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Red Cross volunteers come from all walks of life

Samantha Hill is Red Chapter Support staff member from Sioux Falls. Jamie Grant/West Fargo Pioneer1 / 3
The staff nurses are responsible for treating the more than 1,000 Red Cross workers in the area. Jamie Grant/West Fargo Pioneer2 / 3
Technical support team members BethAnn Miller and Barry Altman, both originally from Minnesota, help to keep on-site staff and field teams connected.3 / 3

The American Red Cross is such a fine-tuned machine that staff members and volunteers can set up or dismantle their temporary disaster headquarters in the blink of an eye. Moving wherever they are needed as disasters and emergencies develop, the relief teams have learned to label everything carefully as they pack so that they will know exactly where equipment and supplies should go when they set up at their next location.

"We go through a lot of blue marking tape. If you look around, you'll see little patches of blue stuck to the back of everything," Samantha Hill, a Red Cross Chapter Support staff member from Sioux Falls, said. "These guys are so good at what they do that it is fun to watch them. They can relocate overnight if they have to," she added.

On Friday, April 3, when West Fargo residents helped Gov. Hoeven celebrate a flood victory at the Veterans Memorial Arena, the Red Cross relief headquarters were abuzz with activity. But by the following Monday morning, most of the computers and equipment had already been packed up, and only a skeleton crew remained at the facility. Red Cross has moved its operations to their local chapter headquarters at 1301 39th St. N. Fargo. For now.

John Kappert, Administrator of Material Services for the American Red Cross, says that the community has been outstanding to work with. He commended the staffs at the West Fargo School District and West Fargo Park District for going above and beyond the call of duty to help make the Red Cross's job easier.

"The Parks and School staffs have been fantastic to work with. They have been working around the clock to accommodate us being here," Kappert said.

The Red Cross organization has 32 warehouses throughout the United States, with their national headquarters in Washington, D.C. A large portion of the supplies used here came from warehouses in St. Louis and St. Joseph, Mi. The Red Cross also has a wide circuit of in-kind donation programs set up with major corporations across the nation. Kappert was overwhelmed by the generosity of people in this area, and the kindnesses shown to Red Cross workers.

"This community is unbelievable, and it has been a pleasure to be here," Kappert said. "The offers that have opened up from businesses and individuals have been amazing," he added. Donations and support for flood victims have been coming in from businesses and organizations all over the area.

The American Red Cross has an agreement with all the major phone providers to get the highest power cell phone packages available. They also bring their own satellite to guarantee they get strong coverage, and have a partnership with hamm radio operators to get their message sent out quickly in areas with poor coverage.

After manning the disaster phones or working in emergency situations day after day, Red Cross volunteers learn to shut out work and avoid listening to the news during their time off. All Red Cross workers are urged to try to take one day a week off to get away and do something non-disaster related. However, in the middle of a disaster, that advice is hard for many to heed.

"I'm a semi-control freak. I want to know what's going on at all times. It's hard for me to walk away," Kappert admits. It's like running a huge corporation, you have to keep on top of things," he added.

One thing that Kappert insists is essential for keeping the Red Cross workers going, is keeping a good sense of humor.

"If you lose that, you're done for. It's the best defense against letting everything get to you," Kappert said.

Each department has a job to do, and they take pride in doing their jobs well. At the end of their stay in West Fargo, the relief teams took a deep breath, and got ready to go home, or move on to their next assignment. The technology team quickly began the task of deleting email messages from every computer, erasing all data and readying them for the next disaster team to use.

The Veterans Memorial Arena is back on its regular schedule. But for many Red Cross volunteers, the friendships and bonds developed while fighting the 2009 flood together will not soon be forgotten.