Red Cross Disaster Action Team provides essential services throughout county; volunteers needed

Photo Ricardo Tomboc: Disaster Action Team members assess fire damage caused to a 64-unit apartment complex last month. From left: DAT Captain John Hillman, Disaster Responder Robin Pederson, DAT Captain Dr. Ken Witte, and Disaster Responder Kent Behrends.

On Sunday, October 31 a fire broke out in a 64-unit apartment complex. The San Bernardino County Fire Department immediately responded. The fire department was able to confine the damage to a 4-carport area of the building. The fire destroyed three vehicles and severely damaged the building around and above the carports. The four occupied apartments immediately above the carports suffered damage and were “red tagged” by the fire department, which means that they were uninhabitable. The main water lines to the building that ran across the carports were destroyed affecting the entire 64-unit complex. 

The San Bernardino Fire Department requested the American Red Cross to assist residents of the complex.  A crew of four Disaster Action Team (DAT) members arrived within an hour of the call. DAT members assessed the damage and worked with the fire department and the owners of the building, it was determined that plumbers would be able to replace the water pipes and restore the water service by the end of the day. However, the four families that were displaced needed immediate assistance with housing and other basic needs while still at the scene of the fire. During disasters such as apartment fires, Red Cross works with individuals displaced to help them on their path to recovery and volunteers reach out to provide comfort kits that contain food, drink, hygiene items, and accessibility to snacks and water for immediate needs. DAT members were able to immediately assist each of the displaced families. 

This is just one DAT call for service, out of the almost 200 calls for service in San Bernardino County in a year. The Red Cross DAT members are all volunteers and are placed on standby for calls for service one week at a time, 24/7! However, the east side of San Bernardino County has experienced a major shortage of DAT volunteers. More trained volunteers are needed to help respond to incidents in our community.

In emergencies such as wildfires or flooding or other incidents that require community members to evacuate, shelters are open at venues where immediate access is available, such as schools and community centers. An emergency shelter requires multiple shifts of volunteers to open and operate, and that is where community members can help.

Existing volunteers like Dr. Ken Witte, who trained as a Disaster Action Team Captain and lives in Lake Arrowhead, respond to various calls for service at all hours of the day and night. Where normally he would take a week off and on-call for the next, Dr. Witte has been on-call 24/7 for over a year! And if anybody knows Dr. Witte, they will know that he loves it – he is a people person with a heart of gold. Dr. Witte is a retired educator and school principal and volunteers for several other organizations as well. 

John Hillman from San Bernardino has been a DAT Captain but is taking a short leave after serving the San Bernardino community for decades but will still respond when the need is dire. John is still involved in disaster preparedness education, disaster emergency sheltering, and extremely active in his community. Robin Pederson from Rialto is assigned to the west side of San Bernardino County but has responded to most of the east side calls with Dr. Witte due to the volunteer shortage. Kent Behrends is a DAT member who lives in Chino and is assigned to the west side of San Bernardino County but will also respond to where the need is. 

Red Cross volunteers are needed. Training is free and available in an online and/or in a classroom setting. The exciting part is that you can be kept busy as much as you like. Local Red Cross volunteers can be deployed across the state and/or the country to assist with various disasters. Transportation, lodging, and meals are all provided. Even if you are not interested in being deployed to a disaster, there are several other areas in which one can volunteer such as biomedical services at blood drives or deploy virtually assisting victims across the nation without ever having to leave your home.  For more information, go to