Looking Back: Carl DuCharme, Red Cross Volunteer on his Deployment for 9/11

Carl DuCharme was deployed to NYC as a Red Cross Volunteer to respond to the tragedy of 9/11. While he was there, he wrote about his experiance, his thoughts, emotions and the scene around him. Read about his experiance first hand.

September 21, 2001

Carl DuCharme at the airport getting ready to leave to NYC.

The experience of this disaster relief effort started with the trip through the air travel system. Even though things seemed to be back to normal (or at least close to normal), the story told by the nearly-empty planes and sparsely-populated airports told a different story: the terrorists had taken their toll on all of America. My ride from Cincinnati to New York was on a Boeing 767, the exact model used to topple the World Trade Center towers. Once again seeing firsthand the incredible size and power of this aircraft brought to mind the types of images the passengers and onlookers in New York must have been caught in.

On the way into New York, the pilot took us on a route seemingly similar to that flown by the terrorists, passing to the south of the towers and then circling back northward. Even then, being so far away from the actual scene and yet being able to see below the smoldering rubble and those working so hard to remove it, it became obvious how real this attack was and how large an operation it is to clean up after it and recover from it.

The Red Cross operation here currently has around 7600 persons involved in the many different functions needed in a national disaster relief operation. Groups continue to arrive from across the country, as the needs continue to grow with the reality of the situation bearing heavy on the people of New York and from around the country.

The main headquarters for this operation is located at the Red Cross chapter building in Brooklyn, just across the Brooklyn bridge to the East of Manhattan. All staff are required to report their for check-in, for debriefing, and for receipt of assignments. There are also two service centers in operation (and the opening of a third pending) for help in aiding all those affected by last Tuesday’s events.

I, being a multilingual Family Service Specialist, have been assigned to the second shift of the Red Cross hotline operation. The hotline functions as a central information source for anyone looking to the Red Cross for assistance in any way. Service center two is located only about nine blocks from ground zero (the exact location of the World Trade Center). The hotline is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, so we have three shifts occupying a bank of thirty phones.

We, as a hotline team, are just settling into our routine and will continue to become more and more efficient in our aiding the community each day.

September 26, 2001

As the disaster relief operation continues, the Red Cross continually repositions its resources to best service the needs of the community. The shelters have recently been closed, with the need for short-term housing (for those displaced from their home or for those that traveled to New York to await word of a loved one) being fulfilled by hotel rooms or other accommodations. Some people that had been evacuated from their home have since been allowed to return there.

The site itself (ground zero) is still considered a crime scene. This fact dictates that security remain stringent around the perimeter. All personnel involved in the disaster relief, including Red Cross personnel, have been issued an FBI identification badge which also outlines full,
limited, or no access to ground zero.

The utilization of the Red Cross hotline has increased, and calls are coming in around the clock. Donations also continue to roll in, as people want to help in any way they can.

Signs of hope and support draped across this NY fire truck

I had spent several days as a part of the hotline crew, both on second and third shifts. Two days ago, I was transferred to Family Services Special Projects Fire Department Outreach. A team of eight of us have been travelling to more remote parts of New York (Queens, Staten Island) to act as front-line grievance support for the spouses of the missing firefighters (and for those firefighters that worked alongside those missing). We will continue to listen to their stories, provide financial support, and offer whatever comfort we can until the need no longer exists.

Other outreach teams continue to offer financial support (along with referrals to other Red Cross functions as required) to those affected by the disaster. This is being accomplished through the three service centers that have been set up, through temporary sites to which clients are able to come, and through home visits. Again, the teams will be in place until the
need longer exists.

Each day presents many opportunities to help people on many levels. As the needs change, so does the service provided by the Red Cross.

October 1, 2001

It is now four weeks since the 11 September event.  The American Red Cross relief operation continues to service the needs of those affected around the country.  Here in New York, the atmosphere has changed slightly as a result of the military action in Afghanistan.  Security is visibly tighter everywhere, people are seemingly more cautious, and the struggle to recover from the original event is now coupled with apprehension and uncertainty about the future. 

 More Red Cross personnel continue to transition into the relief operation as the first groups to arrive on the scene are heading back home.  The location of service centers is also changing, as the needs of people in a certain area are fulfilled and those of others in different areas require additional attention.  The operation of which I am a part (on Staten Island) has expanded from a specialized team helping the families of the missing and fallen fire personnel to a full service center  helping anyone affected on that day. 

Each Red Cross member is developing the set of memories that constitute the experience had here and will forever carry images and thoughts of the past weeks.  The thoughts of returning home are coupled not only with a guilt that one should stay and do more but also with a satisfaction of having the honor of being a part of the greatest relief operation in the history of the United States.

Each member will also take home life lessons learned.  The sharing of experiences will help to educate the population on the reality of these events and will increase the understanding of the things in life that really matter.  Even though it is difficult to sum up the entire experience into a single lesson learned, the best I have to offer is the following:

 Make your time here as valuable and meaningful as you can… and live every day.


Carl DuCharme, American Red Cross Disaster Volunteer

One Response

  1. Hi
    This is a great article. I think I volunteered with you.
    Well, I came across this and wanted to leave a reply and a hello.
    Hope all is well in cold Wisconsin.
    From Texas-
    Mari Elizalde

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