In Case Of Emergency
As evidenced by the recent floodings, disaster can strike at any moment. Thank goodness Kaua‘i Red Cross volunteers are always ready to help in times of trouble.
Kaua‘i Red Cross volunteers have been exceptionally active due to recent record-breaking rainfall and flooding on the Garden Isle. Shelters were opened last week and support was provided to those stranded by rising waters.
While receiving more than 2 feet of rain in some 24 hours is rare, American Red Cross volunteers like Larry LaSota are familiar with and well equipped to support people and alleviate human suffering in the face of such crises. LaSota is the Emergency Operations Center liaison for Kaua‘i Red Cross and has spent many hours inside the walls of its facility in Līhu‘e. In fact, he spent almost the entire summerof 2015 in the EOC because more than a dozen storms drifted dangerously close to the state.
American Red Cross is one of the only volunteer organizations in the EOC during a disaster — the rest are from FEMA and state and county offices — and work with other entities to curtail issues that arise in an emergency situation. LaSota is one of three Kaua‘i Red Cross volunteers (John Latkiewicz and Randy Blake) who communicate and coordinate activities with entities — including Kaua‘i police and fire departments, state Department of Education and utility companies — and they also make sure shelters are prepared and emergency kits are at hand.
“Because somebody has to,” says LaSota, “and I know it has to be done.”
He started volunteering with the nonprofit six years ago, after leaving his post as general manager of community radio station KKCR. In fact, LaSota’s wife Elaine also is an active volunteer. He’s also the proud owner and minister for Kaua‘i Wedding Ceremonies.
LaSota is so committed to his volunteerism that he was recently awarded the title of Hawai‘i Red Cross Volunteer of the Year for Kaua‘i. Aside from his volunteer efforts, he’s extremely active in his EOC liaison role and has helped the local organization raise money in order to obtain three new generators.
“That’s the one thing you always need,” says Padraic Gallagher, Kaua‘i Red Cross disaster program manager.
Besides his fundraising efforts, LaSota also serves as the group’s unofficial spokesperson, which includes raising awareness for the nonprofit’s Home Fire Campaign. He encourages people around the island to sign up for the free smoke detector installation program.
Every year, the organization responds to around 64,000 disasters nationally, the majority of which are home fires. In an effort to help decrease the devastation, the nonprofit has installed more than 1 million smoke alarms in people’s homes throughout the U.S. since 2014. Residents can contact the local entity to make an appointment, and a group of volunteers, including military veterans from Team Rubicon, install smoke detectors in appropriate locations around the home, like hallways and bedrooms.
“They came to my house and it was like menehune,” says LaSota, who had alarms installed in his home.
Many people actually don’t have smoke detectors installed in their homes, and if they do, they’re not in proper locations. Additionally, people don’t like to have them because, LaSota says, they always go off. The beauty of the smoke detectors gifted by American Red Cross is that they have a 10-year battery life, so they don’t consistently need to be replaced.
“The goal is to save lives,” says LaSota.
Preparedness is a large part of the organization’s mission. Though volunteers are always on hand when emergencies occur, including providing people with credit cards to get back on their feet after house fires, the goal is to help people prepare for such events ahead of time. The smoke detectors are one aspect, and having well-stocked emergency kits on hand goes far in terms of preparation, as well.
“You have to prepare,” says Gallagher. “It takes one storm to wish you were prepared better.”
Even though LaSota and Gallagher may not always see the fruits of their labor when they focus on preparedness, when something does happen, they know that the work they do for the community is advantageous.
“You get a sense of accomplishment,” says LaSota. “Keeping people safe, it’s a cool thing.”
Smoke detector installation appointments can be made by calling 245-4919 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit redcross.org for more information or to make a donation.