Red Cross responders share B.C. Fires experiences: Being able to provide this support is just a beautiful thing to do

By: Justine Touaux, communications specialist

Since the start of this year’s wildfires season in British Columbia in mid-June, more than 1,600 wildfires were recorded in the province, burning over 868,000 hectares of land, and forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes throughout the province.

The Canadian Red Cross sent close to 200 employees and volunteers from across the country to help support individuals, families and communities affected by the wildfires.

Among them were 118 emergency response team (ERT) members whose daily responsibilities consists of meeting with people who have been evacuated, in reception and resiliency centres or directly in their communities and helping them complete their registration with the Red Cross.

Based on people’s needs, Red Cross teams also refer them to relevant information and community resources, provide financial assistance to eligible households, and provide hygiene kits to those who are still living out of a suitcase and home cleaning kits to others who have been authorized to go back to their homes.

Kaitlin in a mask and Red Cross vest standing with a few clean-up kitsWhether they spent two weeks in the field or the entire summer, all the ERT colleagues who shared their experience said this is the most fulfilling thing they have ever done: they took tangible steps to help people get back on their feet after their lives were turned upside down and learned from them.

Kaitlin Baronas, pictured right, was deployed to Kamloops, B.C., her third deployment to support emergency operations in 2021.

The reason Kaitlin says she gets up in the morning and heads to the Kamloops reception centre is to help several people get through disaster:

"I like assisting people one-on-one and making sure they get the help they need."

It goes beyond filling out forms and providing the right resources.
Cheryl Horgan pictured outside in her Canadian Red Cross vest.
As Cheryl Horgan puts it, people affected by wildfires “really need to be heard” and emergency responders are there to listen.

“It’s a horrible thing to happen in life, so when [they] reach out and decide to share their story, to have somebody reach back with love, it means a lot,” says Cheryl, pictured left. “Being able to provide this support is just a beautiful thing to do.”
 
Some of these encounters have left a lasting impression on Red Cross emergency responders.

Karar in a mask and Red Cross vest sitting behind a sheet of plexiglass with a resident from B.C. sitting across from him.First-time volunteer Karar Al-mamaar was humbled by the courage and resilience of the people he met in Lytton, some of whom had lost everything.He is pictured here on the right.

During her visit to the Skeetchestn Indian Band territory, Zaineb Jawad sat with an Elder who prayed in her presence: “In the prayer, she included me, my community and where I come from. It was very touching and emotional.”
 
An emergency responder's days can be filled with a great deal of work and emotion, but they can always count on the support of their colleagues: "It is an incredible experience working with the Red Cross. The sense of humanity and the support received from the teams and their leadership make for a great work environment despite the situation,” says Karar.
Zaineb smiling in a Red Cross vest with mountains in the background.
Kaitlin, Cheryl, Zaineb (pictured left) and Karar may have returned home but other Red Cross employees and volunteers will continue to support British Columbians in their journey to recovery.

If you want to make a difference with the Canadian Red Cross, explore our paid and volunteer opportunities. Learn more about the 2021 B.C. Fires Response.

Hear Canadian Red Cross site manager Deb Hollands-McKinnon talk about the resilience of communities that have been evacuated due to the wildfires in British Columbia:
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