We all live through what we call disasters, such as relationships gone wrong, the performance of the local sports team, or your attempt at cooking something more complicated than macaroni and cheese. They can be painful experiences.
As a member of the Canadian Red Cross’s Montreal’s Emergency Response Team, I dealt with a disaster this week. Of you course you train for it, yet nothing beats real field experience. It was for a fire which had ravaged through one or two apartments and had forced the remaining neighbours out on the street, for lack of basic commodities such as electricity or water.
- Try sleeping without heating in -10 Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) weather. Not pleasant. Possibly deadly.
- An average Canadian uses 1,600 cubic metres of water per person per year. This is more than twice as much water as the average person from France, and more than eight times as much as the average Dane. I can imagine that we are quite lost without one drop…
I was naturally a little stressed, as always in such situations. Yet other Red Cross members joined us at the scene, where we found 15-20 individuals waiting in a red bus of the Montreal firefighters specially designed for providing shelter. It is always easier to deal with challenges in a team, where everyone can contribute in their own way.
We then evaluated the situation and planned our action. We decided to move all of them to a hotel downtown to better assess their needs, fill more paperwork and find decent accommodation. We also provided them with order forms so they could also get fed.
Communication was an issue, with many of those affected being recent immigrants. Yet the team was fully equipped in the language department, and spoke French, English, Spanish and even Creole during the intervention!
The feeling of helping out was great. Many lessons were learnt, and I consider myself fortunate to be part of such a dedicated team. My thoughts go out to those who lost their apartments, especially at the beginning of the New Year..
( note: These are personal comments, and do not seek to represent the Canadian Red Cross movement in any way)