UW News

November 8, 2007

Rossnagel at Red Cross, making an immediate difference

Name: Laurie Rossnagel

UW job: Administrator for Biobehavioral Nursing & Health Systems.

Volunteer Activity: Member of the American Red Cross’s Disaster Response Team. She is on call during nonbusiness hours day and night for one week out of every six.

“We respond to disasters — most of them are local, most are house or apartment complex fires, and many are in the middle of the night,” Rossnagel said. “The Seattle/King County Red Cross responds to a local disaster an average of every 42 hours. In my first week I was called out three times in 48 hours, but people have told me that’s very unusual.” On average, she said, she is called once or twice a week and such calls can last much of the night. The night before she spoke to University Week, she had responded to an apartment fire at 12:45 a.m. and didn’t get back home until nearly 5 a.m.

Agency’s mission: The Red Cross Web site states, “The American Red Cross, a humanitarian organization led by volunteers, guided by its congressional charter and the fundamental principles of the International Red Cross movement, will provide relief to victims of disasters and help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies.” You can learn more at http://www.redcross.org/. Information on the Seattle chapter, which serves King and Kitsap counties, is available at http://www.seattleredcross.org/.

Rossnagel added that the Red Cross works hard “to be careful with the money that people give us … we try to be good stewards so we can stretch (the money) to handle more disasters.”

How long have you volunteered for this agency? Rossnagel said she began to get involved with the Red Cross last fall and began going out on calls in July. She was looking for a way to volunteer that her schedule would allow. In this role, she said she is able to help families in need “spontaneously and fairly quickly,” and then return to her life.

Why these activities? Because the Red Cross has the charter to respond to all the disasters in the country, not just national ones, Rossnagel said. Also, she was looking for a long-term relationship with a charitable agency, and knows that the Red Cross will still be here helping people many years from now.

A memorable experience while volunteering: “There was an apartment fire in the middle of the night in Auburn and a number of occupants, 10 to 15, had to leave their apartments within one minute,” Rossnagel said. “A couple actually had to jump out of second-story windows. None of them could take anything with them.”

The occupants, she said, huddled in a parking lot “wearing what they had worn to bed … they didn’t have anything, didn’t have money or car keys to go anyplace.” Some of the family members were diabetic and didn’t have medication.

Rossnagel said she was glad to be able to help the family members (Red Cross does not call them “victims” she said, but “clients”) connect with resources they needed — vouchers for food and clothing, help replacing medications and a place to stay. “The Red Cross helps people before, during and after disaster. This is the during part, and it can take several forms,” she said.

Satisfaction in volunteering: “You can make an immediate difference with somebody,” Rossnagel said. “By circumstance, any of us could be in their shoes, and it doesn’t take much to help. And you’re invited into their life at a time when they really need something.”