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English, Red Cross comfort county

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DIANA BUCKLEY
Ellis County Press
FERRIS - Barefoot and shivering in the wintry rain, the 69-year-old man stared at a lone axle, the only thing remaining after a fire consumed the abandoned motor home, his only shelter.

'I've never asked for help before,' the man said, sadly shaking his head.

'Well, I think you need some now,' Red Cross volunteer Jerry English said compassionately, handing the man a change of warm clothes and a blanket.

'A volunteer fireman gave him some boots, and we gave him a voucher for 30 days in a hotel,' English told the Ellis County Press.

The incident is representative of the work done in Ellis County by the local Red Cross. Although he traveled with the national response team to 30 disaster sites across America last year, English said his real focus is on local, reoccurring emergencies.

'People think about national disasters, tornadoes and hurricanes,' he said. 'What they don't know is we spend more on the local emergencies - house fires, floods.'

Often, lack of knowledge on the part of fire departments or victims prevents the Red Cross from providing aid.

'Some of the local fire departments just don't know to call us,' English said.

The Ellis County Branch of the American Red Cross recently purchased a new emergency response vehicle, which English and other volunteers man faithfully.

'Our charter from the government is to feed the workers and the victims,' said English, displaying the supplies of coffee, bottled water, Gatorade® and snacks in the truck.

'We also have warm clothing, slippers, teddy bears for the children,' he said.

Volunteers are prepared to write out immediate vouchers to allow people to shop at a department store, eat at a restaurant or buy groceries, and spend at least three days in a hotel.

'Whatever it takes to get the victims back to work or school until their insurance kicks in,' said Red Cross Official Blaine Miller. 'The first three days are critical. It takes that long for people to begin to work things out.'

Volunteers work continuously to ensure preparedness. 'The ability to respond depends on having people who are trained and ready,' a brochure stated.

'Each year the Red Cross trains thousands of people who can then provide consistent, quality services to people affected by disasters.'

Specifically, the organization provides a wide range of first aid training - from First Aid for Little People, a coloring book featuring Safety Star, to Emergency Response Classes.

Miller said the group works closely with schools to provide training to youth. 'The middle of March starts our bad weather season, so in February the Disaster Dudes letter is sent to all school principals,' he said.

But Miller said only about 25 percent of schools take advantage of the free curriculum guides and other materials.

'We don't get too much response,' he said. 'But the ones that use it, once the schools get into it, they see what a good program it is. Every year we have the same ones back.'

Miller said the most common response from inactive schools is: 'We don't have time to add anything to our curriculum.'

English urges residents to call him at 972-937-2055 for more information, or access the website at www.redcrossdallas. org for a complete list of services and courses provided by the organization. Parents can then work through the local schools to initiate classes not currently being offered.

'We do a lot,' he said. 'People just need to know. We can't help if they don't call us.'

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