The article below was written by Brother Brian Tannehill about his wife’s response with the Red Cross during Hurricane Sandy. Read more about the Hurricane Sandy response by firefighters here.
My wife is a volunteer for the American Red Cross in Montgomery Alabama. She has just started volunteering this last year as a disaster response team member. They have been put on notice to deploy two other times to hurricane areas around New Orleans but never responded. She left on November 3rd for a two week deployment to support Hurricane Sandy in New York. Keep in mind she is a country girl from Louisiana. While we have traveled the United States for 13 years as a military family, this is her first trip alone to a big city. She had never seen a subway before, much less a two story walmart with an escalator!
She arrived late on the night of the 3rd in White Plains NY. There she was housed in a staff shelter which was basically the high school gym. She DOES not like the cold weather, and froze there that night! Fortunately she was able to venture out and buy some cold weather gear the next day.
From White Plains she was transferred down to Manhatten/Times Square area where she was put up in a hotel. This would be her staging point for the duration. Her team of two was sent too many different areas of NY to include the Bronx, Long Beach, and Far Rockaway, NY. They worked in and experienced some of the harder hit areas of NY. There primary job was helping out in Disaster Response Centers (DRCs). Daily duties varied from helping take care of mental patients in the Bronx at a homeless shelter, chasing down phone numbers to FEMA and disaster assistance, or helping to organize and hand out the massive amounts of food, clothing and other supplies that were donated. Each assignment was different and each new day presented itself with numerous challenges. I do not think she was in the same place for longer than a day or two which was also a challenge. She was very aggravated with getting a system down in one area, them having to go do something new in another area, hoping that the next crew could continue the same work.
(One of the many DRCs.)
One of the daily challenges was just driving. It would take her team anywhere from one and a half to two hours to travel 20-30 miles out to the DRCs. Finding gas was also a huge problem, and her GPS on her phone was not always reliable. Combine that with waiting in line for hours only to find out the gas station you were told would positively have gas, did not, was very aggravating. Luckily her team member did all of the driving, and as my wife says “New York drivers are CRAZY!”
I have been a volunteer firefighter in two different states off and on for a few years. She has come along on many call outs from fires to wrecks so she wasn’t totally unaccustomed to disasters on a small scale. She was even on my first Volunteer Fire Department with me in Louisiana. However the magnitude of this disaster was at times overwhelming for her. “The look of hopelessness and desperation was on everyone’s faces. I think the elderly people got to me the most. Everything they worked their whole life for was gone in an instant. Some looked like they wanted to just give up. Please pray for them, that God will give them the strength to get through this.”
(I think this sign says it all, posted at one of the DRC’s.)
One of her highlights was providing insulin for a diabetic. When the National Guard came through they had given this woman about a weeks’ worth of insulin. However she was quickly running out. She did not have a car, and somehow managed to make it in to one of the DRCs where my wife was working.She spent hours on the phone tracking down insulin, but was successful. “I was able to get some insulin for someone who hasn’t had any for days. All the medical offices have been closed since the hurricane so I had to make a lot of phone calls but I got it done.”
While she was in NY, on the one off day she had, she managed to make her way to the World Trade Center Memorial. She said it was overwhelming and we both remember what we were doing that day when it happened.
Overall she was very excited to have been able to help out. Some days were tougher than others, but all in all she felt she was making a difference. I am very proud of her stepping out of her comfort zone and volunteering to do this. While I have been on many trips associated with the military, it was different having to stay home while she was gone. I definitely have a new found appreciation for what she does here while I am gone.