By Evan Peper

Three rivers threatened to overflow, farms and homes flooded, even I-5 itself was in danger of falling underwater — Lewis County was hit hard by torrential rains that took place at the start of 2022. Acts of heroism always arise with natural disasters, as evidenced by the 20+ water rescues needed by people trapped in their homes near the overflowing rivers. 

A look at flooded roads near Centralia in January 2022.

Such events create echoes that affect people more than just in the moment. Families need shelter, a place to sleep and something warm to eat. That is where Aaron and Deb Hayes came in — two Disaster Action Team trainees responding at a shelter for their first call as members of the Red Cross. 

“[We worked] inventory in the response trailer. Accounting for everything,” said Deb when asked about what their role was at the shelter. “Then we got to work a little bit in the kitchen and a little bit with the people in the shelter.” 

While it wasn’t quite the same frontline role they were used to in their 30+ year careers as first responders, it was still a crucial one. 

The Red Cross opened multiple shelters to support families displaced by the flooding event.

When asked about this change of duties, Deb said, “It’s kind of like coming home to a different agency but now you’re a volunteer.” Added Aaron, “It’s a whole new role. There are similarities, but in a different way.” 

Their background of service was part of what drew the pair to the Red Cross. They had skills to help those in need, and after retirement they were in demand. 

“When you’re retired with a unique skill set, people seek you out to gift your time to them. If I’m going to give to an organization that’s charitable, I really research it to make sure it truly is a charitable organization and is doing what they say they are going to do for the people they are supporting. I am flat out, absolutely, 100% impressed with the Red Cross,” said Deb. 

Aaron Hayes served as a volunteer firefighter before joining the Red Cross.

The Red Cross has left a big impression on the couple, even before they were official Red Cross volunteers. Especially Aaron, who would see Red Cross in his time fighting wildfires as a volunteer firefighter. “There is an awful lot that they do that a lot of people don’t realize. They do the feeding of the first responders. They will go down and set up the kitchens and feed the firefighters when they are taking their breaks.” 

After the couple’s first experience serving with the Red Cross, Aaron and Deb are more prepared for the challenges of being a part of the disaster response team. The Red Cross trains Disaster Action Team members to respond to various disasters, from providing immediate assistance in the middle of the night to a family experiencing a home fire, to helping in shelters like Aaron and Deb did with the recent flooding. Further training and experience can lead to a two-week deployment to bring relief during a national disaster like wildfires, hurricanes and tornados. 

Aaron and Deb have dedicated their lives to helping people in need, and that won’t stop just because they have retired. In their own words, “When you have that ability to say, ‘now I can really give back,’ that’s where the self-actualization happens,” says Deb. Aaron adds, “For me it means a chance to give back to part of the community. And

Three rivers threatened to overflow, farms and homes flooded, even I-5 itself was in danger of falling underwater — Lewis County was hit hard by torrential rains that took place at the start of 2022. Acts of heroism always arise with natural disasters, as evidenced by the 20+ water rescues needed by people trapped in their homes near the overflowing rivers. 

Such events create echoes that affect people more than just in the moment. Families need shelter, a place to sleep and something warm to eat. That is where Aaron and Deb Hayes came in — two Disaster Action Team trainees responding at a shelter for their first call as members of the Red Cross. 

“[We worked] inventory in the response trailer. Accounting for everything,” said Deb when asked about what their role was at the shelter. “Then we got to work a little bit in the kitchen and a little bit with the people in the shelter.” 

While it wasn’t quite the same frontline role they were used to in their 30+ year careers as first responders, it was still a crucial one. 

When asked about this change of duties, Deb said, “It’s kind of like coming home to a different agency but now you’re a volunteer.” Added Aaron, “It’s a whole new role. There are similarities, but in a different way.” 

Their background of service was part of what drew the pair to the Red Cross. They had skills to help those in need, and after retirement they were in demand. 

“When you’re retired with a unique skill set, people seek you out to gift your time to them. If I’m going to give to an organization that’s charitable, I really research it to make sure it truly is a charitable organization and is doing what they say they are going to do for the people they are supporting. I am flat out, absolutely, 100% impressed with the Red Cross,” said Deb. 

The Red Cross has left a big impression on the couple, even before they were official Red Cross volunteers. Especially Aaron, who would see Red Cross in his time fighting wildfires as a volunteer firefighter. “There is an awful lot that they do that a lot of people don’t realize. They do the feeding of the first responders. They will go down and set up the kitchens and feed the firefighters when they are taking their breaks.” 

After the couple’s first experience serving with the Red Cross, Aaron and Deb are more prepared for the challenges of being a part of the disaster response team. The Red Cross trains Disaster Action Team members to respond to various disasters, from responding in the middle of the night to a fire where a family is burned out of their house and need immediate assistance, to helping in shelters like Aaron and Deb did with the recent flooding. Further training and experience can lead to a two-week deployment to bring relief during a national disaster like wildfires, hurricanes and tornados. 

Aaron and Deb have dedicated their lives to helping people in need, and that won’t stop just because they have retired. In their own words, “When you have that ability to say, ‘now I can really give back,’ that’s where the self-actualization happens,” says Deb. Aaron adds, “For me it means a chance to give back to part of the community. And for both of us, it’s a chance to leave the world a little better than when we came in.” 

“For me it means a chance to give back to part of the community. And for both of us, it’s a chance to leave the world a little better than when we came in.” 

Aaron Hayes, American Red Cross Volunteer

Interested in becoming a volunteer? Go to redcross.org/volunteertoday to find a position that fits you!

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