PANAMA CITY — The Central Panhandle Chapter of the Red Cross is looking for local volunteers in Holmes and Washington Counties to serve on Disaster Action Teams.

PANAMA CITY —  The Central Panhandle Chapter of the Red Cross is looking for local volunteers in Holmes and Washington Counties to serve on Disaster Action Teams.

“We are looking for volunteers to help in case of fire emergencies,” said Bethany Colombo, emergency services program manager. “Local volunteers are the our first reponse in the case of emergencies.”

Volunteers are needed in every area of the Red Cross, but are in immediate need for volunteers for fire response Disaster Action Teams and sheltering in Washington and Holmes Counties, Colombo said. “These are the people who help get emergency victims temporary housing and money to get them started on their way to rebuilding.”

The Red Cross mission is to “prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.” 

“95 percent of our workforce is volunteers,” Colombo said.

The Central Panhandle Chapter is responsible for six counties, Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington Counties.

Fire responders, called Disaster Action Teams, are on-call 24/7 to respond to fires in their counties and assist fire and disaster victims with temporary sheltering, food and clothing.  Working closely with fire and police departments, volunteers from the affected county are typically dispatched to the scene within 2 hours. 

If no county volunteer is available, then volunteers from neighboring counties are called in.  DAT members play a critical role in helping the families get started in rebuilding their lives after a disaster such as a fire or tornado.  It takes a special person to get out of bed at 2 am in the morning to rush to the assistance of a neighbor in crisis.  Red Cross volunteers are there every day making a difference in people’s lives.

“If we had local responders, it would cut down on that response time,” Colombo said. Currently it takes about two hours for a DAT to respond from Bay County to Holmes or Washington Counties, she said.

 Local Red Cross Disaster Action Teams respond to a disaster event approximately every other day.  Last year DAT responded to 16 house fires in Washington County and nine in Holmes County. Families were assisted with such things as temporary lodging, clothing, food and replacement medications. 

 The Red Cross also needs shelter staff in all counties, Colombo said. “When the county Emergency Management Office determines that an evacuation is in order, or a large number of community members are displaced due to fire or tornado, the Red Cross will open shelters,” Colombo said. 

Shelter staff members take care of the sheltering needs of people affected by disaster.  They are committed to providing a safe and comfortable shelter on an interim basis while the families arrange for their recovery or until able to return home. 

Volunteers perform registration, feeding, dormitory management, information and public affairs management, logistical support, and disaster health services.

Training is provided, Colombo said.

Other Red Cross volunteer opportunities include:  Disaster Health Services (for RN’s), Disaster Mental Health (licensed mental health workers) Logistical support, Disaster Assessment, Client Services, youth programs and Government Liaison.  All have deployment opportunities for volunteers who want to support national operations.

To volunteer with the American Red Cross, log into and complete the application for the Central Panhandle Chapter or call the chapter with any questions 763-6587.