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Barrett: Red Cross ‘Has Work To Do’ To Address New Fire Response Policy

Relief Agency's New Fire Response Policy Triggers Meeting With Mayor

Red Cross in Milwaukee
Chuck Quirmbach/WPR

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says the American Red Cross of Wisconsin has “some work to do” on its controversial new fire response policy.

Barrett met with Red Cross officials Tuesday at Milwaukee City Hall.

The Red Cross was criticized last week for a new policy stating volunteers would not meet fire victims at their homes in some Milwaukee zip codes where mostly African-Americans and Latinos live, instead the volunteers would meet fire victims at local police or fire stations, or a Red Cross office.

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Over the weekend, the disaster relief agency said it would expand the policy to other parts of Milwaukee and other Wisconsin cities.

Following a meeting with the Red Cross officials Tuesday at Milwaukee City Hall, Barrett said the meeting with local Red Cross leaders went well, but the agency needs to recruit more volunteers to staff the whole city in order “to reach those neighborhoods where these fires are taking place and find individuals in those neighborhoods willing to step forward, and that’s going to require a little change in thinking and action by the Red Cross.”

He added, “I’m looking at this as an opportunity to first, find more volunteers. Second, to work with other agencies that serve the city, to see how we can better coordinate all responses so that the focus should be on those victims and how we best serve them.”

Barrett said he believes the Red Cross is not deliberately turning its back on Black and Latino neighborhoods.

According to the Red Cross, its new policy is designed to meet families in a safe and warm place, and make better use of its volunteers. In rural Wisconsin, the agency only offers help by phone.

In a statement issued late Tuesday afternoon by Patty Flowers, regional CEO for the American Red Cross, the relief agency apologizes for “any misunderstanding, as it was absolutely not our intent to offend anyone.”

Flowers goes on to state the change was based on an assessment of where the majority of fires happen, a survey of volunteers and through meetings with the Milwaukee police and fire departments and Red Cross leadership.

The Red Cross will continue to evaluate response procedures and will be reaching out and meeting with local community groups and officials in the future, according to the statement.

“Every year, the American Red Cross responds to nearly 64,000 disasters around the country, most of which are home fires. This is not changing in Milwaukee. The Red Cross will continue to help any person in need after a home fire, regardless of their zip code,” said Flowers in her statement.

Since Dec. 22, the agency has responded to seven fires with the new procedure and helped all families involved, according to the statement.

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