Preparing for wildfire season during a pandemic: American Red Cross needs volunteers

The American Red Cross needs local volunteers during wildfire season

The local American Red Cross chapter needs community members to volunteer during the summer months due to high fire risks.

“Experts say that we are in for a really busy wildfire season,” Michele Roth, the Executive Director of the Central and Southeastern Washington American Red Cross said, “Normally we can get volunteers that are deployed from other areas in the country to come and help if needed. The coronavirus has really presented a challenge  on deploying so we’re asking the community members to come and get trained up as red cross volunteers.”

The non-profit needs volunteers to help staff shelter reception, registration, feeding, dormitory, information collection and other vital tasks. Currently the organization is focusing their efforts virtually due to safety risks.

“If we’re providing disaster health services or disaster mental health services, we’re trying to do that virtually,” Cody Campbell, Disaster Program Manager for the Central and Southeastern Washington American Red Cross said, “If we have to be on scene, if we have to be out in the public doing work, we’re practicing social distancing, we’re utilizing PPE, every time we’re out in the public, ee have masks. We have that equipment for our volunteers so when they go out they are protected. We’re screening our volunteers every time they respond and f they’re up to do the task we’re really making sure they’re comfortable with doing the job.”

Washington state fire experts have warned the region about a high-risk wildfire season. Not only due to the weather conditions, but also the risk COVID-19 poses on fire crews and first responders. The American Red Cross would create temporary shelters for people evacuating an area impacted by a wildfire – that’s not something they hope to do during the pandemic, but they are preparing.

“We have a pandemic going on and we know that congregate sheltering can be a little cramped and it’s not the best place for people to be right now,” Campbell said.

The American Red Cross can place families in hotels but if the need is great, shelters may be needed.

“If we are unable to do that, we need to open up a shelter, then that’s where we would need volunteers to help with check-in registration, feeding, and things like that,” Roth said.

Shelters will look different with social distancing in place and more health screenings for volunteers and evacuees.

“We’re asking anyone who might be an RN and LPN, a paramedic, a PA, an EMT, any kind of a health services background, or current licenses,” Roth said, “A person we could really use volunteers like that because of the additional need for health screenings. It would really help to have even medical students or anybody in that field.”

The Central and Southeastern Washington American Red Cross is 95% workforce, but the organization expects only 33% of their volunteers to be able to respond because of those falling into the high-risk population or other factors. Virtual work is available through the organization for those in the high-risk COVID-19 population. There are numerous opportunities with the non-profit to assist local families impacted by disaster.

“Our number one priority is the health and safety of our volunteers, our staff, and the people that we serve,” Roth said, “If you would like to volunteer, we do recommend that you look at the CDC guidelines check with your healthcare provider.”

“You’ll be contacted by a local recruiter in your area, and they’ll go from there and you’ll fill out a simple application process and you can join,” Campbell said.

Anyone in the Mid-Columbia Basin can find information here or contact the Central and Southeastern Washington American Red Cross Volunteer Recruitment Specialist, Lynne Calmus by email at lynne.calmus@redcross.org or by phone at 509-316-1845.

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