Mark Ali 0000-00-00 00:00:00
It was like watching the abrupt ending to a high-speed car chase played out reel by reel in the latest action blockbuster. The car skids through a water spot. The back wheels whirl to the left, the front bumper smacks into the highway rail, and the car flips over, falling 20 feet and landing upside down on a riverbank. But Michael Spurlock wasn’t watching this scene from a comfortable movie theater seat; he was seeing this play out in real time from the passenger’s seat of his boss’s car while driving back from Jackson, TN, along I-40 last May. As the car in front tipped over the railing and disappeared down the hill, Spurlock and his boss swerved over and jumped out. They stood staring in shock at the car lying halfsubmerged in the Loosahatchie River, human legs dangling from the window like wires from a tattered wall. The only question was: What do we do? “When you are the first person at the scene of an accident, you feel responsible,” says the 24-year-old Spurlock. “Your first reaction is, “Oh, my God!” but you know this is a chance to save someone’s life.” Spurlock’s instincts triggered his memory of the skills he learned years ago during an American Red Cross CPR certification course. At the time, he took the course only for his personal benefit, never expecting to actually use the skills he learned.Bob Hoguet, director of the American Red Cross, Mid-South Chapter, says this is the most rewarding aspect of what the nonprofit organization does. “It takes only a few hours to be certified by the Red Cross in life-saving skills such as CPR ,” he says. “We conduct a variety of community classes for the public, businesses, and organizations. We also provide preparedness training. I’ve had so many volunteers thank us for allowing them to do something. When you help someone through a difficult time, it is so emotionally satisfying.” After pulling the passenger out successfully, Spurlock and others who had arrived flipped the car right side up while the driver remained unconscious, strapped in by his seatbelt. “I thought I was looking at a dead man,” Spurlock says. He then did what he was taught. He checked for the man’s pulse, cleared the man’s airway, and tilted his head back to allow oxygen in. The driver began to cough and spit, and Spurlock knew he was alive. “Aside from the specifics of what to do in an emergency, the biggest factor the Red Cross taught me was to stay calm,” Spurlock says. “If not for the class, I would have been in a panic.” Formed in 1881, the American Red Cross is one of the 186 Societies of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement around the world. Its mission is to provide relief to victims of disaster and help individuals prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies. Though the organization is known for responding to major disasters, most people are unaware of how often the Red Cross reacts to local disasters, the majority of which are fires. Lawanda Wallace found herself in need of Red Cross services on Christmas Day last year. While spending Christmas evening with family away from home, she received a call from her neighborhood watch leader telling her that the house Wallace shared with her fiance and nephew was on fire. “When we pulled into the neighborhood, firemen were everywhere,” says Wallace. “We saw our home and everything we had worked for burning. My fiance and I just looked at each other and couldn’t believe this was happening.” The Red Cross maintains a group of trained emergency response volunteers called the Disaster Action Team who take turns being on call 24/7 for one week a month to respond immediately to local disasters. It was one of these volunteers who showed up shortly after Wallace returned to her burning home. The Red Cross put Wallace and her family in a hotel for three nights and provided basic necessities, such as toiletries and a credit card to help purchase some of the materials the family lost. The Red Cross also provides professional health counselors and a caseworker that assisted with insurance matters and other services. “The volunteer stepped in wonderfully,” Wallace says. “I could tell right away that her spirit was real and she cared about what happened to us.” In the aftermath of a local disaster, the Red Cross Mid-South Chapter also provides professional mental health counseling and connections to other agencies for long-term assistance. Last year, the Mid-South Chapter assisted 907 families with immediate local disaster relief. The organization takes pride that humanity is their No. 1 principle. The disaster relief services are completely free. Hoguet asks, “If we weren’t here, who would be there in the most critical hours? Somebody has to be there so people don’t have to fend for themselves when they have lost everything and are mostly in shock.” There are 720 Red Cross chapters throughout the US and all operate based on five key services: service to the Armed Forces, disaster services, health and safety services, biomedical services, and international services. Service to the Armed Forces includes assistance in areas such as communications and notifying soldiers if a loved one has died; disaster services respond to major and local disasters; health and safety services provide training for emergencies, such as CPR and water safety; biomedical services include collecting blood from donors; and international services offer programs such as Holocaust and War Victims Tracing, which helps reconnect war survivors or locate where an individual is buried. The Mid-South Chapter started in 1917 and now serves a population of 1.3 million, including Shelby, Fayette, Tipton, and Lauderdale counties in Tennessee; Crittenden County in Arkansas; and DeSoto and Tunica counties in Mississippi. The majority of funding comes from public donations and fundraising, along with revenue from educational programs. United Way provides roughly 27 percent of the total funding. After two major tornadoes ripped through the Mid-South last year, staff members and volunteers began taking steps to increase the chapter’s capacity. When the first tornado hit Memphis in February 2008, the Red Cross assisted about 100 families by opening shelters, performing damage assessments, and driving emergency response vehicles throughout the area offering meals. Then, another tornado. This one hit Earle, AR, in May, and the Red Cross Mid-South Chapter again responded immediately. “I remember assisting with the emergency response vehicle in Earle, and a young woman came up with a few nicks on her face,” says Hoguet. “She said that her home was destroyed and that she and her husband survived by hiding in the bathtub. I got out of the vehicle and walked around to her house and was just shaken. I couldn’t believe anyone could survive in that mess.” Currently, the Mid-South Chapter relies on more than 500 volunteers. When Hurricane Gustav hit the Gulf Coast in September and its victims evacuated to Memphis, volunteers found themselves again on the front line, helping to run 23 shelters in community centers, schools, and churches for roughly 3,000 evacuees for nearly a week. “During that time, I was afraid I might lose staff members or volunteers because some were putting in 18-hour days throughout the operation,” Hoguet says. “We are a 24/7, day in–day out organization, and our response is for the victims’ immediate needs. Our services are completely free. They are a gift from and to the American public.” The American Red Cross was chartered by a Congress that recognized that human suffering can’t wait for governmental bodies to act. It was a wise decision way back more than a century ago. Today, there are angels who respond every time a fire engine siren starts wailing or a tornado siren stops wailing — they’re Red Cross volunteers putting compassion into action. And we are blessed to have them among us. American Red Cross, Mid-South Chapter, 726- 1690, midsouthredcross.org.
Published by Downtowner Magazine. View All Articles.
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