Responding to disasters is tough work, but there are two words that will take an even heavier emotional toll on any trained Red Cross disaster worker: ‘fatal fire.’ That’s what the team in Southeastern Pennsylvania read on Friday night, and it’s what prompted them to temporarily break from the new norm of virtual emergency responses.
For the most part, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way our teams provide immediate assistance to families that have been displaced by disaster. To minimize in-person contact, responders have been using Facetime and other technology to connect with people we serve, using a ‘runner’ to quickly drop off any assistance or information that needs to change hands. But as Disaster Spiritual Care Lead Charline Scott said, “You can’t respond to someone who has lost a loved one over the telephone.”
On Friday, March 27th, the fire department requested assistance after a multi-family fire in West Philadelphia that had claimed the lives of two children and their grandmother. The children’s father had gone out for only a few minutes and had returned to the worst news of his life. Not only were multiple homes impacted by the fire itself, but the whole street was grappling with this loss, on top of what is already a stressful time for many.
“It’s a shock for a neighborhood. There’s a lot of pain,” Scott said.
That’s why the team requested special permission to respond in person, which was granted. Scott is one of the four trained disaster workers who personally went to the scene. She’s trained in emotional support, which she provided to the families impacted, neighbors, and even firefighters, while maintaining several feet of distance between herself and others.
“It needs looking in a person’s eye to see what they’re looking through,” Scott said.
The disaster response team passed out blankets, water and snacks. They knew the father, who had just lost so much, shouldn’t be alone in a hotel room. They went the extra mile to connect him with family so he could stay with loved ones while he grappled with what had happened.
“I would have loved to have been able to give him a hug, but I couldn’t. We wrapped him in a blanket. We embraced him with a Red Cross blanket,” Scott said.
Whether it’s through Facetime or in-person, our teams will continue to embrace our community through this pandemic.
Scott putting it best, “When it comes to the Red Cross, one of the things I’ve always said, is that the Red Cross doesn’t miss a beat, even in these times.”