Red Cross 'boot camp' trains hurricane aid volunteers in Greensburg
Barry Rearick was tired of caring only about himself.
So on Saturday, the retired bricklayer joined about two dozen other people training to set up, staff and break down Red Cross shelters for victims of Hurricane Irma.
Rearick, 62, of Jeannette said his sister told him he didn't care about other people in his life. “I felt this emptiness,” Rearick said. “I saw an article in the paper, and thought I could change that.”
Retirees, firefighters, factory workers, nurses, law enforcement personnel and a recently graduated law student were among those who signed up for the Red Cross “boot camp,” a three-hour session at the Greensburg office to train people to be ready to deploy to shelters as needed.
“We have a place for everybody,” said Evelyn Lemmon, the trainer and a 37-year veteran volunteer who participated in Red Cross responses to Hurricane Katrina, Sept. 11 and countless house fires that displaced families and exhausted firefighters.
The Red Cross is holding the boot camps for emergency shelter volunteers around the country this week in anticipation of increased need from Hurricane Irma, which was bearing down on South Florida at Category 3 strength as the first classes met in Pittsburgh and Greensburg on Saturday afternoon.
Volunteers already were being deployed to Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas to set up and staff shelters for people displaced by the storm, said Western Pennsylvania Region spokesman Dan Tobin, though the national organization had not provided him with estimates of how many.
At the shelters, volunteers will help set up and break down, provide help and personal care to evacuees. Lemmon warned the group Saturday that they could expect the same conditions as the people in the shelters, sometimes meaning no electricity or running water, and sleeping on cots alongside other volunteers and perhaps hundreds of evacuees.
“You have to anticipate a little bit of chaos,” said Dana Bauer, executive director of the Chestnut Ridge division. Volunteers got packets of checklists on what to bring and how to handle different tasks for setting up, running and breaking down shelters.
Harold Johnson, another veteran volunteer who deployed to Texas for hurricanes Katrina and Rita, came Saturday to volunteer for shelter duty in Florida. He said volunteers should be ready for anything, especially to be trained on the spot and pressed into a wide variety of roles. His previous duties ranged from running a shelter to driving trucks full of supplies and cleaning out toilets.
“There were hundreds of (portable toilets), every one filled to the top, and you had to clean them all out,” Johnson said. “It definitely will take people outside of their comfort zone.”
Volunteers who trained this weekend could be deployed soon, depending on the storm's impact — Tobin said one new volunteer from a class of 15 held in Erie on Thursday was already among the Red Cross volunteers heading south Friday and Saturday.
But volunteers who go through the training are not guaranteed to be deployed — everything will depend on what happens with the storm. The Red Cross is training as many as people as possible so they are available as soon as they are needed.
“Hopefully we have a minimal need to open shelters and everything will be good. We're doing the training now, ahead of the game,” Tobin said. “You hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”
Classes will continue throughout Western Pennsylvania for the rest of the week. The next class in Greensburg will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Red Cross office on Harvey Street, and the next session in Pittsburgh will be held at that same time at the regional office on Liberty Avenue, downtown. Other classes throughout the week will be held in places including Johnstowm, Bradford, Erie, Beaver and DuBois.
For more information or to sign up for a session, visit redcrosswpa.blogspot.com . Volunteers must be 18 or older, healthy, have a valid driver's license and be able to pass a criminal background check.
Volunteer Florida and Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster are also taking sign-ups online for people interested in helping with Hurricane Irma response, at volunteerflorida.org/irma . Prospective volunteers can fill out a form with the kind of work they're interested in doing, their dates of availability, their skills and whether they are currently in Florida or willing to travel at their own expense.
Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6660, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @msantoni.