By Erin Carden, Red Cross Content Creation Team Member
October 28 is National First Responders Day, a day that honors firefighters, police officers, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), and anyone else first on the scene when disaster strikes. On this National First Responders Day, we’re recognizing Red Cross volunteers in our region who have also served as first responders in New York State.
Bonnie Brill is a former New York State EMT and special police officer who now spends much of her time volunteering with the Red Cross. As a Disaster Services Technology (DST) volunteer, Bonnie uses her technology skills to set up connectivity to support disaster relief efforts. And as a Red Cross Life, Safety, and Asset Protection (LSAP) volunteer, she helps to ensure that disaster environments are as safe and secure as possible.
Born in White Plains, NY, Bonnie now resides in New Paltz, where she has lived for the past eight years. The catalyst for her service with the Red Cross came after she was rescued by EMTs from a near-fatal motorbike accident in 1984. “It was like having an adrenaline rush,” she explained. “I knew I couldn’t sit on the sidelines during a disaster.”
Bonnie has volunteered with the Red Cross for over thirty-six years, becoming particularly active after the 2001 September 11th attacks. She has been deployed to New York, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Virgina. Bonnie joined the Red Cross because it was a way for her to become involved in her community, and because she “shines during a disaster or crisis” — a quality she recognized in herself once she began working as an EMT.
Mentally preparing herself for what she would encounter during an emergency was one of the most challenging parts of being a first responder. During EMT training, Bonnie’s instructor told her class to picture the worst scenario they could ever imagine before responding. Bonnie explained that the reality they faced was usually a lot better than what they envisioned, and noted that this mental exercise helped her when responding to emergency calls.
Recently, Bonnie experienced a particularly rewarding moment while volunteering with the LSAP team in North Carolina. There she met an elderly woman who was being discharged from a Red Cross shelter where she had spent the night after being evacuated from her home due to a severe storm. Although the first storm had passed, another storm warning had been issued, and the woman was afraid to leave the shelter. “She told me she didn’t want to go to her new housing location because tornadoes were coming,” Bonnie explained. “No one would take the time to listen to her. She was scared because no one could care for her. I sat with her, comforted her, and made some phone calls because I was concerned for her safety.” Bonnie insisted that the woman remain in the shelter instead of being released that evening. “I felt very good” Bonnie acknowledged. “I would do it again if the same situation arose.”
Bonnie believes that every one who volunteers for the Red Cross —whether they have had experience as a first responder or not— should have compassion for others and dedication to the Red Cross mission. “I highly believe in the Red Cross,” Bonnie said. She strives to publicize the great work of the American Red Cross as much as she can, and consistently encourages others to join.
“I tell people how good you feel when you join the Red Cross knowing that you helped someone. In times of crisis, we’re there. You made a difference in someone else’s life. ”
Tom McLoughlin is a retired New York City firefighter of fifteen years. He joined the Red Cross in Greater New York as a CPR/First Aid Instructor many years ago, and in 2018 he became a Disaster Action Team (DAT) member for the Mid Hudson Valley. As a DAT volunteer, Tom responds to home fires and cares for the immediate needs of disaster victims. In addition to serving as a DAT volunteer, Tom also became a Disaster Preparedness volunteer this summer. In this role, he installs free smoke alarms and educates people on how to prepare before a disaster occurs.
Born in Queens and raised in Long Island, Tom now resides in Warwick, NY. Tom’s desire to become involved with the Red Cross came after he was stationed at Ground Zero during and after the 2001 September 11th attacks. Tom recounted his experience:
“911 was a horror for all of us, but in the midst of all the destruction, there were thousands of volunteers wanting to help out in any way they could. We all saw the first responders and the construction trades hard at work, but countless more volunteers helped out in so many other ways. Literally thousands of civilians came by the firehouse, or straight to the scene, with trays of food in one arm and hugs for us in the other. They brought carloads of dry socks, gloves, flashlights and whatever else they thought we could use. At Ground Zero, the Red Cross had an army of volunteers providing mental health counseling, spiritual care, health services, respite centers, and feeding stations. Seeing them with their vests gave us comfort knowing they had our backs.”
“Now it’s my time to give back,” Tom explained. “It’s my time to pass on those hugs and that assistance to others in their time of need. Volunteering with the Red Cross is the perfect way for me to do just that.”
Tom’s favorite part about volunteering with the Red Cross is knowing that he’s made a difference in someone’s life during a moment of crisis. “It’s very gratifying” he told me. “It puts your own problems in perspective. It fills our need to make a difference in the world, even if it’s on a microlevel.”
His fellow Red Cross volunteers and staff members have served as one of the most inspiring forces for Tom throughout his volunteer experience. “The people I work with are a really tremendous group of loving, good hearted people who are all there to help others in their times of need,” he explained. “On my first day with the Red Cross I remember sitting there and just being blown away by the lovely, caring people in that room who were willing to get off the couch and jump into action to help others.”
Tom advises those who are considering volunteering with the American Red Cross to jump in and not hesitate to get involved. “It’s a great bunch of people,” he said. “It’s a personally rewarding experience and I don’t think you’ll ever regret it.”
We thank all of the first responders across our region who have dedicated their lives to protecting and helping others, especially those who have continued to serve their communities as Red Cross volunteers. Your strength and courage play an essential role in bringing the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross to those who need it most! To learn more about volunteer opportunities with your local Red Cross, visit redcross.org/volunteer.