Red Cross volunteers mobilized to help Paso Robles apartment fire survivors           

By Dan Santos, Red Cross Public Affairs

“Emergency workers from the American Red Cross came to assist the victims.” 

That’s how news reports often sum up what happens at a disaster once emergency crews have finished their work. It was no different with the Dry Creek Apartments fire in Paso Robles on Sept. 21. 

An early morning blaze in an eight-unit apartment building completely destroyed two residences; four families’ homes were uninhabitable since they would be without electricity for 48 hours; and two more units suffered smoke and water damage. No residents were injured; one dog died. News reports said two men jumped from the second floor to escape the blaze.  

The fire left 42 people without a home. Some for extended periods. 

“When a disaster or a fire like this happens, it becomes like a game of telephone,” said Michael Turk, Disaster Action Team (DAT) supervisor. “The fire department calls the American Red Cross dispatch number and that information filters down to us. That information is usually pretty reliable. In this case we were able to reach out to the Paso Robles Police, which helped us provide additional support to non-English speaking residents.” 

(Photo courtesy of Paso Robles Fire and Emergency Services)  
The Sept. 21, 2021, fire at Dry Creek Apartments left eight families without housing, at least temporarily.  

DAT Duty Officer Patti Shiflet took that call and dispatched the team members to Paso Robles. DAT members started arriving on the scene about an hour after fire crews were first dispatched, Turk said.  

Turk — himself trained as an emergency medical technician with experience as a firefighter — said at first the DAT team documents how each client can be assisted. “We try to evaluate how people are doing emotionally and physically and what they might need to deal with their situation.” 

Turk and DAT volunteers Helen Wilkerson, Kimberlie Laderriere, and Cynthia Fisher were on the scene getting the clients’ intake information recorded into the Red Cross system using their smart phones. “Once the information is recorded, it goes to the team of caseworkers,” Turk said. 

Volunteer nurse Gayle Robinson worked with the Red Cross to replace medication and medical equipment one resident lost in the fire.  

Red Cross recovery caseworkers have referred the Dry Creek Apartments clients to 211 United Way, The Salvation Army San Luis Obispo Corps, Catholic Charities, 5Cities Homeless Coalition, and several county government agencies that provide assistance with disaster recovery, said Diana Swartz, a client care supervisor for the Red Cross Pacific Coast Chapter. 

Weeks before the apartment fire, volunteers had a disaster meeting to prepare for incidents just like this. Pictured here is Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Jessica Hodge going over new guidelines for serving during COVID-19 with the Disaster Services team in Atascadero.

The Dry Creek Apartments management has been “remarkably responsive” and supportive in offering vacant apartments to the families displaced by the fire, Swartz reports. Some tenants accepted the management’s offers, while others found their own housing. 

This story about a disaster begins and ends the same way: “Emergency workers from the American Red Cross came to assist the victims.” 

Most of the 60,000 emergencies that the Red Cross responds to each year are local, personal disasters like home fires. They may not make the news, but we know they are just as devastating to the families affected. Trained and available, Disaster Action Team volunteers are ready to respond to these emergencies, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. From offering a shoulder to cry on, to meeting any immediate needs for shelter or supplies, to connecting people with long term recovery services, our volunteers ensure that families don’t have to face tough times alone. Join them at redcross.org/volunteertoday.

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