— By CHRISTIN COYNE
From feeding and hydrating a hundred firefighters at an all-day church fire in Adell, to responding in the middle of a cold, wet night to the scene of a house fire displacing a Weatherford family, the same group of fewer than a dozen volunteers with the Red Cross have been responding night and day recently to incidents in Parker County and beyond.
The Red Cross is looking for more volunteers who can respond to the everyday area emergencies as well as be available and trained in the event of larger-scale emergencies.
Because of the heavy grassfire season, it’s been a particularly busy year for the Weatherford-based group that sends disaster response teams throughout Parker County, as well as Mineral Wells and Palo Pinto County, which has no similar response unit, disaster field specialist Richard Diano said.
Just over the recent holiday season, local Red Cross volunteers spent Christmas Eve at a house fire in the Peaster area and early morning hours of New Year’s Eve at a house fire in Weatherford. Multiple other responses over the three-week period included two house fires in Mineral Wells.
Incidents usually last two to eight hours apiece, and they generally need two to three volunteers initially responding to incidents, as well as additional volunteers depending on the number affected and whether it’s a sustained incident, he said.
Diano is in charge of building disaster response teams for a seven-county area that includes Parker. But the lack of volunteers also has him responding right alongside them to fires and other incidents in the middle of the night.
He’d like to bring the numbers up so volunteers can commit to responding during either daytime or nighttime hours for a week-long period rather than both day and night, Diano said.
They currently have a particular daytime deficit because of volunteers who work regular jobs, he said.
When they don’t have enough manpower locally, they have to ask for assistance from other counties.
Volunteers from nearby counties were requested to assist when a grassfire north of Weatherford destroyed several buildings and displaced four families this past summer, according to Diano.
The basic services they provide to displaced residents at emergencies include providing food, clothing, short-term shelter and emergency medical items or prescriptions.
They also offer first responder support, providing water, Gatorade, snacks and even meals for those at the scene of emergencies.
Staying in the safe zones around disasters, “we try and bridge the relationship between incident command and the affected family,” Diano said.
As emergency personnel deal with the incident, the Red Cross volunteers “can deal with the family and begin to talk about how they can begin to recover,” Diano said.
His goal is to build a workforce that can respond to incidents for up to three days.
He’s also working on training volunteers for disaster assessment groups, which would be used to assess needs in the event of a larger-scale incident, such as flooding, wind damage, hail damage or a large power failure due to ice.
Red Cross volunteers also assist with other community events.
Diano said they are typically asked to run rest stops at the Peach Pedal and Ride United and that takes a minimum of 10 volunteers.
They also try to provide emergency preparedness information, such as recommending people look at their insurance policy for certain things before disaster strikes.
To begin the volunteer application process with the Red Cross, applicants can fill out an application online at redcross.org, go through a background check and schedule their first orientation class, a disaster services overview, Diano said.
Based on the information they receive, they’ll begin to look at where volunteers might fit in the Red Cross.
While some might be more fitted for office work, with duties such as answering phones and preparing training materials, others will become part of the field operations services.
Diano said he usually has new volunteers do ride-alongs for three to five incident responses before narrowing their training focus to an area such as family case worker and beginning that education.
He said volunteers average 30 to 50 hours of training classes and on-the-job training.
Volunteers recieve the same training locally as other volunteers do across the nation, which can allow them to become eligible for national deployment, Diano said, adding that a couple of local volunteers recently returned from helping with Hurricane Sandy recovery.
Volunteers are asked to commit to being available, but it’s not an on-call type of situation where they need to stay at home. Instead, they want to know if something comes up, how soon can they help, according to Diano.
“We’re really asking them to be flexible in how they are available to us,” Diano said.
Many Red Cross volunteers say the experience is rewarding to them, Diano said.
They would also like to work with interested students at Weatherford College who are looking for volunteering activities or even college credit, Diano said.
More information can be found on RedCross.org or by contacting the volunteer services group based out of the Red Cross Fort Worth office.
Diano also encouraged interested area residents to attend the monthly meetings in Weatherford, held the third Monday of the month between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. at their office at 1740 Bethel Road.