When you are having one of your worst days in life, organizations such as the Red Cross are tasked with providing comfort and support. 

With that in mind, the Red Cross is seeking to strengthen its presence on the Disaster Action Team with more volunteers on the east side of Harris County. There are currently 78 members on the team.

“It takes a lot of folks,” Kimberly Patel, Volunteer Recruitment Manager said. “We are looking for 22 more volunteers. Harris County is so big and it averages three to four fires a day.”

Patel said volunteers often have to travel across the county for the under-served east side. 

Dmitry Bazykin, Disaster Program Manager for Harris County, said fires range from single family to some multi-family. He also explained what volunteering entails. 

“When the volunteers respond, it is always two people,” he said. “They perform a quick damage assessment, start paperwork and provide initial assistance and referrals.”

Bazykin added disaster relief could also help with medical health needs. There is also help in dealing with the emotions that surface when disaster strikes.

“One of our training classes is in psychological first aid to help those dealing with a loss,” Patel said. “We also have some volunteers that are mental health specialists.”

Training consists of online material to learn what the team does, on-the-job training and working with mentors and gaining experience in working with a client.

“We also have monthly meetings downtown to keep people up to date, appraised of training and camaraderie,” Patel added. 

Volunteer range from young folks that are students, professionals with full-time jobs and retirees. Schedules are set at the beginning of each week based on volunteer availability. Shifts run in 12-hour segments starting at 6 a.m. with volunteers on-call. 

“If people sign up for shift a week, that is great,” Patel said.

Debbie Graustein is retired from the airline industry and recently received her 15-year pin from the Red Cross. She claims an empty nest as the reason she became a volunteer. 

Spontaneity is a key to volunteering for the team, Graustein said. You could be eating a meal, out shopping or with family when a disaster strikes. 

“It takes a special person,” she said. “It doesn’t get any easier. You are coming to help someone and you want to be sure and answer their needs, address shelter, clothing and food.”

Graustein also emphasized an addition in the volunteer ranks would help. 

“If you are not available to work a shift that is OK but that is also why we need volunteers,” she said. “You just don’t know when a disaster will strike.

“People may not need us financially or need us for anything. But a lot need us for our guidance, show them what steps they need to take when they lose their home. There is information to help them overcome their tragedy.” 

In addition to responding to fires, the team also works in fire prevention. Bazykin said most of it is focused on having folks with functional fire alarms.

“We go in the community, sometimes with firefighters and or just volunteers,” he said. “We install fire alarms in homes and also provide fire education. We address hazards, evacuation plan and other issues. And the smoke alarms are free.”

The minimum age to become a volunteer is 18 and a Texas driver’s license is necessary to be covered under Red Cross insurance. Those interested can register online at redcross.org/volunteer. A background check is conducted. 

“Give us a try,” Graustein said. “Come to a meeting and actually go with us to a fire. Do a ride-along and experience the feeling of helping somebody as they experience one of their worst days.”

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