In disasters big and small, local Red Cross is there
When the scanner goes off in the newsroom for a fire, the reporter is never the first and hardly ever the second person at the scene. Not only do the firefighters beat us to the punch, but the American Red Cross always seems to be one of the first to respond.
On January 14, Red Cross relief workers were on the scene of a house fire on Elm Street in Alexandria by 5 a.m. They assisted the Alexandria Fire Department at the scene.
The West Central Minnesota Chapter of the American Red Cross, located in Alexandria at 701 Broadway, serves Douglas, Grant and Traverse counties. This chapter is a part of the Northern Minnesota Region, which also includes the Twin Cities, Duluth, St. Cloud, St. Croix and Bemidji.
Ken Voigt, the community coordinator for the West Central Minnesota Chapter, laid out the typical procedure for when Red Cross case workers respond to a residential fire.
“We normally send teams of responders of two, three, or even four people,” said Voigt. “They try to get the client comfortable and away from the scene.”
The process begins with assessing the situation. How big is the family? Are any of their belongings accessible? Does the client have a place to stay?
Voigt explains the matrix the Red Cross has in providing food and clothing to fire victims. Through a Client Assistance Card, the clients are able to purchase necessary food and clothing for themselves and their families.
“We load the card with a monetary amount depending on the situation,” explained Voigt. “Adults get more money and in the winter we provide money for seasonal garments.”
If the clients have nothing set up for a place to stay, the caseworkers are able to put them up in a hotel for the standard three nights.
In addition to a place to stay, food and clothes, the Red Cross also helps clients replace medications and eyeglasses lost in a fire.
“Our initial support is immediate,” Voigt said. “The exception is mental health. Sometimes the clients are in a state of shock and when they get to the hotel they start freaking out and don’t know which end is up.”
The Red Cross is then able to send mental health workers to talk to the clients and help them figure out what they need.
Responding to residential fires is part of the Disaster Action Team, which is the biggest mission at the Red Cross. They also respond to floods and natural disasters.
“We’re not only involved locally,” said Voigt. “We sent volunteers to the North Minneapolis and Wadena tornadoes and to the flood in Duluth a couple springs ago.”
Local Red Cross volunteers were also deployed to help the recovery effort from Hurricane Sandy, the wildfires in Colorado and the tornadoes in Illinois.
Though it may be the largest branch of the Red Cross, the Disaster Action Team is only one of many arms.
Another large function of the Red Cross is their blood donations. Currently, the Red Cross provides 50 percent of the nation’s blood supply.
“The Northern Minnesota Region is among the highest for getting donations,” said Voigt. “We’re currently on a blood shortage because the cold weather caused blood drives to be cancelled.”
People in Alexandria can donate blood through the Red Cross at St. Mary’s, Calvary Lutheran Church and Cornerstone Church during their scheduled blood drives. The Red Cross also holds blood drives at local businesses, schools, Alexandria Technical and Community College, and the mall, which are all open to the public.
The Red Cross also provides international services for people who have lost contact with family members outside of the United States. They will work with people, usually immigrants, to connect families and put them back in communication.
The Red Cross is also the only outfit to provide a specific service to armed forces. If someone with a family member enrolled in or working for the military has an important message, such as a birth, death or illness, and needs the service member to return home, the commanding officers rely on the Red Cross to verify and confirm the information.
The last arm of the Red Cross is the health and safety services. In Alexandria, the Red Cross provides training in CPR, first aid, lifeguarding, swimming and babysitting.
For more information on the Red Cross, contact the West Central Minnesota Chapter at (320) 763-3800.