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November 30, 2021

10/15/2021 11:01:00 AM
Pandemic or not; Red Cross volunteer not letting up

Unlike most of America,  which has reduced personal travel and interactions with strangers during the past 18 months or so, Lindstrom resident Dave Ackerman has been putting in some serious miles, making human connections and seeing parts of the U.S. he didn’t even plan to.  Take Louisiana, for example, habitat galore for alligators and snakes.  Ackerman isn’t shy to admit these are not his favorite creatures. Yet, he recently returned from two weeks in Morgan City Louisiana. 

The Red Cross called and he answered.

Dave joined the Red Cross  15 years ago and between deployments to hurricane stricken areas and fire ravaged terrain out west— it’s been a busy few months.

“I keep a suitcase packed,” he says. Seriously.  He was home for a week between his last two deployments.

The standard is a 24 hour notice when there’s an availability, which is about par for the course for this retired firefighter. Dave was an EMT on the Cottage Grove Department and paid on-call member for decades.  His wife Pam is “100 percent behind me,” he adds.  “She says if you need to go, go.”

Sometimes the Red Cross deployment is to somewhere in Minnesota.  He worked the chaotic Drake Hotel fire aftermath in Minneapolis, for example.

His heart fills with joy and warms from acts of helping those in need and the disaster itself really doesn’t matter.  If he’s navigating miles of destruction in the bayou, toughing out blackened remnants of wildfire —or if he is deployed to a single family house explosion— Dave says he gets the same swell of satisfaction.

At the worst moment in peoples’ lives, when he can personify the Red Cross response, “That’s what it’s all about...leaving them with a tiny piece of sunlight,” he muses.
His speciality is mass care and he is approved to transport Red Cross vehicles. Other volunteers come in with an interest in healthcare, some have food handling experience.    There are a variety of positions to be filled. Ackerman says you can be involved at the level that works best for you.  Internet-based trainings are available frequently.

The Red Cross has logistics down to a fine art, and will schedule the volunteers’ flights, arrange ground transport and provides a stipend for food etc.
Information is on the website AmericanRedCross.org.

Dave drove a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle from the midwest to Louisiana,  but he flew to the Caldor Fire area at the Nevada and California border.  

Of the hurricane’s swath of destruction, he drove through  miles of decrepit buildings worse than the any ghetto you think you’ve seen, there were big boats lifted onto land (is there anything sadder than a beached boat) and the heat certainly didn’t help matters.  

In the southwest, on the 20 minute ride between his hotel and where the Red Cross station was set up,  the landscape was all burnt, there was nothing left.  “You wonder what there is left to even catch on fire,” he recalls.

Dave scrolls through photos on his cellphone... the way most travellers will share famous sites and panoramas. Ackerman’s trip pictures do include a typical vista of a southwest mountain range. But swipe to the next photo and it’s become a viewscreen full of haze.  There was a 24 hour period of straight smoke smell and zero visibility where he was.  

He stresses that 80 plus percent of what gets donated to the Red Cross is used in the service of aiding communities. He can’t say he has ever seen any waste in the field.  It gets his dander up when people complain about the director being well-compensated— but it’s a crazy huge undertaking, running this organization.  Imagine all the crews out in the eastern part of the U.S. with the coastal flooding, in the south and out with the fires, he says. And, the response to more remote sites. He assures potential givers that the more involved he gets as a volunteer the more impressed with the whole operation he has become.

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