BENNINGTON — Not long after firefighters arrived at a house fire in Bennington at 3:15 a.m. Monday, another rescue squad got a call.
Cheryl Remy and Stephan Tifft, volunteers with the American Red Cross, crawled out of bed and went to the scene. It was the second time in five days they were called to a fire, and it was the fifth time in five days the Red Cross had responded to a fire in Vermont.
Doug Bishop, director of communications for the local chapter of American Red Cross, said the number of calls for assistance per year has climbed from 106 four years ago to 179 for the fiscal year that ended June 30.
“Over the past four years, the number of times we have been called upon has increased 70 percent,” Bishop said.
And while the Red Cross doesn’t like to see fires or other disasters affect people, the growing number of calls could mean word of the help it offers is spreading.
“People are going to have these tragedies,” Bishop said. “We prefer people know that the Red Cross is there. We’re working hard so that fire departments, dispatchers and other first responders know what services we provide.”
The Vermont and the New Hampshire Upper Valley Region of the American Red Cross serves an area that includes all of Vermont and 12 Upper Valley communities in New Hampshire, encompassing 10,000 square miles with close to 700,000 people.
And with offices in Burlington, Rutland and Brattleboro, the Red Cross relies on people like Remy and Tifft — who are officially the Bennington County Disaster Action Team coordinators — to do the majority of the work on the ground.
“When the call comes in, we get the word out to the local volunteers,” Bishop said. “They take it from there. Our goal is to be on scene within two hours of receiving the call, and most of the time we’re getting there within the hour.”
Bishop said the key to achieving those goals are the Red Cross Disaster Action Teams, or DATs, of which there are 12 in the region.
The DATs show up at the scene of the disaster and offer emergency lodging and assistance to help with immediate needs like clothing and food.
“The Red Cross views the recovery process as beginning the moment the disaster strikes,” Bishop said. “We want to make sure these folks have that place to stay.”
Remy and Tifft provide that first recovery step. The two are retired, or semi-retired, and have a little time to offer their community, they said.
Monday’s call was their fourth in 45 days, they said, but when the phone rings, it doesn’t matter what they are doing, they drop everything and try to help.
On Thanksgiving Day, the phone rang. They had just had dinner.
“I had just sat down in my easy chair and we got the phone call,” Remy said. “Disaster knows no holiday.”
The married women said it was while watching the recovery from Tropical Storm Irene they decided they wanted to volunteer.
The women said they were touched Monday when they attended Bennington Elementary School, where the fifth-graders there turned over a check for $155.13, the results of a penny drive held to benefit victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
“It almost brought tears to our eyes that the kids wanted to help out,” Remy said.
But that is how the American Red Cross gets its money.
While it is sometimes mistaken for a government organization, Bishop said the money that is used to help people recover after a disaster is all donations.
“We are responding locally because of the support we get locally,” Bishop said. “Services are provided free to those who need it and are supported through the generosity of donors.”
To donate to the disaster relief fund or to get more information, log on to www .redcross.org or call 660-9130, ext. 111.
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