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Rabbitbrush Rambler: Be prepared!

Posted: Tuesday, Jul 2nd, 2013

That’s the familiar motto of the Boy Scouts and of the Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. Whether in Armenian, Danish, English, Finnish, French, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Swedish, Tahitian, or any other language, the message is the same.

The Red Cross calls it Preparedness and Training. In the past couple of weeks, we have seen many volunteers who were well prepared and trained by the Red Cross to provide community service.

Although we usually think of a community as a group with common interests living in a particular area, volunteers who perform service may be local or come together from many places, function with a shared purpose, and then disperse. These visitors and local people have different kinds of tasks.

For instance, I had a chance to chat with Jim Sim, who is an American Red Cross volunteer from Monument, Colorado. He was efficiently manning the reception desk at the emergency evacuation center in Del Norte.

Experienced, he knew exactly what he was supposed to be doing. In fact, he had just completed similar service in his own community during the Black Forest inferno.

Members of the New Life Fellowship in Del Norte and surrounding area were preparing to serve lunch for a large crowd that day, a job which the ladies knew how to do well, but maybe not for that many people. Other volunteers, Jim Sim said, were providing the three meals a day for hundreds of people at the evacuation center, and I could only guess what such contributions were costing in terms of personal resources and time for our hard-pressed neighbors in the Valley.

He mentioned that staff was not always finding it easy to recruit volunteer church groups to take on this task three times a day. I knew that volunteers have many other commitments, like the Food Banks, La Puente, and other programs to which they give generously.

Providing potable water for the evacuees in our drought-stricken locale was another problem, he said. Then, who was cleaning the bathrooms, I wondered, and later I learned that a neighbor of mine was one of the volunteers performing this thankless task.

The Red Cross always distributes free hygiene kits when they are needed at a disaster, and, while Jim Sim and I were talking, I watched a somewhat pushy evacuee with breathing problems emptying a box of free masks. The organization had a nurse and a mental health worker on hand, he said, but most of the organizational work went on behind the scenes.

Such services require money in the form of donations during fund drives. The organizational work (think: stipends for staff and coordinators, equipment and supplies) must be accomplished in an efficient way to provide Preparedness and Training for volunteers, who make up about 95 percent of the workers.

I can offer some personal experience as a volunteer, because for many years I was prepared, trained, and certified by the American Red Cross in first aid and CPR. Within the proper limits of my ability, that experience helped me in many unexpected situations, such as with strangers in auto accidents, a sudden illness, companions with injuries on ski trips and raft trips, and family members with cuts and broken bones.

One of the valuable benefits, I soon discovered, went beyond knowing the appropriate steps that were needed, whether the situation was large or minor. Because someone was present who understood the situation, the entire scene seemed to become calmer (even if I privately felt a bit jittery inside at first). People tended to stop running around frantically and maybe starting to do the worst possible thing in the given circumstances, and I could show my certification card if necessary.

Sometimes I did not know the victim or what happened to him or her later. I was not paid except, maybe, with a quick nod and a “thanks” from an EMT when the ambulance arrived.

So be prepared. Be trained. And be sure to unplug the coffee pot on the way out the door because you may be gone longer than you expected.

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