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We were so saddened to hear this morning of the death of Chester County Department of Emergency Services Director Colonel Ed Atkins. We send our deepest condolences to his family and the entire Chester County community.

The Red Cross and Colonel Atkins were great partners and worked closely to not only respond to disasters large and small in Chester County, but also to prevent disasters from happening in the first place. Atkins’ leadership during the recent flooding and the February ice storm was instrumental to keeping citizens safe and informed.

Col. Ed Atkins. keynote speaker at the Red Cross Chester County Heroes breakfast in April, 2014, recognizes military members at the back of the room (not shown). credit: Alex Greenblatt

It wasn’t that long ago that Colonel Atkins was delivering the keynote address at our Chester County Heroes Breakfast. His deep concern for the county and his deep appreciation for the Red Cross was powerful and clear.

Col. Ed Atkins delivering the keynote address during the American Red Cross Chester County Heroes Breakfast, April, 2014. credit: Alex Greenblatt

Col. Ed Atkins delivering the keynote address during the American Red Cross Chester County Heroes Breakfast, April, 2014. credit: Alex Greenblatt

 

Our CEO, Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes called Ed Atkins a “great man and a great friend to the American Red Cross,” adding, “Every single day he committed himself to making Chester County a better place to live and ensuring the citizens of Chester County were safe. We will miss him dearly.”

 

That was a sentiment echoed by everyone around the office today and in the field. One person who worked very closely with Ed and his team is our volunteer Chester County disaster action team captain, Denise Graf. She is the one making sure the needs of the county and the requests of the emergency services team are met during disasters.

Denise sums up our feelings really well. “As a volunteer disaster responder for the American Red Cross in Chester County, I’ve worked with Ed Atkins on many occasions,” Graf said. “He has always shown me and all Red Cross volunteers the highest respect and appreciation. This truly is a sad day.”

 

The current spring cold snap is proving to be far more than just a nuisance. It’s proving to be downright dangerous. The cold temperatures reinforces the direct correlation between cold temperatures and the rate of home fires.

north philly fire

All that’s left of a fire on April 15th in the 2400 block or Arlington Street in North Philadelphia that displaced a family of seven. Credit: Bob Schmidt/Red Cross volunteer

After a record setting winter that saw the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania respond to more than 450 fires, those who work and volunteer for the Red Cross had hoped and expected the number of fires to decrease significantly. And after a few days of warmer weather, that is exactly what happened. But sadly, it didn’t last, in part to Mother Nature.

Over the last 72 hours (since 4/15/14), as temperatures dropped to winter like levels again, the number of fires once again rose. In those 72 hours, the Red Cross responded to 12 fires, more than triple the 24  hour average. In all, the Red Cross assisted 21 families, 52 people displaced by those fires. Nine of those families are now at Red Cross House – The Center for Disaster Recovery. The American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania is on pace to exceed 750 fire responses this year, the most in more than four years.

In addition to being financially devastating to the families affected by the fires, the ongoing cold temperatures have had a huge impact on Red Cross resources, human and financial. Since the Red Cross is made up of 90% volunteers, it is mostly volunteers responding to the fires. And while the volunteers are dedicated and committed to serving the public, the relentlessness of the fires can take its toll on even the most seasoned volunteer. So if you’ve ever thought about being a Red Cross volunteer, now would be a great time to let us know. (click HERE for more information.)

 

N. 12th street fire

This early morning fire on April 17th on north 12th Street in Philadelphia, displaced five families, 16 people, and multiple pets. CREDIT: Jen Leary/Red Paw Emergency Relief

Because the Red Cross provides disaster survivors money for things like food, clothing, lodging, and other emergency needs, the ongoing cold and increase in fires has had a dramatic impact on our financial resources. We are significantly over our disaster response budget. Since the Red Cross will ALWAYS respond and provide the highest level of care, no matter the cost, the money must be found elsewhere. So if you’ve ever considered making a financial donation to the Red Cross, now would be a great time to do so. (click HERE for more information.)

But even if you don’t make a financial donation or volunteer, you can still help the Red Cross and more importantly the greater community. Even as the Red Cross is hopeful warmer temperatures will eventually arrive and the number of fires will decrease, the Red Cross urges residents to remain vigilant about fire safety. Residents should limit having more than two things plugged into one outlet and make sure dryer lint screens and heating system filters are cleaned regularly. Residents should also ensure they have working smoke alarms and have and practice at least twice a year a fire escape plan that includes pets.

For more fire safety information, including how to create a fire escape plan, visit redcross.org/homefires.

Volunteering with the American Red Cross these last three years has been a great experience for me. When I first became a volunteer, I was unemployed and looking for something to keep me busy until I was able to find a job. Now that I have a job, I still continue to volunteer on a weekly basis. Just about every Tuesday afternoon you can find me in the Communication Pod (CommPod as its come to be known) on the 5th floor. I have a background in English with some journalism experience, and the communications department has been a perfect fit for me. I have written several posted blogs, press releases, captions for pictures, research on various topics and many other things. I enjoy being able to use my experience in a useful and rewarding way.  As I am making my way to the CommPod, if I am not spotted first, I usually stop and talk to all the wonderful people I have gotten to know.

rco_blog_img_jenniferOver the years, my volunteering has expanded beyond the CommPod. I sometimes call myself the 5th floor volunteer because, at times, my help has been needed all over the floor. For about a month after Hurricane Sandy, I came in several days a week to help with anything that needed to be done. I not only got to see first hand all the different services that the Red Cross provides when a disaster occurs, but I actually contributed to the success of these services. I feel proud of my volunteer efforts during that difficult time. I can also be found helping out on the 4th floor in the Volunteer Department with various things.

When I am here volunteering, it gives me such a warm feeling inside knowing that I am helping a great organization and that my work is well appreciated. Every Tuesday, I look forward to coming, and when I am not here, I can’t wait to come back. When I am gone for a few weeks and return, I am often told how much I was missed, which also makes me feel good. The most important reason why I continue to volunteer is seeing the difference that volunteering makes in the lives of those affected by a disaster whether you are in the field or working behind the scenes.

— Posted by Jennifer Ingram, Communications Volunteer for the Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania

Me with some of my favorite volunteers at Red Ball

Vicki Worrall, Janice Winston and me at       Red Ball

I volunteer for the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania. I am not trained in Emergency Services. I am not an instructor in swimming or First Aid. I cannot drive an ERV (The acronym for Emergency Response Vehicle, a Red Cross response truck). I do not ever deploy in the middle of the night to scenes of fire and flood. Nevertheless, I make my contribution. I take in information at the speed of sound.  My fingers are a blur at a keyboard.  I am here to tell the world what we do, why we do it and how it is absolutely essential to a just and humane society.

A short perusal of my file in the Volunteer folder of our hard drive reveals that, since becoming a volunteer, I have written 34 blogs, 26 news articles, 10 storyboards and countless news releases.  Some of my favorite pieces are about the history of the Red Cross – I did one on the how the service of one of our founding members was inspired by her experience on the Titanic – but the pieces I love the most are about the day to day efforts of ordinary members of our community to make the world a more caring place.

This leads me to this morning, when the Red Cross office here at 23rd and Chestnut was a little empty. Several people I work with were out attending the Montgomery County Heroes Breakfast. For the last couple years, I have had the pleasure of writing a short summary of the deeds of heroes in Bucks County for the program to be read by attendees.  The Montgomery heroesare equally impressive. There is no way that one event could capture all the extraordinary things that we do for one another every day, but it’s important to remember that the honorees are representative of the rest of us and our “better angels”. Among them, Patricia Lloyd used her Red Cross training to save a five-year-old from choking to death at her school. Montgomery County police officers risked their lives to apprehend a dangerous fugitive and protect their community. Fire Chief Thomas Hayden rescued two women from a home engulfed in flames.  Did you know that men like David Gartner give both blood and plasma several times a year, saving countless lives?

My workstation

I love telling these stories, which is why I keep coming back to this desk, despite an increasing busy professional schedule as my children age into their college years. The work we do is here is essential and important. The people who are trained to teach First Aid, who respond to emergency calls and who provide comfort to veterans and their families are deeply committed and caring. The world is an uncertain place and everyone here stays vigilant, just in case others need our help. It is an honor to sit at this keyboard.

— Submitted by Sarah Peterson, Proud Red Cross Communications Volunteer


April 6th – April 12th, 2014 is National Volunteer Week. We asked some of our volunteers why they volunteer for the Red Cross. Below is just sampling of some of their answers.

