By Gordon Williams
The American Red Cross relies on volunteers to carry out its mission of providing aid to disaster victims. But Rick Isaacson of the Greater Inland Northwest Red Cross chapter, headquartered in Spokane WA, takes volunteering to a whole new level. Asked what he does for the Red Cross, Rick replies, “Anything and everything they ask me to do.”
As for what “anything and everything” entails, Rick is first of all a member of the chapter’s board of directors. As such, he spends a lot of time out in the community winning friends and seeking donations for the Red Cross. “I speak to such groups as the Rotary and the Lions,” he explains. “I tell them what we do, and I solicit support. I try to support the Red Cross every way I can.”
Rick also recruits new volunteers for the Red Cross. “I try to convince people they need to volunteer, and that the Red Cross is a good place to do that,” he says.
As to what he does while at the Red Cross, Rick describes himself as “a jack of all trades”. He helps maintain the chapter’s fleet of response vehicles; he also does routine housekeeping chores around the place—fixing things, changing light bulbs. If a disaster action team (DAT) is short-handed when responding to a fire, Rick will fill out the team. He has been active in the Red Cross Home Fire campaign—installing smoke alarms in homes that don’t have them. Finally, he is the “go to” person to handle the details of special events and ceremonies at the Red Cross chapter.
That’s what Rick does for the Red Cross, but it is far from all he does as a volunteer. He also is a volunteer with the Chelan County Fire District #1 in Wenatchee WA. There he serves as public information officer, drives a 2,000-gallon water tender to fires and keeps the department’s fire-fighting helicopters fueled and in the air.
You would think that given Rick’s background, he would be an obvious choice to be a Red Cross disaster responder. In fact, that is one job at the Red Cross that Rick rarely performs. That’s because when the Red Cross is asked to respond to a fire, Rick is already at the scene with Chelan County firefighters. What he can do is brief the Red Cross on conditions at the fire scene and advise on what assistance the Red Cross responders will be called on to provide.
Rick first came to the Red Cross in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Born in Everett WA, Rick retired 17 years ago after nearly a quarter-century with the Everett Police Department. He then began casting about for volunteer opportunities. “I had a good enough pension that I didn’t need to work, and I wanted something that would let me give back to the community,” he says.
He first volunteered with a conservation group and did some search and rescue work for the Chelan County sheriff’s office. Then came Katrina, and Rick volunteered with the Red Cross. He got to Louisiana three weeks after Katrina, just in time for Hurricane Rita to strike the area. As a retired police officer, Rick was assigned to provide security at shelters in Baton Rouge and Alexandria LA.
Despite all the natural disasters the Red Cross has responded to since Katrina, that was the only time Rick has been deployed to a far-off disaster scene. That, of course, is because his first duty is to assist Chelan County firefighters battle blazes nearer to home. “I have been asked to deploy,” he says, “but I am needed more at home.”
There are always house fires in the area, but the greater danger is wildfires. Washington’s wildfire season starts earlier and lasts longer than it used to. So far in 2018, Rick has responded to just one house fire, but to a dozen wildfires. In fact, on the day that we talked, Rick was not in Wenatchee but in Colville WA—part of a firefighting contingent that has been prepositioned in an area considered at great risk from wildfire.
At the scene are several helicopters, a bulldozer, fire trucks and crews to operate everything. The units have been on scene for four days without a fire, but with high temperatures and low humidity a wildfire could break out at any time. A dropped cigarette or a firecracker could set it off, and Rick notes that most wildfires are caused by human carelessness.
Should a fire start, the helicopters would take to the air to dump water on the flames. They can stay aloft for just two hours. Then they must return to base, where Rick would be waiting to refuel them.
Eventually the fire threat will ease, and Rick will return to routine duty in Wenatchee. And there, once again, he will volunteer to do anything and everything the American Red Cross asks him to do.
Our work is only accomplished because of volunteers like Rick. You can have an immediate impact on your community by joining the American Red Cross. Find out how by visiting our website: www.redcross.org/volunteer