American Red Cross of Greater New York

My work is more than my job

THE RED CROSSI volunteered with the Greater New York American Red Cross (GNY ARC) in their Disaster Mental Health Service, offering trauma assessment and trauma prevention services to victims of fire, flood, gas main explosion, building collapse, train derailment, helicopter and airline crash, and other disasters that I responded to. I was glad to have had more than three years of experience with this team before the events of September 11, 2001.

I took a 2 day training on a Monday & Tuesday (licensed mental health professionals only). Four days later, on Saturday, I had my first call-out. It was the first sunny, beautiful weekend day in a long while, and all the experienced responders were out enjoying it; I was home packing for a coming move, and so got the phone call. My call-out was to a building on the verge of collapse. By that evening, we stood in the street watching it be torn down safely before it could fall disastrously. The residents never had the chance to pack that I had, and lost everything ... pets, money, artwork they'd made, all existing photos of a recently lost relative. It was quite a "there but for fortune" moment, and made the value of the work very palpable.

There is a FEMA program called the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) initiative in which volunteers are trained to be local first responders to disasters in their community. The NYFD teaches all other sections of this course in NYC, but gets someone from GNY ARC to come in and teach the mental health section. I was asked by GNY ARC to do this a few times; once, in Medgar Evers Community College. My high school, Brooklyn Preparatory, closed with my graduating class and re-opened in September as Medgar Evers. This was my first time back there. I also saw St. Jerome's (my grade school's) basement church another time, while responding to folks displaced by a helicopter crash. No deaths or injuries, no damage except to the chopper, everyone went home. Too bad I didn't get to see the upper church, where I'd been a choir boy!

In order to continue on this ARC team, all volunteers were "asked" to request online that the (George Bush, Jr.) Federal Government run a background check on them. I saw no provision for such an investigation to ever end. I never made the request, though I'm confident that as a result I've been checked more thoroughly than most.


A Red Cross, the Empire has.

TRAUMA TRAININGBesides a two-day training for this team, I sat for a two-day training for the OMH cirt - the Critical Incident Response Team. Then another two-day training to be personally certified with the ICISF ... the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation. And when I changed jobs from South Beach PC to Creedmoor PC, and joined the CPC team, still within OMH ... yep, another two-day training. These trainings were as wildly varied as pease in a pod. I took one more (so far) two-day training, but this one was not so repetitive ... an advanced ICISF training for those with some trauma work experience. When I supervised Masters students in Social Work, I did not have to re-take the "Seminar in Field Instruction" in each school; they recognized each other's credential. There's room for some standardization here.