Sunday, April 30, 2006

DiRT Photos

Wednesday was pretty rough. I made a critical error and jumped on the A Train, 'the quickest way to Harlem.' That I hadn't wanted to go to Harlem made no difference to the train itself, and I showed up at the Red Cross rather later than I intended. Team Captain Amanda had everything in hand, though, so she, Driver Bob and I (a new volunteer was supposed to show up, but was unfindable) jumped in the mystery machine and hit the road.

We immediately had a call in Queens, and were at the intersection for the 59th Street Bridge when the dispatcher asked us to respond to a 2 Alarm fire in Manhattan instead. We'd see that intersection a few more times.

We had brought no warm water, and it was cold, especially for people who'd been burned out of their building. We opted not to make lemonade, and just handed out unrefrigerated water, blankets and parts of jogging suits. A crowd had gathered in front of the building -- with ambulances and firemen all over, it was pretty exciting. But, after they had gone, a good part of the crowd remained. Because they'd been burned out of their homes and were waiting for us to house them.

The fire went pretty much as normal, but it took a while to register everyone. One interesting tidbit about this building was that it was apparently full of firebugs -- residents in three different apartments had started fires before. This one was a pretty cut and dried cooking accidents -- the fire marshalls found a frying pan in the center of the fire. The father of some of the children was an occasional resident and had recently come out of the hospital; he had bad eyesight and was slow moving. I don't know what was wrong with him, but I do know that some of the other newly homeless were open with their resentment.

So, OK, 10:30 rolls around and I get pretty excited. We're all done, pretty much, and it's too late to respond to another emergency. I'm thinking I'll be home by midnight. But, that 'pretty much' turned out to be pretty far from absolute.

A number of people had been hospitalized nearby, but we expected some of them to be discharged. So Amanda, Bob and a Red Cross mental health worker named Dorothy went over to the hospital to wait for them. Staff member Brian had come up to hand out cash cards (clothes, shoes, food) and had set up shop in the MTA bus we had obtained to transport people to a hotel near La Guardia. The 'fire family' was on the bus, so the other residents seeking shelter waited on the cold on the sidewalk in order to minimize conflict. Good of them. Still, they got grumpier and hungrier as time wore on.

One resident was on the bus explaining to his wife over the phone that they no longer had an apartment. When she arrived, she was pretty upset about her dog. It had leapt out of a window to escape the smoke, and died. She didn't want the super to take care of the body, Animal Control knocks off at 8:00 and the police weren't eager to transport a dog corpse to the 24-hour animal hospital for expedited cremation. She was a heart patient -- and an extremely agitated heart patient -- and the firemen had destroyed the cabinet containing her pills in fighting the fire. The dog, she said, was her only family in this country. I would have counted the husband, but she was pretty upset. And the mental health worker was waiting in the hospital with Amanda and Bob, all three with their radios off.

I mentioned Bob was the driver. So, for the two hours or so he was a few blocks away, I couldn't get to the water, comfort kits (toothbrushes and so forth), snacks, heater meals and so forth in the van. Eventually Brian took me to his SUV for materiél, so we got them something to eat. And I cooked my first heater meal. It's like a frozen entree, but not frozen. You drop it in a bag with a heater pad, add the included water, and set it to rest, film side against heater pad. Ten minutes later, you've got a meal. Miraculous. Of course, over the course of the ten minutes, you have a dangerous and painful thing to hold, as some of the disaster victims found out.

Some time after midnight, Brian took over the dog issue and Amanda, Bob and I took the residents out to the hotel. I rode in the bus. These photos are from my time in the bus pre-takoff.

The kid (Chris, holding Nick) has my helmet and flashlight in the first photo. When it was his turn to photograph me, he chose to underscore exactly how large I appear to children.

After dropping the people off and helping them register for and find their rooms, we realized that we'd forgotten to put a notice up! Then Amanda got a phone call from the officer on the scene that residents were still arriving! We went back to the fire building, picked up this one young woman, and brought her back to Queens. She wanted to know why we would choose to volunteer for this. I told her, 'we like sadness,' which probably isn't the official line. Three AM by the time I knocked off. Oof.


Anonymous said...

First off: I'm in awe of your commitment to volunteerism. Way to go! (Like the young woman you drove to Queens, I too wonder why you do it!)

And now, some questions:

1) What does DiRT mean?

2) Is it somehow part of the Red Cross?

3) Whom do you mean by "the fire family"? The family in whose apartment the fire started?

4) What's your schedule for going on these runs, anyway?

5) Did you still go into work the next day? I guess that flex-time must have come in handy...

Kudos again.

-- Brad

Rionn Fears Malechem said...

1) Disaster Response Team. Recently renamed from Disaster Action Team by some wag in Washington. The other DiRT 'brisk action' groupies, or DiRTBAGs (OK, thats a joke, and a strained acronym to boot) persist in referring to it as a DAT, but we all know the truth.
2) Yes.
3) Yes. The lingo's not hard to pick up, and you nailed it.
4) Every other Wednesday, 5 to Midnight.
5) Yes. They consider themselves surprisingly non-optional. I rolled in around 9:30.