The Red Cross wants you

January 26, 2002|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer

Since Sept. 11, the images of physically exhausted and emotionally drained firefighters working among the ruins of the World Trade Center have been seared into the American people's memories.

Working quietly on the sidelines, American Red Cross disaster relief volunteers were there from the start, doing their part by getting food and drink to the firefighters.

In some cases it was simply a smile of encouragement or a gentle word that made a world of difference to the emergency personnel working night and day searching for survivors.

From 6 to 10 p.m. Tuesday, the Imperial Valley branch of the Red Cross will be having an introduction night for people interested in becoming disaster relief volunteers in the Imperial Valley.


Sitting in her downtown El Centro office Friday, local Red Cross Director Sylvia Preciado spoke enthusiastically of the five-part program that trains volunteers to be part of her response team.

Preciado described how, after completing the training course, Imperial Valley volunteers might typically expect to be called upon to respond to the scene of a house fire to assist a family that has suddenly been left with nothing in the world other than the clothes on their backs.

Sitting across from Preciado, volunteer Heywood Bell of El Centro, in his distinctive southern drawl, described how he typically sits down with the family and gently draws out information.

He will ask whether the family members have a place to stay, what clothing they need, their needs as far as beds to sleep in and utensils to cook with, and the host of other things that become important when a family abruptly finds itself without a home or possessions.

Preciado spoke of a recent house fire in which the family lost everything it owned.

"I think the father's desperation was cut in half because we said ‘Don't worry. We don't know how, but we're going to get you all the stuff you need.' And we did manage to get the things they needed."

And like their counterparts in New York City, Red Cross volunteers in the Valley might spend their time close to the scene of a disaster, keeping firefighters and other emergency personnel well-fed and irrigated while they work to contain the problem.

When asked what had motivated him to volunteer, Bell grinned and said, "All my life I wanted to know where those fire trucks were going."

And if you ask Preciado how many volunteers she has, she'll admit to having only one at the moment — Heywood Bell.

Preciado doesn't just sit behind a desk and push pen and paper. Underneath that desk she keeps a pair of steel-toed boots and when the call comes in, she dons those boots and responds, along with Bell, to the incident scene.

Program Services Coordinator Liz Montes, who occupies the office next to Preciado, has a similar pair of boots and she spent her last wedding anniversary responding to the scene of a house fire.

Preciado wants to stress to potential volunteers that they do not have to commit to volunteering large slabs of their time and even a couple hours once a month would be deeply appreciated.

Preciado understands that not all volunteers might want to be involved with the actual responder element of her team, and she welcomes those who would rather do volunteer work at the office in El Centro.

At the same time, Preciado said she wanted to make the point clear that at no time are her responder volunteers exposed to a dangerous situation. Volunteers are kept well to the sidelines, where they can be of the most assistance to victims of a disaster.

When asked what the timetable will be for the course, Preciado said that will be something for the instructor and class to work out, as she wants everyone involved to have some input.

When asked how long into the training program it would be before a volunteer would attend their first incident, Bell chimed in, "Any time after that first introduction night, if we've got a bad fire, I'm gonna get them out of here — I need some help."

Smiling gently, Preciado looked down at the Red Cross pin on her lapel and said "The universal symbol of humanity is the Red Cross."

The courses will be at the Red Cross office at 781 Broadway in El Centro. Call 352-4541 for further information or check the Web site at

>>Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or

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