 

Carol Aldridge

9 years of service

Emergency Services

“I had seen so much that had happened at Katrina that it really pulled at my heartstrings.”

 

Carol Barnett    

22 years of service

Emergency Services

“The best part about the Red Cross is the people you work with and all the diversity.”

 

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Stan Dunn accepting an award during the 2013 American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Celebration of Volunteers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stan Dunn

12 years of service

Emergency Services

“(During 9/11) We were so impressed by what the Red Cross was doing, when we came home we decided we would volunteer for the Red Cross.”

 

Heath Morris    

5 years of service

Red Cross House

“I wanted something to do after leaving the Treasury Department. It (Red Cross House) is a good facility and helps people in need.

 

Anthony Robinson, pictured with our CEO, receiving an award at the 2013 Celebration of Awards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthony Robinson

2 years of service

Volunteer Administration

“Here I feel as though I can actually do some good and help people. I had some health issues and I decided I needed to get out of hte house. It’s really worked out for me.”

 

Tom Reithof

30+ years of service

Emergency Services

“I kind of thought it was fun. Before (volunteering for the Red Cross) I worked as an engineer and physicist that never dealt with human beings. I started learning about human beings.”

 

Alice Taylor, at a desk in Volunteer Administration

Alice Taylor, at a desk in Volunteer Administration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alice Taylor  

11 years of service

Blood Services and Volunteer Administration

“I enjoy doing it. It keeps me out of trouble.”

 

Jen Tso      

4 months of service

Financial Development

“Everyone is super excited about the work that they do, so it’s a great environment to be part of.”

 

 

From left to right; Carol Barnet, at the Regional Disaster Coordination Center, David Yu, at the 2014 Red Ball, Jen Tso at her desk

David Yu

1 year of service

Disaster Action Team and Disaster Services Technology

“I get to meet a lot of different people. I love the fact that we are so diverse and that we can actually coordinate as one. That also amazes me.

 

rco_blog_img_BenFranklin

Not this Ben Franklin…

In the era of digital cameras, smartphones with 13 megapixel cameras that fit into your pocket, and everything being done remotely with a few strokes of a keyboard, you wouldn’t think getting a picture of a huge bridge would be all that difficult.

Well, you’d be wrong.

I preface this by saying this is absolutely no one’s fault. Everyone who helped with this did everything they could to facilitate. Every request I made was granted. But sometimes for a variety of reasons, even the smallest, simplest tasks, can wind up being a challenge.

Every March for Red Cross Month, I request the Delaware River Port Authority to light the Ben Franklin Bridge red to honor the work of the thousands of Red Cross volunteers. And DRPA always happily obliges by setting aside most days for the bridge to be red. (excluding March 17th when the bridge is green and a few other days here and there.)

Ben Franklin Bridge lit up on a normal evening. (Courtesy Jingoli.com)

This year was no exception. But I hit snags at just about every turn. First, there was some sort of construction on the bridge involving PATCO which made programming the light display on the bridge hit and miss. Some nights, the lights would work. Some nights they wouldn’t. Sadly, on the nights I dispatched a photographer to snap a photo, were nights the bridge wasn’t red.

I also called on my friends in the media to take beauty shots of the bridge lit in red during their news and weather casts. But without hard and fast dates and times, it’s difficult to ensure the bridge would ever make air.

Which brings me to last night (3/31), the last night of Red Cross Month and the last opportunity to get a photo of the bridge lit red.

I’m a lucky person. I work for the Red Cross so when I ask for a favor, people will go out of their way to try and help. The folks at DRPA exchanged emails with me and made phone calls off hours and over the weekend to make sure the bridge was red Monday night, March 31st, so I could get that photo, raise awareness about the great work the Red Cross does, and in a very real way, generate an extra sense of pride among our thousands of volunteers.

So I sent out the call one last time for volunteers to head to the bridge at dark to take pictures. (Not easy to do after 3 or 4 wild goose chases.) But as I mentioned earlier, people want to help the Red Cross. And bless their hearts, several people grabbed their iPhones and cameras to get the perfect shot. They even drove to Camden to get different angles.

