DAT is an acronym for Disaster Action Team. What does an American Red Cross DAT member do? DAT members are volunteers who respond to area disasters.
Those disasters most likely involve a serious house or other structure fire. Fires are more than 90 percent of the local calls to which we respond. However, in rare cases, it could be a flood, tornado or some other event such as a blizzard or severe storm.
In most cases, our DAT member is paired up with another DAT member and they respond as a team. Our geographic area includes all of Seneca County, including all of the city limits of Fostoria, which overlaps some into Wood and Hancock counties.
We don't give first aid to disaster victims; that's done by emergency service people who have special training for those things. We are there to provide hope to the family in their time of need.
Picture, if you would, that it's a cold night in January, about 3 o'clock in the morning. You're in bed and all of a sudden, the dog starts barking. You jump out of bed, run into the hall to find the entire back of your house in flames. You scream at your spouse that the house is on fire. You grab the kids and run out the front door with your spouse and dog close behind. You turn around and see flames coming out every window of your house and, in the distance, you hear sirens.
We had another inch of snow over night and your family escaped with nothing but their PJs. No socks, shoes, coats, nothing at all. Your mind is racing: Did everyone get out OK? Where is the dog? All my keep sakes are in there, my pictures, money, checking stuff and my mom's special china cabinet and the glassware she left me when she passed away last year, my furniture and all our clothing. What can I do to keep the kids warm? How did this happen? What are we going to do? Did I pay the insurance?
John Sherer is executive director of American Red Cross in Seneca County
The fire department arrives and immediately starts to fight the fire. The chief radios dispatch to call the Red Cross to have them send a Disaster Action Team to the fire scene. Upon arrival at the fire scene, our DAT members immediately seek out the fire chief to let him know we are on the scene, and we get as many details as we can about the fire and the family and what their needs are going to be.
We then contact the family and let them know we are there to help them, and as soon as they have time, we will sit down with them to find out what we can do to help get them through the next few days. Sometimes, the family will talk with us right away; other times, they may be so distraught that we have to wait. While waiting, we try to find a warm place where we can meet with the family away from the scene of the fire and talk to them in private.
Probably the most important thing we do during the interview process with the family is to be a good listener. We let them talk and we listen. If there are kids involved, we will give them a stuffed animal that they can snuggle with. Every situation is a little different, so you have to go with whatever the situation dictates.
Some of the things we provide the family with include letting them know where they can go over the next few days for help with different things. We find them a motel close to their home and we usually put them up for three days. We give them money in the form of a debit card for food and clothing that they can immediately use. It works just like a credit card, so they can get new clothes immediately.
We let them know how they can reach us should they need to talk with us further. In most cases, we will follow up with the family within a week of the fire to make sure things are going OK. By the way, that money we give them comes 100 percent from donations our local community members make through the United Way or to our local Red Cross office.
Our DAT members strictly are volunteers. They get paid nothing for what they do, not even gas mileage to get to and from the fire scenes. They take a number of 3- to 4-hour training classes to learn how to fill out forms and so forth, plus we ask them to learn CPR and first aid.
Our DAT members do what they do because they want to make a difference and what better way to do it than to be there for someone who has just experience one of the most devastating events of a lifetime.
Would you like to make a difference in someone's life by becoming a volunteer DAT member for your Fostoria Red Cross Chapter?
If you said "yes," e-mail me at
firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (419) 447-1424.