by Dave Wagner, Public Affairs Volunteer
At 5:22 am on a Friday morning in mid-April, the Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) was notified that the Oxnard Fire Department was battling a structure fire in a large house on the edge of town. Within minutes, volunteer Thomas Gorden, the Dispatcher/Duty Officer, had two members of the DAT team rolling out on the call.
Each year, the Red Cross responds to an average of 60,000 disasters, the vast majority of which are home fires. Disaster Action Teams are made up of specially trained volunteers who are available 24/7 to provide comfort and support for those displaced by these devastating fires.
“I knew when I pulled up that we would need more than just two DAT people,” recalls Kim Marczuk. “It was early in the morning but there were people everywhere. I remember an elderly gentlemen wrapped in a blanket sitting on the curb. There was another lady in a car with her six dogs.”
Marczuk also remembered driving by the then stately Victorian-style home many times when she was a kid. It was on the way to a nearby park where her dad played softball. Over the years the house had changed hands many times, with the current owner falling on hard times and unable to maintain the antique structure in its former grand fashion. It was now used as a rooming house, each of the many bedrooms occupied by a tenant hoping for better days ahead.
That morning Marczuk, joined by DAT volunteers Bill Novik and Karen Ferguson, assisted 13 people and their nine pets. Along with large doses of empathy and compassion, the team provided blankets, comfort kits, food, water and helped the displaced residents find safe lodging for the near term.
Red Cross Comfort Kits contain personal hygiene items such as toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, etc., given to clients who have been displaced from their homes.
“A family living in a small house behind the main building was also affected because the utilities were cut to the entire property,” said Marczuk. Besides the two toddlers and the two dogs, Marczuk was really concerned about the mom who was pregnant and just two weeks away from delivery.
Later in the day, the Red Cross was notified that there were additional people in need of assistance at the site, so DAT volunteers Michael McGehee and Don Steensma responded. They found four adults who were affected by the fire and had not been on scene earlier.
With all residents of the rooming house now accounted for, the DAT team handed off the cases to the Red Cross Recovery Team. These dedicated volunteers ensure that a recovery plan is created for each individual or family, and any needed long-term services are provided.
With so many people affected by this one incident, the Recovery Team knew they would need some help. They were able to rally the County and City Human Services agencies, along with private partners Mercy House, Salvation Army and a community church to assist with more permanent housing solutions.
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