Red Cross seeks more volunteers in wake of recent disasters

The Canadian Red Cross is hoping to recruit about 50 new volunteers in New Brunswick, in order to be better prepared to assist in future disasters.

Storm Arthur, Moncton shootings and spring flooding have been a wake-up call, organization says

The Canadian Red Cross is seeking more volunteers across New Brunswick, saying recent disasters and tragedies have been a wake-up call.

Katie Elisio, who co-ordinates disaster response for the Red Cross in Fredericton, would like to see 50 more volunteers in the province. (CBC)
"While storms like Arthur last month and Bertha this week are topical, the fact is that New Brunswick has experienced a plethora of disasters and emergencies of late, from winter and spring ice storms, to flooding, to the Plaster Rock derailment, to the lockdown of entire neighbourhoods after the tragic police shooting in Moncton, and we need trained volunteers, supplies and resources in place to support individuals and emergency management authorities anytime and any place such hazards to public safety arise," said Bill Lawlor, provincial director for the Canadian Red Cross.

The organization currently has about 250 volunteers on-call in the province, but would like to have about 50 more to be better prepared for future emergencies, said Katie Elisio, who co-ordinates disaster response for the Red Cross in Fredericton.

"More and more now we're seeing bigger and larger disasters that just take up a lot of our time," said Elisio.

"And with ever-emerging new disasters, we kind of have to meet the demand and meet the resource."

Elisio says in situations like Arthur, when help is required in a wide geographic area and for long periods of time, it's difficult because volunteers are often also victims.

Red Cross volunteers helped supply water to thousands of people across New Brunswick post-Arthur. (CBC)
The storm delivered high winds and heavy rains to the region on July 5, knocking out power to homes and businesses across the province. At the peak of the outages, 140,000 NB Power customers were affected.

Many people went more than a week without electricity. Some people also lost their water supply.

Fredericton was one of the hardest hit communities. Volunteers helped operate the Grant-Harvey Centre and Willie O’Ree Place, giving area residents a place to shower, charge their electronic devices and get water.

Krista Stewart became a Red Cross volunteer just prior to the big storm and saw first-hand how resources were stretched, putting in 12 hours a day.

“It was kind of trial by fire. So I’ve learned some things,” she said.

Charles Newman, of Fredericton, has been a Red Cross volunteer for 20 years, helping with local and international disasters. (CBC)
In the days following Arthur, 158 disaster volunteers gave thousands of hours providing support, either face-to-face or by telephone, to more than 3,300 people struggling with prolonged power outages, food spoilage and other storm impacts, Red Cross officials say.

In addition to such large-scale events, Red Cross disaster volunteers typically respond one or more times a week to smaller events, such as house or apartment fires, where residents are suddenly forced temporarily or permanently from their homes.

When they are not responding to emergencies, volunteers may be providing information sessions and workshops on personal and community disaster preparedness.

Charles Newman has been a volunteer for about 20 years, helping with local disasters and international tragedies, including being at Ground Zero after 9/11.

"It's indescribable, the feeling that there's so much death around you, going up in smoke," he said.

Red Cross volunteers typically receive about 40 hours of training, including leadership, personal disaster preparedness, first aid and CPR.

They must be at least 18 years old, with no criminal record, and agree to be on call on a rotational basis.