The Ottumwa Courier

February 23, 2014

When fire departments need help

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA--- The garage wasn't flooded, the tornado sirens weren't screaming and the place was not on fire. Yet there was the Red Cross.

"We wanted to let the public know that the Red Cross works with the Ottumwa Fire Department, and not just at fires," said Julie Smithart, an Americorps member who volunteers at the local Southern Prairie Chapter of the American Red Cross. "If there were a blizzard or massive power outage, they can help us rescue people who have no power and no transportation."

The fire department could get a family to the nearest disaster shelter, which in many cases will be operated by staff and volunteers from the Red Cross. The Red Cross focuses on getting the basics to people.

The Southern Prairie Chapter's open house Saturday was held in the truck-sized garage at the central fire station.

"The three things the Red Cross helps with immediately during a disaster are shelter, food and clothing," Smithart said.

Even when it comes to an individual disaster, like a fire, Red Cross workers find a place for a family to stay and something to eat for a few days. The clothing is useful since victims nearly always have to leave everything in the burning home.

The Southern Prairie Chapter of the American Red Cross works in eight counties with fire departments whether there's flooding, a blizzard or a tornado. And, said a fire department commander, they're good for firefighter morale.

"They are very helpful," said Ottumwa Assistant Chief Bill Trout. "Not just at fires, but any disaster. They are there to help the people, but they do a lot for us, too."

It's vital, said Red Cross Americorps volunteer Janelle Schmid, to keep firefighters hydrated. Summer or winter, the inside of the fire resistant suits get awfully hot, she said. Add in the level of exertion rescuers need to use and they lose a lot of water to sweat.

"In temperature extremes," said Schmid, "we'll take cold water to them. For extended [duration] fires, we'll feed them."

"All we have to do is call them," said Trout, "and they're there."

News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark