By Alex Boroff
A middle-of-the-night fire might make Red Cross Disaster Action Team volunteers a little groggy the next day. But their work will make a big difference to a family in crisis, and that's more than enough to make up for a little lost sleep.
"You know you're helping someone in the middle of the night — you help them, you feel good about it," says Denelda Vaughn.
Vaughn, Fostoria Red Cross administrative aide, is also a Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteer. When she is on duty with DAT, it's Vaughn's job to help people who have been put out of their house by a fire, tornado, or other crisis.
"We bring them back here to the chapter office, we give them a nice warm place," she says.
After that, the Red Cross will help families with emergency food, shelter, and other needs.
Though DAT volunteers generally work an average of one emergency per month, the Red Cross is in need of more members, says John Sherer, executive director of the Seneca County and Fostoria Red Cross. Sherer says he needs more DAT members in both Red Cross chapters.
"We're at least three short now, maybe four. It would be nice to have more than that," Sherer said.
Currently, there are five DAT team members serving Fostoria, and three serving Seneca County. Sherer said he would like at least six members on each chapter's Disaster Action Team, though more volunteers would be appreciated.
DAT members are paired up in teams of two. Each team rotates duties in month-long shifts. During a team's month of service, that team will respond to all emergency calls that come to the Red Cross from fire departments and other emergency personnel. After the month is over, the team passes the duty to the next pair of DAT volunteers.
Most of the disasters DAT members face are house fires, Sherer says, though volunteers may be called upon during blizzards, floods, tornadoes, and other emergencies.
Sherer says that while DAT volunteers are not first responders, they serve an important role in emergencies by helping families emotionally cope with catastrophes, and setting those families up with emergency assistance from the Red Cross.
"Probably the two main things we do in my opinion, is one, we get them away from a horrible situation," he says. "Then I think the most important thing that we do is we are good listeners, because it's a crisis time for that family, and they want to talk.
"All you have to think about is your own house," Sherer says. "Just think if you went home to your own house today, and there was nothing left that was there when you were there this morning, and what kind of impact that would have on you."
Though emergency calls for DAT members are relatively infrequent, volunteers must be ready to respond at all hours during their month-long period of service.
"You don't get a lot of calls with this, but you still have to be ready to go 24-7," Sherer says.
Those who are interested must apply to the Red Cross, and are asked to take several 3-4 hour classes on CPR, first aid, paperwork, and other relevant courses. New DAT volunteers also shadow experienced DAT members during their initial period of service.