At first, only a small part of the bridge was red and I began to get a huge sense of dread. Did I really do all this and ask others to do this AGAIN, for a few lights? I was feverishly texting back and forth with the volunteers in the area, asking who had the best angle. Could they see the red?

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Ben Franklin Bridge at 8:15pm on 3/31/14. Credit: Janice Winston

I’m sure I came off sounding like a crazed lunatic, obsessed with getting a photo of a bridge. But the volunteers didn’t complain. They have an overwhelming ability to be understanding. They have compassion, even for a guy who just wants a photo. They wanted to come through not for me, but for the Red Cross and their fellow volunteers.

And come through they did. It wasn’t until 11:30pm that all the volunteers were making their way home after chasing red lights on a bridge for four hours.  But the day after, I have plenty of great shots of the bridge lit in all its glorious red.

BRIDGE2

Credit: Bob Schmidt

 

And because DRPA came through for us, 6ABC’s Cecily Tynan gave the Red Cross a very nice shoutout during her weather cast.

 

It wasn’t easy, but mission accomplished, much like a disaster response. Rarely are they ever easy or go exactly according to plan. But Red Cross volunteers are adaptable, flexible, and understanding. They are compassionate. So even though in this case, Red Cross volunteers weren’t helping a family burned out their home by a fire or feeding a child at a shelter because a massive ice storm knocked out power to their home (although at the same time, other volunteers were responding to two fires in Philadelphia), they helped make a difference. They helped share their pride in the Red Cross with others as the photos are placed on Facebook, Twitter, newsletters, etc. They may have prompted someone to donate $25 to the Red Cross or better yet, volunteer.

bridge 1

Credit: Michelle Alton

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Ben Franklin Bridge with Red Cross vehicle. Credit: Michelle Alton

 

The willingness of volunteers to help is what makes the Red Cross run. So when you look at these photos, think of the volunteers who made them possible and be confident that when disaster strikes, the dedication and care volunteers give to getting a photo pales in comparison to the dedication and care they give to people in their moment of greatest need.

Want to see MORE photos of Ben Franklin decked in Red? Click here for the full set on Flickr.

 

m19074810_Volunteer-AppTake heed, everyone! The American Red Cross has a new App for your mobile devices, and it is awesome in its power and scope. On July 18, 2013, the Team Red Cross App will be available for download at your friendly neighborhood App store, and, if you are serious about helping your fellow humans, you should download it immediately.

Although, I’m sort of old school when it comes to social networking stuff (when I was a whippersnapper, the internet was for guys in thick glasses sitting by enormous mainframes), I am really impressed by potential for the Team Red Cross App to harness the power of volunteers. Recently, when tornadoes hit south of Oklahoma City, thousands of local residents contacted the Red Cross to ask how they could help. In the future, people in the area of a serious disaster will be able to download the Team Red Cross App onto their devices and use it to learn exactly how they can help. The app will provide short orientations for those who are willing to help stock warehouses, move supplies, set up cots, serve food in shelters and otherwise support those who were driven from their homes by a disaster. In addition, the app will link volunteers to other opportunities to serve elsewhere or in the future and inform volunteers about First Aid classes they could take to expand their skill base.

Sounds good, right? Well, here’s why this app is a fantastic development. It will allow users to share their involvement with the Red Cross through their own social networks and thereby act as ambassadors for Red Cross volunteerism in their communities. We know that people are influenced by the activities and interests of their friends, and if a person you care about passes on information about how easy it is to volunteer, you may be moved to do their same. Users will be able to earn badges on the app as they learn more and do more for others. And it’s from this pool of committed people that the American Red Cross will be able to recruit long term volunteers, encourage blood donations in high need areas, and even give people the opportunity to donate money. Even if they can’t volunteer, app users will be able to share preparedness information and content with those affected by a disastrous event.

Finally, it will give the media, which is often inundated with requests for how individuals can help in the wake of a serious event, a place to send people for information. Over one fifth of Americans have already used an American Red Cross App (for hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes) on their mobile device. In our busy lives, we are not always near a television or radio, but many of us own a smartphone or tablet from which we can access the information we need to prepare ourselves and to help others.apps-in-emergencies-infographic1

So please, go to the App Store immediately and download the Team Red Cross App. It’s free! Tell your friends. Help spread the word. Be an ambassador for the most efficient way to fight disaster since the invention of the water hose.  The Red Cross needs you.