Red Cross needs volunteers for more than disasters

John McCombs talks with a Chicora-Cherokee resident about house fires during an outing last fall.

More than 100 Lowcountry residents stepped up to help the American Red Cross after last month’s flooding, but there’s another area in which volunteers are needed more often.

The majority of Red Cross calls are for help after house fires. The organization has also ramped up a neighborhood blitz to reduce house fires.

The Red Cross is the agency fire departments call for help when residents are displaced by fires. Almost everybody who helps out is a volunteer.

The Red Cross also needs volunteers to help prevent house fires, according to Lisa Quick, the local chapter’s volunteer coordinator.

About a year ago, the local chapter joined a national campaign to reduce house fires by 25 percent over the next five years. Trained volunteers knock on doors with firefighters, checking and replacing smoke alarms, giving safety tips for preventing fires and making sure residents know what to do in case of a fire.

“We know smoke alarms cut the risk of death from a fire in half, and that’s why the Red Cross is working with fire departments and community groups across the Lowcountry to install smoke alarms and teach people about home fire safety,” regional Red Cross Chief Executive Officer Louise Welch said. “We’re asking every household to take two simple steps that can save lives: check their existing smoke alarms and practice fire drills at home.”

John McCombs, who works full time helping the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gather information for maps, leads the local Red Cross Home Fire Preparedness Campaign. Teams started last fall in the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood in North Charleston because fire officials identified the area as high-risk for house fires. Teams have also worked in Charleston, the St. Johns Fire District, Awendaw and Huger.

“I really wanted something to do that makes a difference on the local level,” McCombs said.

He has also responded to house fires and managed the shelter at Summerville High School after the flooding.

The Red Cross is also looking for volunteers in areas other than immediate disaster relief. Opportunities include office work, blood drives, representing the agency at community events, supporting members of the military, event planning, media relations, providing lifesaving training in CPR and water safety.

Training requirements depend on the position.

“It’s a very rewarding experience,” McCombs said of his volunteer service. “I’ve given up a lot of my vacation time, but you get it back in what you see from the people.”

Reach Dave Munday at 843-937-5553.

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