Volunteers Upset With Red Cross Approach

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The wounds on the land from the Rodeo-Chediski Fire are still open and raw.

The fire has left the community of Payson with open wounds too: the economic impact due to the loss of tourism; and continuing hard feelings about the Red Cross efforts here.

Those feelings were given voice Thursday, July 18. A group of grassroots volunteers met with Gary Niki, volunteer resource manager with the Grand Canyon Chapter of the American Red Cross.

"The Red Cross came in and took over and left a lot of hard feelings. (The community volunteers) were pushed aside and told to do it Red Cross' way or there's the door. Red Cross is getting a black eye," one volunteer said.

Another said the Red Cross response was very slow, while local efforts were quick. The organization did not come into Payson until three or four days after the town had opened the shelter.

Niki said Payson volunteers are not the only people complaining about the Red Cross response to the fire. There were also problems in Holbrook.

"Red Cross is doing a lot of damage control and re-education of its volunteers," Niki said.

The meeting, organized by Ron Peterson, was to determine if a local Red Cross unit should be organized. Other options presented were:

Developing a local disaster services group and having its efforts be supplemented by Red Cross, including the provision of training; or

Training in disaster work through a Federal Emergency Management Agency which the Northern Gila County Fire Chiefs Association is planning.

Lorna Hansen was one of the most vocal critics of the Red Cross at the July 18 meeting. Later, in an interview with the Roundup, she said the primary problem was with the Red Cross red tape.

"The protocols and procedures are just overwhelming, but some of the Red Cross people were precious. Our urgent care was a model. We had 60 volunteers, from doctors to EMTs, providing 24-hours a day, manned urgent care," Hansen said. "It was an awesome group and we were able to work with Red Cross to meet the needs of the evacuees."

She added the local effort was given a great deal of support by Lifestar Ambulance and Manzanita Manor. Hansen also said her own employer, RTA Hospice and Palliative Care was tremendously generous, telling her to take all the time she needed to do the job she needed to do to help the evacuees, and paid her for her time as well.

Hansen said she thinks the FEMA training planned by the fire chiefs' association will provide Rim country volunteers with what they need, should another disaster strike.

Ron Peterson talked about the Red Cross and the community's efforts in a press release. He sees the FEMA training as a good opportunity too.

"Under FEMA direction, there is now a national plan for the development of Local Disaster Volunteers," Peterson said. "This plan would train local citizens to be available to assist with local disaster needs. If Payson would now establish an Office of Disaster Services with an executive director, that office could serve as a clearing house and coordination center for all disaster support services.

"A Red Cross unit with Red Cross-trained volunteers could then be dove-tailed into this centralized office and a coordinated plan of support services developed," Peterson said.

Peterson is still promoting the idea of creating a Red Cross unit in Payson for the Rim country. He said the disaster training could then be provided locally. Without a unit, those interested in the training would have to go to the Phoenix area, he said.

Volunteers interested in Red Cross training, starting in September, may call Peterson at 472-9120.

How they helped

For the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, the Red Cross:

Contributed $3.9 million in funds and resources for relief;

Served 20,528 evacuees;

Opened nine shelters;

Set up 17 feeding sites;

Sent out 33 mobile feeding units for fire fighters and other emergency personnel;

Served 450,000 meals and snacks;

Had more than 2,000 volunteers working in relief efforts, including 600 from out of state, but only 60 paid staff.

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