The Rim country has its very own Red Cross unit, a development that means a more seamless response to emergencies like major forest fires.
In fact, it was the Rodeo-Chediski Fire in 2002 that made the need for a local Red Cross unit clear. The emergency shelter set up during the fire was initially manned by local volunteers, and when the American Red Cross moved in and assumed operation, the transition caused some hard feelings.
"We still marvel at how well everything was going when we locals were running the shelter," local Red Cross volunteer Linda Pelletier said. "It was a valiant effort, but the federal government finally called the Red Cross in to take over."
Some local volunteers who had manned the shelter for several days felt they were being shoved aside, and that procedures and paperwork required by the Red Cross amounted to so much red tape. It won't ever happen again, because six months after the fire was out, a group of dedicated Payson volunteers formed a Red Cross unit right here in the Rim country.
Four of the founders of the local unit, Pelletier, Lynda Papaioanu, Carol Flowers and Roxey Bowers, were working at the Rim Country Middle School shelter when the Red Cross came in. While they didn't see how the transitions went in the family services and health services areas, they felt they were treated well and that the new procedures made sense.
"We were up front checking people in and the guidelines they were giving us to follow were really important things," Pelletier said. "It wasn't their fault that it happened the way it did. We had no chapter to notify them so they had to wait for the federal government."
But Pelletier and her fellow volunteers decided things would be different the next time.
"With our own branch, we could get the Red Cross up here faster next time," she said. "During the fire, they put the little smocks on us and made us Red Cross volunteers, but after it was all over they said if we really want to be volunteers we have to take their classes."
Training is an important part of forming a Red Cross unit.
"The Grand Canyon Chapter (to which the Rim country unit belongs) has spent countless hours the last two years coming up to Payson to train our volunteers," Pelletier said.
Volunteers are even required to have their food cards in case they have to man a cafeteria.
The Phoenix-based Grand Canyon Chapter also has provided the Rim country unit with two fully-equipped shelter trailers.
"They have cots, coffee servers, blankets, plates, cups, utensils -- everything we need to have a shelter operational within 45 minutes of notification," volunteer Allan Pelletier said.
The Rim country unit includes a special Disaster Assessment Team ready to respond to any disaster 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the Grand Canyon chapter provides a back-up Fast Support Force that responds within four hours after a local shelter is established.
"We also work closely with the fire department, police department and other community-based organizations to coordinate a fluid response," Pelletier said.
So far, the Rim country unit has more than 25 members.
For more information, contact Papaioanu at (928) 472-7245.