Local Red Cross Shows Mettle

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The emergency shelter set up by local Red Cross volunteers, their first real test under fire, went much smoother than they expected.

Formed six months after the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, the local unit has conducted mock drills in preparation for an emergency. And last summer during the Willow Fire, a shelter was ready to go, but never needed.

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Executives from the Grand Canyon Chapter of American Red Cross passing through town while the evacuation shelter was open looked in on Payson volunteers. Chief Operating Officer John Phelps (left) and Chief Executive Officer Cathy Tisdale flank Lew Levenson of the Payson unit.

When evacuations began Thursday afternoon, however, the local Red Cross served their first evacuees -- initially at a shelter quickly set up at Julia Randall Elementary School, and then at the Payson High School Wilson Dome.

Volunteers expected more evacuees, forcing the need for additional space at PHS. But those people never materialized.

"We were set up at JRE for 75, and we probably could have handled another 25 to 30," Lew Levenson, head of the local unit, said.

On Friday, the decision was made to move to larger quarters, and two hours later the shelter had been relocated to the Wilson Dome and was up and running -- about 20 evacuees showed up.

"All the predictions and alarms we had been going through for the last several days had us anticipating all these people," Levenson said.

"‘There are all these people on the road; they're heading your way, right now as we speak.' But hardly anybody showed up."

On Sunday, with the danger over and the evacuees allowed to return home, the shelter was closed down.

"Everything is packed up and we're ready to go again when the bell goes off next time," Levenson said. "We're getting good at it."

Cathy Tisdale, chief executive officer of the Grand Canyon Chapter, to which the Payson unit belongs, praised the effort.

"Lew (Levenson) has taken the leadership up here, and he has gone from zero to a very well-trained group of Red Cross volunteers who are ready to go into action 24 hours a day, seven days a week," she said.

All costs incurred when a shelter is set up are covered by the American Red Cross, sometimes with help from local businesses.

"Red Cross expenses are covered 100 percent by donations from the public," Tisdale said. "We get no government funding."

To make a donation, visit www.arizonaredcross.org, call (602) 336-6660, or mail a check to 6135 N. Black Canyon Highway, Phoenix 85015.

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