Calm in the Middle of Chaos

In an early job as a respiratory therapist using a crash cart, Mary experienced a lot of excitement. Somehow, she always managed to stay calm. Now, as a Red Cross volunteer, she brings that calm presence to the sites of home fires and other local disasters.

“I was looking for a community service organization where I could volunteer,” she says. “There was a need in the community that not everyone could do.”

Mary meets that need with a level head, a helping hand, and hope when she responds to calls to disasters in the Ohio Buckeye Region. She is trained to respond to events such as home fires, tornadoes, windstorms, and floods.

Twice a month, Mary is on the roster in the Red Cross Disaster Services department, which responds to disasters large and small. If a call comes in to the department office, she and the rest of her team meet there, gather their supplies and bring water, blankets and a calming presence to people whose lives have been turned upside down.

The most common local disasters are home fires, and the local fire department will have already arrived at the scene. Fire scenes are often chaotic, so Mary’s first step is to find out from fire personnel what the situation is. Then she and the team reach out to those affected.

“We try to reassure them, comfort them, make a personal connection,” Mary says.

That reassurance is vital. Survivors are trying to digest what has happened. They might be experiencing a mix of emotions: gratitude that they and their loved ones are safe; shock at how quickly everything went up in smoke; realization of what they’ve lost. Mary and volunteers like her provide an emotional blanket as a cushion against the chaos.

The team finds out what the survivors need immediately. Often their home is not livable, so they’ll need safe shelter. They may have escaped with only the clothes on their backs, so clothing must be replaced. A diabetic may need to get more insulin, or a mom formula for her baby.

Recovery also includes emotional healing. Mary reassures survivors that what they’re feeling is normal; she may also offer the help of a Red Cross mental health volunteer. And every household receives a follow-up call from a Red Cross caseworker.

“We assure them that they’ll make it through,” Mary says.

They do make it through. In talking to those who have been through a fire, you realize how resilient people are. They go on to establish new homes, often in new neighborhoods with new networks of friends. Some go on to become Red Cross volunteers themselves, the calm in the middle of someone else’s chaos.

As a Red Cross volunteer, you, too, can offer help and hope to those who have experienced a disaster. To find out how, visit


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