the pandemic necessitated virtual responses to disasters, the DAT team responded. Additionally, technology implemented during the pandemic is also helping with in-person responses.

For many of us, the pandemic underscored the importance of personal connections, especially following a disaster. Thankfully, Northern Ohio DAT responders can provide that again, offering financial assistance along with comfort, hugs and hope.

Northern Ohio Region weekend disaster response report: July 17-18, 2021

Over the weekend, the American Red Cross was once again very active responding to calls across Northern Ohio and assisting residents who have suffered a local disaster.

IMG_5580

During the weekend of July 17-18, the Red Cross responded to 9 incidents across the region, including home fires and flooding. The disaster team assisted 15 adults and 11 children, and provided more than $5,5000 in immediate financial assistance.

While many of us hear “disaster” and think of large events like wildfires and hurricanes, local disasters are where much of our response happens. In fact, every 24 hours, on average, the Northern Ohio Red Cross responds to three home fires, as well as floods and severe storms. Red Cross volunteers are on call and ready to respond 24/7 when a disaster strikes. After emergency personnel, these individuals are often some of the first people to be on scene at a disaster. They assess the victims’ needs and ensure they have food, clothing, shelter and other services to help take the first steps to recovery.

The Red Cross is committed to helping our community prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies. We are able to make a difference in our local communities because of the generosity of our donors and support of our volunteers.

If you would like to provide a financial donation to assist the Red Cross’ efforts to support the residents of Northern Ohio, visit redcross.org/donate, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. If you cannot support the Red Cross monetarily but you are interested in making an impact in your local community, the Red Cross is always looking for volunteers. To volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more and sign up.

What volunteers can expect if they deploy to help residents affected by wildfires

By Doug Bardwell – American Red Cross volunteer

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there have already been 31,000 wildfires across the country, with more than 1.5 acres affected. As of July 4th, people have had to evacuate their homes for the Tennant, Salt and Lava wildfires in California. That means there will be a need to shelter and feed residents impacted, and more opportunities for American Red Cross volunteers. 

Volunteers often talk about how appreciative people are when offered water or buckets and rakes to assist their cleanup. Many I’ve spoken with mentioned that Red Cross trucks brought the first and only assistance they had encountered since the fire. It’s a privilege to serve those who’ve just lost most of their material possessions.

What can you expect if deployed to volunteer?

First, you won’t be anywhere near the flames. Shelters are selected in safe zone areas, so you can feel safe wherever they are located. Even if you are part of a Red Cross mobile feeding operation, you won’t be dispatched to burnt areas until the fire has been totally contained for a safe period of time.

There are three types of work most volunteers experience: sheltering, feeding or supply distribution.

Sheltering volunteers work to set up and maintain the sleeping/living areas for those displaced by the fire. After the setup and registering of incoming victims, just letting people tell their stories is very cathartic for those affected.

While deployed to the Camp Fire in California, I noticed most people just wanted someone to talk to. Not that they expected any earthshaking solutions, they just needed to verbalize their plight to a caring set of ears. Sometimes, just playing cards or a board game was a great distraction from their worries. 

November 17, 2018. Chico, California. At the Neighborhood Church shelter in Chico, California, Daniel Nieves grieves the loss of his friends, who perished in the Camp Fire. Red Cross volunteers Pamela Harris and Vicki Eichstaedt listen and offer comfort as Daniel remembers a special friendship. Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Feeding volunteers help serve meals that are usually supplied by one of our Red Cross partners. Three meals a day are served to those affected. You might also be serving meals to first responders, cleaners and other service personnel involved around the shelter operation. 

In all the sheltering operations I’ve been involved with, there is always a 24/7 snack area for the shelter residents. Chips, cookies and snack bars are always available, along with coffee, tea, soft drinks and water.

Distribution volunteers are those who take cleanup tools and supplies out to the victims at the site of the fire after the “all clear” notice has been issued. 

Deploying on a national disaster usually requires a two-week commitment. However, local/regional events can be staffed on more flexible schedules. A limited amount of pretraining is necessary for either, but there are plenty of people ready to get you up to speed quickly. For more information on volunteer opportunities, visit redcross.org/volunteer and select DCS – Disaster Cycle Services – Responder, or contact Emily Probst, Disaster Workforce Engagement Manager, at emily.probst@redcross.org.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer


More than 50 people flee from fires, receive assistance over the weekend

24 children among those forced from their homes

American Red Cross disaster responders were busy throughout northern Ohio on Friday and Saturday, July 9th and 10th, responding to 8 home fires – including 5 multi-family home fires. 54 residents, including 30 adults and 24 children were affected by the fires.

Six of the fires occurred in Cuyahoga County.

The residents received more than $11,300 in immediate financial assistance, to help them find a safe place to stay, provide food for their families, replace lost clothing, or fulfill other immediate needs. That assistance, coming at such a critical time, is only available because of generous people who make financial donations to the Red Cross.

If you have a desire to help members of your community recover from disasters like home fires, visit redcross.org/donate or call 1-800 RED CROSS.

Trained Red Cross volunteers will continue to help the families during the recovery process, providing information, resources and referrals to community partners. If health or mental health services are required, Red Cross volunteers with professional certifications will offer their assistance.

Whether you are a certified health or mental health provider, or just have a heart to help your neighbors in their darkest hours, visit redcross.org.volunteer to become a Red Cross volunteer.

Celebrating World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day May 8

By: Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

May 8th is World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, in which the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) collectively thanks its 13 million volunteers worldwide—about 2,000 of which are in Northern Ohio—for their dedication, bravery, kindness, and selflessness.

This day also coincides with Sound the Alarm, as American Red Cross volunteers and staff are helping area residents develop fire safety plans through doorstep visits. Please read this article for more information.

May 8th is the birthday of Henry Dunant, who was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1828, founded the IFRC, and received the first Nobel Peace Prize. After witnessing one of the bloodiest battles of the 19th century, Solferino, and assisting in its aftermath, Dunant wrote A Memory of Solferino, published in 1862. After detailing the horrors of the battle and describing efforts to care for the wounded, Dunant offered a plan that the world’s nations form relief societies and appeal to everyone to volunteer. The following year the Geneva Society for Public Welfare appointed Dunant and four others to examine putting the plan into action. This began the foundation of the Red Cross. More on Henry Dunant is here

It would take more than a century, two world wars, and the 1918 flu pandemic before a Red Cross day would be created, however. During that time, the need and effectiveness of Red Cross societies became even clearer. Following World War II, the Board of Governors of the League of Red Cross Societies requested the study of an International Red Cross Day. It was approved two year later, and May 8, 1948 became the first commemoration of what we now know as World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. Further details are here.

In 2021, the Red Cross’s mission and services are as needed as ever, and the resilience, dedication, flexibility, and selflessness of its volunteers and staff has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the past year has been especially active. In the US, 2020 had the greatest number of billion-dollar disasters in a single year. Here in Northern Ohio, the Red Cross has continued to respond to disasters—including more than three home fires every 24 hours, on average—collect and distribute much needed blood, teach life-saving skills, assist members of the armed services and their families, and help educate the community on home fire safety, virtually and with doorstep visits during tomorrow’s Day of Action.

We recently profiled a few extraordinary volunteers during Volunteer Week. As a Red Cross volunteer, I have been privileged to see such caring and dedication firsthand and have been honored to work alongside some of the kindest, most effective, and remarkable people I have met. Please see here if you would like to join us.

On this World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, we celebrate those who put the Red Cross’s mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering into action, each day.