Disaster Aid Volunteers In Short Supply Up North

American Red Cross Stretched Thin For Volunteers In Northern Wisconsin

Red Cross volunteers
U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Victims of a house fire look to firefighters to quell the blaze, but once the fire is out they still need help to get back on their feet. Disaster victims in northern Wisconsin may have to wait longer for help to arrive.

Barbara Behling, spokeswoman with the American Red Cross of Wisconsin, said volunteers strive to be on the scene within three hours according to national standards. The Red Cross has always been able to find someone, Behling said, but volunteers in northern Wisconsin are few and far between.

“For instance in Polk County, we have a team of two. They cover all the way from St. Croix Falls over to McKinley, which is probably getting about 70 miles there,” Behling said. “So that’s a lot of territory to cover.”

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Sue Ames-Lillie and her husband make up that two-person team in Polk County. She said they respond to calls for help when they can, but they’re not always available.

“At that point, they have to send someone from another area,” Ames-Lillie said. “Recently we had a family event going on. There were two fires that weekend, and they sent someone from the Altoona office all the way up to Danbury, I believe.”

Since Christmas, Ames-Lillie said they’ve responded to five fires in Polk and Burnett counties, which doesn’t include the incidents where they were unable to respond. Behling added a couple of counties in northern Wisconsin are lacking volunteers during the winter months.

“Their volunteers are down in Florida right now because they’re snowbirds,” Behling said.

Volunteers have bounced back and forth between the Eau Claire area and northern Wisconsin in recent months to help connect fire victims to housing and other resources.

Behling said they could use more volunteers anywhere north of Highway 10, which cuts across the central part of the state. The American Red Cross of Wisconsin has around 3,200 volunteers statewide.