BENNINGTON -- It was a busy year for volunteers with the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team in Bennington County, who responded to more than a dozen fires and distributed thousands of dollars worth of materials to those hit by disaster.
In addition to efforts following Tropical Storm Irene, last fiscal year from July 1, 2011, to June 30, the Disaster Action Team (DAT) in Bennington responded to 13 fires to aid 40 individuals with money, shelter, clothing and food.
This past year alone, the Red Cross gave $8,200 to people in the county who had lost everything in fires for general expenses. Additionally, fire victims in the last year were given $1,400 for food and $4,600 for clothing. The Red Cross also put many of the fire victims up in motels for three to four nights following the disaster.
"The Red Cross does what their immediate need is -- what’s it going to take to get them through the next three or four days until they get into the Vermont Economic Services ... and then if there is any insurance involved it kicks in," said Bruce Pollock, deputy chief response officer for the Vermont and the New Hampshire Valley Red Cross.
The number of fires was up this past year, but so were the funds available to the Red Cross.
"We receive no government funding. Everything we provide is given by people to the American Red Cross," Pollock said. "What’s happened over the last year, with Hurricane Irene, the donations were up significantly."
Like donations, the Red Cross is also constantly trying to increase its fleet of volunteers on DAT teams throughout the state. An introductory class for prospective DAT volunteers will be held at Bennington Rescue Squad July 19 from 6 to 9:30 p.m.
Volunteers on DAT teams respond to emergencies in their communities and surrounding towns when they arise and are trained to provided disaster relief and emotional comfort.
When a fire or other disaster strikes, the Red Cross is always on the list of calls emergency responders make.
"Local fire chiefs and emergency management directors know about the Red Cross and what they provide. A lot of time they’ll get on the scene and knock down the fires and then get on dispatch and say we need to help these people," Pollock said.
"It may be they need food and beverages for the firefighters and first responders ... or it might be, ‘I have a family of six that just lost their house and needs a place to stay,’" Pollock said. "At that point we would call our closest volunteers, the closest to the incident, and two or three would go down and do what they can do."
The DAT team in Bennington consists of approximately 18 volunteers, some more involved than others. Following a disaster such as a fire, DAT volunteers connect with disaster victims to review their emergency needs. Most recently, local volunteers responded to help residents of an apartment above Mahican Moccasin shop in Pownal, where the occupants were in need of financial assistance for food and clothing after losing all of their belongings in the fire that destroyed the building last month.
Additionally, volunteers provide information to families impacted by disasters about additional state, local and charitable resources that may also be available to help in their recovery.
In addition to attending an introductory class such as the one being held July 19, a person must also attend a couple of training classes to become a DAT volunteer. Then they will work alongside an experienced volunteer until they feel comfortable being called upon during disaster responses.
DAT teams also hold monthly meetings to review responses the team has been involved in, talk about upcoming events, provide new information and updates, and discuss available training opportunities.
"The training sessions are free. All it takes is a little bit of their time to attend the training, do the meetings and go to the responses," Pollock said.
Volunteers run the spectrum from young adults with full-time jobs to retirees.
To learn more or sign up for the informational class later this month e-mail Nicki Raymond at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 802-254-2377.
Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi.