Meet Denis, a volunteer supporting communities affected by Hurricane Fiona

By Stéphane Corbeil, Canadian Red Cross volunteer

Originating on the coast of West Africa on September 14, 2022, Fiona’s destructive character took the world by surprise. Reported wind gusts ranged from 100 to 140 km/h, rainfall exceeded 100 mm in some locations and hundreds of thousands of people experienced power outages. Sadly, Fiona holds the record for being the most intense storm to ever hit Canada. Denis Lessard, a Quebec Canadian Red Cross volunteer since 2006, was deployed in Newfoundland on October 2, 2022, following this severe weather event.
 
Every morning since his arrival, Denis leaves his hotel room and boards the bus that goes to the reception centre in Port aux Basques with other Red Cross members. Mornings and evenings, he travels two hours to get there. He doesn’t mind the bumpy drive because it allows “locals to have hotel rooms close to their home.” 
 
Denis Lessard wearing a Red Cross vest and smiling to the camera at a reception centerPrior to his deployment, Denis didn’t know what role he would play in Newfoundland. However, quickly after his arrival in Port aux Basques, he was named supervisor for the Red Cross reception centre, a place where community members can access information and services to deal with the impacts of the storm and relocation support when they are unable to return home.
 
Denis’s mandate is to support Red Cross responders who help affected people, which requires active listening skills and a great deal of empathy. “At the beginning, people were experiencing a wide range of emotions, it was a bit of a roller coaster. As no two situations are alike, we need to listen to their unique stories.”
 
Once people have shared their feelings and are reassured, the responders explain what services are available to help them meet their needs. “Most people were evacuated for 24 to 48 hours. While many have been able to return home, a lot of people still need housing support because their home is either completely destroyed or they are waiting on authorities to confirm if their home is structurally safe.”
 
Adaptability during a deployment
 
During an emergency deployment, “you need to know you are not on an organized tour, emphasizes Denis. During the first hours, leadership and resourcefulness are key. In emergency situations, you must be ready for unexpected situations”.
 
Despite his training and his knowledge of Red Cross processes, the first few hours at the reception centre required him to quickly adapt to the local scene and specificities explains Denis. “Being paired with local responders helps better understand the context you find yourself in, and everything works out, says Denis while highlighting the stellar work of local responders. When you arrive on site, you do what you are told, you observe, you listen and you learn. By the third day, I was able to take on the role of supervisor."
 
Courage and humour in the face of difficulty
 
From the moment he arrived, Denis was impressed with the resilience of impacted people. “They face adversity with humour, and they don’t let the situation bring them down. Some people brought us pizzas and cakes. One fisherman even brought us cod that he had prepared!”
 
Isolated but not forgotten
 
At the time of this interview, Denis had just been asked to join a mobile team that will go to remote areas to give people access to services. “I will be part of a two people team that will travel over two hours from our hotel, around three hours from Port aux Basque. It’s going to be a different experience, because we’ll be meeting people in their homes. We will also try to identify people requiring psychological support and to put them in contact with social workers deployed to the area.”
 
The day before leaving, he didn't fully know what to expect. "We're going to scout it out to try and understand their situation”.
 
As demonstrated by Denis’s experience, resilience, flexibility, open-mindedness and listening skills are vital in any emergency situation.

Related articles:
How Red Cross is helping those impacted by Fiona in Canada
Red Cross responds to Hurricane Fiona in Atlnatic Canada and Quebec
comments powered by Disqus