Cynthia Fisher, middle, with Ashley Bonnoit, left, and Jennifer Samaritan at the French fire in August 2021.
By Dan Santos
Most people try to avoid the scene of a disaster. Cynthia Fisher — like many American Red Cross volunteers — sees an opportunity to provide safe shelter, food, and comfort to the victims.
“I’m living my best life when I can help somebody get their life back together,” she said. “It really puts things in perspective for me.”
“I enjoy helping people,” said Fisher, a volunteer since 2010. “It’s great working with people at the Red Cross who have the same spirit. You just have to like helping people to do this kind of work.”
“When you see everything come together to help people — food, supplies, shelter, medicine — it’s a beautiful thing,” Fisher said of the Red Cross mass care disaster operations.
Disasters give Fisher a new outlook on everyday reality. “You see the elderly and disabled — our most precious populations — with no other choices. You see people in the shelter who are just overwhelmed by the trauma of their situation, then you might go out and see other people just living their normal lives. It’s frustrating. I wish I could do more to help.”
Fisher has passed her volunteer spirit along to her daughter, Catherine, who first was involved with the American Red Cross at age 10. “The people who signed her up said she was the youngest volunteer they could ever remember,” she said.
The mother-daughter pair has also been involved with their Christian church on foreign missions. Fisher said joining the Red Cross was a natural transition from their missionary work.
Catherine, now 20, is a college student and an actress who is continuing her church missionary work. “She’s off to a bigger mission of her own,” Fisher said. Catherine now volunteers with a global Christian missionary group.
Fisher first learned the value of helping others when she needed help herself during the 2003 San Simeon earthquake. “My house in San Simeon was red-tagged, and the only people who offered assistance were two young neighbor boys,” she said. “What a wonderful feeling it was to know that someone was there to help. They were great.”
Fisher’s first Red Cross disaster deployment was at the 2017-18 Thomas Fire. “I was just blown away,” she said. “The way the community came together to help others — all they did to help — was just awesome.”
Since then, Fisher has been deployed to some of the country’s worst disasters. In 2020, she helped victims of Hurricane Laura, first virtually, and then on the scene in Louisiana. This year, she deployed to wildfire relief efforts for the French Fire in Kern County and the Dixie Fire in Northern California, the Dry Creek Apartments fire in Paso Robles, and Hurricane Ida in Louisiana.
Her volunteer supervisor, Jessica Hodge, said Fisher has excelled in the area of recovery management and is starting to receive national recognition for her work.
“In the last year, Cynthia has really jumped into a very challenging role as our mass care lead,” said Hodge, the Red Cross disaster program manager for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. “She is an eager and inquisitive volunteer who has found an aspect of Red Cross volunteering that few others seek.”
Fisher, 54, who lives in Templeton in San Luis Obispo County, has been a real estate agent for the last 22 years. She has built her business to a point that allows extended absences for Red Cross disaster deployments.
She sees her experience in real estate as useful in her volunteer work. “Mass care is all about housing people,” she said. “I know housing.”
Fisher was helping families displaced by Hurricane Ida when she was interviewed for this story. Red Cross volunteers, working with federal and state agencies, rehoused those who were displaced by Ida, which first made landfall on August 29.
Fisher was deployed to Louisiana on September 22. After returning to Templeton on November 11, she was called on November 14 as part of the Red Cross team that provided general disaster care at a 16-unit apartment fire in Santa Barbara County.
“Never a dull moment at the Red Cross,” Fisher said. “I’m looking forward to a quiet month to finish the year out, but I’m still ready to go when asked.”