Editor’s note: The print version of this story has been modified: The American Red Cross Month information sessions set in Sequim starting Wednesday, March 25, at Clallam County Fire District 3’s headquarters has been canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. — MD
Whether there’s a fire or flood or some other emergency, volunteers from the Olympic Peninsula Chapter of the American Red Cross continue to join the fray to help locals in need.
The agency has served the Olympic Peninsula since 1917 and operates in Clallam County with volunteers assessing emergencies and helping locals find needed resources.
“We have a 24/7, 365-days a year, all-the-time team available to respond to crisis emergencies in Clallam,” volunteer Don Zanon of Port Angeles said.
March recognizes American Red Cross Month across the nation, and local volunteers look to bring awareness to the group and recruit more people to help in times of need. They were scheduled to host information sessions about the local chapter in Sequim and Port Angeles this month, but sessions were canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
There are currently 25 volunteers serving across Clallam County and six in Jefferson County, Zanon said.
Dianna Cross of Agnew said her time as a military wife segued into volunteering with the Red Cross more than 30 years ago.
“The Red Cross is my life,” she said.
Cross said she has traveled the globe on deployments helping people with disaster relief.
“I love doing it,” she said. “I love helping people and going into the boonies and bringing them food because they can’t come into town.”
In Clallam County, volunteers say they respond most to house fires, including one in Sequim on March 2.
Zanon said in any emergency like fires or floods, two volunteers go to assess a situation and see what’s needed.
Sequim volunteer Jean Pratschner said they tend to arrive within an hour of an emergency.
For a fire situation, Zanon said Red Cross volunteers see if the residence livable and if the homeowner/renter needs a place to stay. They’ll also help connect people to community resources and insurance companies.
“We provide temporary immediate needs that help them get back on their feet (such as) sheltering, food, clothes and resources that they can use to get on with their lives,” Zanon said.
Mary Ann Dangman, a volunteer from Sequim, said this is a national relief service through the Red Cross. She said that that if something severe were to occur a local team couldn’t handle, they’d call in support from Seattle and perhaps beyond.
“If we’ve exhausted our resources … we’d move it up to the national level,” she said.
Teams last called in additional support in 2008 after flooding displaced several homes on Clallam County’s West End.
Zanon said after an emergency, volunteers do case work to help those affected by finding resources, funds and repair and/or clean-up companies.
They also have a nurse volunteer team with them to help with connecting people with medical resources, as well as an expert to connect those in-need with possible mental health support.
“We try to make sure the resources used are efficient,” Zanon said.
The local Red Cross remains active in fire prevention, too. Dangman said in her four years volunteering they’ve helped install hundreds of smoke alarms in homes across Clallam County.
Their most recent effort saw 58 smoke alarms go into 26 Sequim homes on Jan. 31.
In recent years the Red Cross has partnered with local fire departments in Forks three times, Sequim twice and Clallam Bay and Port Angeles once.
Volunteer Bill Wheeler of Sunland said local fire departments identify high risk areas such as trailer homes, older manufactured homes and/or retirement developments for fire awareness education.
“The whole point of the fire campaign is not just to install alarms, but to give basic fire home safety,” Dangman said.
“We also want to enforce that once that alarm goes off, they have 2 minutes to get out of the house and not to go back in.”
Pratschner said they have put as many as four smoke alarms in some homes, and they sometimes find residents either have non-functioning alarms or none installed.
While inside, volunteers do an assessment of possible dangers such as newspapers piled next to stoves and towels hanging above space heaters.
They also talk with children about safe fire exits.
Wheeler, an Army veteran and school district employee, said when he retired to the area, he asked himself what he’d like to do. That led him to helping veterans and the Red Cross’ Disaster Assistance Teams.
“I have a firm belief that communities with really strong volunteers are strong communities,” Wheeler said.
“The better you have volunteer support from first responders, churches or whatever, the better that community is probably going to operate, and I want to be a part of that.”
Wheeler helps coordinate the Red Cross’ role in helping families communicate with deployed servicemen and helping their families understand how the process works.
Local volunteers also work with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary to help people saved from water emergencies, connecting them with resources.
Another critical component to aiding veterans, Wheeler said, is participating in the annual stand down events sponsored by Voices for Vets in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
The Red Cross goes with multiple other agencies to connect locals with resources and see if veterans would be willing to volunteer.
The next stand down is set for May 2 in Forks.
Red Cross volunteers continue to reach out to neighborhoods about disaster preparation, too.
Zanon said they’ve done some preparation work across the county by installing six trailers between the West End and Sequim stocked with blankets and beds to open shelters. They’ve begun partnering with the faith community to make their facilities available for sheltering as well.
“These facilities have stepped up to do training and teach their congregations about sheltering in Sequim, Forks, Clallam Bay and one coming up in Port Angeles,” he said.
“That way we get local folks trained from their organizations who can open a shelter on their own and they don’t have to depend on a Red Cross person to be there,” Zanon said. “That’s been our thrust around sheltering.”
Wheeler said they have 10 sites across Clallam with about 200 trained event-based volunteers who completed a six-hour training course.
“If something happens, we could activate at least a part of those people to help with a shelter,” he said.
Pratschner said they reach out to neighborhoods about community education and go into schools promoting the Red Cross’ efforts. Last month, she spoke to elementary classrooms, and this month plans to speak in some elementary classrooms in Sequim.
Becoming a volunteer starts by going online to redcross.org.
Those interested can apply with a background check required along with an initial six-eight hours of training. From there, ongoing training is required each year. Those interested can visit redcross.org/support/volunteer to start.
Get more information from the Carlsborg branch of the Olympic Peninsula Chapter of the Red Cross, 151 Ruth’s Place, suite 1D, which is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, or by calling 360-457-7933.
No paid staff work out of the Carlsborg office with a regional budget supporting office needs, Zanon said, but people can donate to the local chapter to help with specific supplies.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.