When Loren Jones departed the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly after nearly a decade, he said he planned to stay active in the community. Volunteering with the Red Cross has him helping out in other communities, too.
Jones was recently one of eight Red Cross volunteers to be deployed early this month to Sacramento, California, to assist with several wildfires, specifically the McKinney Wildfire, burning across California. The eight volunteers were tasked with forming a sheltering team at the special request of Red Cross national headquarters.
“The Red Cross has always had a great reputation for serving in times of disaster,” Jones said. “When I thought of all of the areas and non-profits I could volunteer with and then spoke with Britta (Tonnessen), I decided that Red Cross fit my desires to be helpful within the city, state and region.”
Red Cross disaster program manager Britta Tonnessen said since Jones joined the Red Cross last fall, he has offered skills and time that have been valuable.
“Given his skills and time available, we paired him to a couple positions to start including Government Operations and Operations Management,” Tonnessen said. “He joined on as my disaster program manager of Southeast Volunteer Counterpart. Over 90% of our workforce is volunteer. Since Loren joined he has also become a Mass Care Sheltering Service Associate and Disaster Action Team Responder (he responded to the multi-unit fire in Juneau a few months ago providing immediate financial assistance and care). Loren holds office hours and supports Steady State (non-disaster operational) activities such as the Juneau LEPC, the Ironman aid station, community events, and exercises. We are so very grateful for Loren’s service.”
From all over the state to where help is needed
The other Alaska volunteers came from Anchorage, Wasilla, Fairbanks, Two Rivers, Skagway and Ketchikan, with Jones being the only volunteer from Juneau. The volunteers left by Sept. 8 and upon arrival in Sacramento, Jones said they traveled as a team to help the various sheltering operations across the state.
According to Tonnessen, two other volunteers who deployed to the same disaster response from Southeast Alaska are Paulette Laberge out of Ketchikan and Ray Tsang of Skagway. Laberge is Red Cross’ primary disaster action team responder in Ketchikan, she has supported sheltering agreements in Ketchikan, and is a mass care sheltering manager. Tonnessen said Laberge left the wildfire in California last weekend and directly reoriented to the Typhoon Merbok Disaster Response in Alaska. Tsang has multiple disaster cycle service positions from mass care sheltering to logistics distribution of emergency supplies.
The Red Cross announced this week that dozens of volunteers were ready to mobilize to meet needs created by the storm that battered western Alaska.
“Alaskans can’t thank the American Red Cross enough for recognizing the immediate need families in western Alaska,” said Gov. Mike Dunleavy in a news release. “This partnership, along with the assistance of other relief agencies in Alaska, is just one more example of Alaskans coming together when it matters the most.”
Jones said in his time as an elected official, especially through the pandemic, he gained an understanding of what an emergency operation center needs to be successful.
The Alaska volunteers deployed to Sacramento but then immediately went to Aurora, California, which is about 45 minutes east of Sacramento, according to Jones. They worked in 12-hour shifts from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. That Friday night they opened another shelter in Rockland, California, just 14 miles west of Aurora.
“When Red Cross deploys you, it’s for a total of 14 days, 12 hours on, 12 off with one day off. It’s pretty tiring, physical, emotionally and mentally, but at the same time extremely rewarding when you’re face to face with people you’re directly helping and you see the impact it makes,” Jones said.
The next day, volunteers successfully moved everyone from the Aurora shelter to the Rockland shelter, which Jones said was located in the parking lot of Sierra College. Shelters consisted of RVs and tents and the Salvation Army provided all meals with food trucks to the evacuees.
“I basically operated as what they called a sheltering service associated, I was just a worker person,” Jones said. “We set up cots, we checked people in and out, we helped people that needed assistance as best we could, we provided snacks, we provided safety and security for them and meet their needs as best we could with the limited scope of our services which was to provide shelter and food, that was basically my role.” Although a lot of my training is in government operations, this time I was just strictly a worker bee.”
Jones described the evacuees as being mostly quiet, but said he was especially impressed by the camaraderie he saw and the amount of coming together during the time of crisis
“People were as you might expect, just wondering how long things were going to last and when they could go back. The longer they stayed in the shelter, the more worrisome they got about, ‘how long this is going to last or when can I go back home?’” Jones said. “I was impressed with the humor that many were exhibiting, as well as the resilience they were showing as well as the way everyone bonded together in the shelter by helping one another out. For me it was a really great experience to witness people who had potentially lost their homes and all its contents but just hanging in there and trusting things would be OK.”
Still burning, but improving
As of Sept. 23, the McKinney Fire had burned a total of 76,575 acres, as reported by CapRadio, and is roughly 60% contained. Jones said the Sierra College shelter where he was stationed has since closed, both Eldorado County shelters have closed and most of the evacuation orders have been lifted. Jones said the fire is getting close to resolving itself and currently the Mosquito fire between Sacramento and Reno is the only fire still showing as being active according to the Active Duty map.
“When I left on Monday on my last shift, we had a lot of people intending on going back home and I assume on Tuesday and Wednesday they probably had the rest and by Thursday they were closing the shelter,” Jones said.
While there are no immediate plans for more deployment, Jones said he has made himself available to the Red Cross for all of the month of October, before he visits his grandkids in New Mexico in November. Jones said he encourages everyone who has the means and an interest to look into volunteering with Red Cross as he said it’s one of the more rewarding experiences he’s found.
“Persons interested in Alaska or helping elsewhere, you should consider giving some time to the Red Cross,” Jones said. “Red Cross provides a lot of training, and they provide opportunity for people to learn how to respond to disasters. There are various opportunities at the red cross at various levels of responses. We’re really trying to up our number of volunteers and I would just like to encourage people to explore volunteering with the red cross, it’s a very wonderful organization and we can use all of the volunteers we can get.”