On April 18, as people grasped the severity of the explosion of the West Fertilizer Plant Co. the night before, there was an outpouring of desire to help those affected.
“Everybody wanted to do everything,” said Mary Basiliere, station manager of the Fort Hood Red Cross. She said she briefed her staff on handling public response to disaster and then it began — phones were ringing, Facebook and email messages were pouring in and people visited the on-post office in the Reynolds House ready to make the hour or so drive to West.
At that time, the Fort Hood Red Cross was offering help to the Heart of Texas Red Cross, which supports the area of Central Texas surrounding Fort Hood, but for these situations the nonprofit only sends in trained volunteers once requested.
“A lot of people who came in got frustrated, but the last thing you want to do is send untrained people into a disaster area,” Basiliere said.
Of those who came in, each one did sign up to be a Red Cross volunteer, she said. The office also accepted monetary donations specifically to meet the needs of West residents.
“The outpouring of support from the Fort Hood community was fantastic,” Basiliere said. “If you are thinking about (volunteering), act now. Don’t wait until a disaster hits.”
Disaster volunteers go through a series of workshops before they are eligible to join a response team. Then volunteers can specialize their skills.
Fort Hood sent a team of disaster volunteers to help with client case work — sitting down with families to determine their immediate needs, meeting those needs and then directing them to other agencies that could help with ongoing recovery. There were 32 agencies represented in West, Basiliere said.
“So many people just didn’t have access to their homes yet,” said Kelley Reszetylo, disaster chair for the Fort Hood Red Cross, who responded as part of Fort Hood’s team. She is now helping build up Fort Hood’s team of trained volunteers to be ready for whatever lies ahead.
Fort Hood volunteers also served breakfast Thursday to the first responders who participated in the memorial service for the 15 people who died in the explosion.
For volunteer Hollyanne Milley, it was her first time responding to a large disaster.
“The people of West — I’d never been there before — and I was struck by just how proud and kind and patient and resilient the people of the community were,” she said. “It’s just so humbling to hear the heroic stories of the people of West who are just helping one another. It was really awe-inspiring to see how this community pulled together. The Red Cross, we played a part in it, but it’s a very strong community.”
Starting May 7, the Fort Hood Red Cross will begin offering disaster training on Tuesday afternoons to prepare its team of volunteers for future events. On Thursday mornings, the on-post office is open to answer questions from prospective volunteers.
But it’s not just disaster volunteers who need to be ready for an emergency, Basiliere said. Families should also create an action and communication plan that includes pets.
“Teach your kids what to do when a disaster strikes,” she said. “We are always available to answer questions and help people develop a plan.”