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Blog #1 - How Can I Help?

September 10, 2005

I was probably just like many this last week that sat glued to our televisions at the scenes coming from New Orleans and Biloxi, and devoured the newspaper stories of the tragedy from Hurricane Katrina. Our hearts went out to those displaced by the storm and the flooding. Universally we felt a strong urge to help the survivors in any way that we could, and the response from America and the world community has been tremendous.

The reaction and response to Hurricane Katrina is similar in many ways to how we all felt after the September 11, 2001 attacks. It seemed like the world came together to help then, and I did my small part with contributions of money to aid organizations. I also made a pilgrimage to New York City shortly after the attacks to show support for my fellow fire fighters who had been lost.

At the time I wrote, “The outpouring of support to the September 11 charities has been overwhelming, and continues. Not everyone can be on the front lines at Ground Zero, or in the military. But we all can do our part to support America and what she stands for by taking an active part in our local communities and churches… America cares, and together we put our love into action in a thousand ways every day, and it makes a difference.” (See And the Bagpipes Played "Amazing Grace")

With another huge tragedy facing America I resolved to do more to help with the Katrina disaster relief than I had been able to do after September 11. Not to belittle all of the local things that need to be done but I wanted to put to use some of the training I’ve had over the years as a fire fighter and emergency medical responder. I vowed to help directly if there was a way to do so. Several of my fellow volunteer fire fighters on the Sebago Fire Department felt the same way.

How we can all help

There are many ways that we can each help out the evacuees from Katrina, from fund raising to opening our homes to them. My wife Penny and I started by making a cash donation to the American Red Cross and another to my company who offered matching contributions. When we learned of a telethon to benefit the Red Cross being held at the Portland Radio Group stations she and I signed up to work a shift. We showed up at 5:30 in the morning on Tuesday, September 6, with 7 other volunteers and answered phones and took pledges until 1:00 p.m. when the next shift took over. Neither of us had done anything like that before, but quickly learned the routine and got into the spirit. It was a positive way to help and we felt good in doing so. I still wanted to do more.

State and Federal Emergency Agencies send out the call for assistance

Requests for assistance from several different federal and state emergency response agencies started going out to fire and rescue personnel around the state. I checked into these, including calls from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), the Southern Maine Emergency Medical Services, and the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). They all sent out calls for volunteers and I passed these along to my Chief and my fellow fire fighters. For one reason or another, however, none of these offered any immediate opportunities for us to help. Also the agencies cautioned against “free lancers” responding on their own and emphasized that it was necessary to respond as an approved part of an emergency organization.

Red Cross needs trained volunteers

Then I received an e-mail that offered a chance to help out directly with the disaster relief. I have worked a few times with Fiona Fanning, the Director of Emergency Services at the Southern Maine Chapter of the American Red Cross on local disaster relief situations. She sent me an e-mail with information about becoming a member of the Red Cross Disaster Services Human Resources (DSHR) team. I passed the information along to fellow fire fighters. This was an opportunity to help victims on the scene of the disaster and to put some of my training to use.

After an initial screening and telephone interviews, three of us started our training on Wednesday, September 7. Because of the huge need for volunteers, the Red Cross has concentrated the training needed to become a member of the DSHR team, including mass care, disaster health services, disaster operations and shelter operations. Many of the essential training courses I’ve already had as a fire fighter, such as CPR and First Aid.

My Red Cross training is nearly complete

On Friday, September 9, I completed my third training class at the Red Cross offices in South Portland, and have a fourth class scheduled for next Monday evening.

Soon thereafter I should learn about being accepted as a member of the Red Cross team and hope to receive an assignment to one of the areas where I can help provide disaster relief to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. More next time.

Copyright © 2005, Allen Crabtree