Red Cross Volunteers Give Emotional First Aid To Arizona Fire Evacuees

Published: Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - 3:18pm
Updated: Wednesday, June 22, 2016 - 9:14am
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(Photo by Josh Lawyer on Instagram)
Fire crews are working to gain the upperhand on the fire burning just south of Show Low.

Several communities near the Cedar Creek Fire are under pre-evacuation notices Tuesday and the Red Cross reported, the relief organization has already hosted almost 100 families overnight at two shelters they have set up near the fire in eastern Arizona.

At every shelter, people can come for medical attention, for a fresh meal and to get a roof over their heads. They can also come to get some emotional first aid during a disaster.

“We’re not there to analyze people, we’re just trying to be there to encourage them,” said Paul Ellis, who is volunteering near the Cedar Creek Fire, “Making sure that people just have somebody to tell their story to, sit down and talk with them and listen to them, and encourage them and provide some support and maybe some perspective that they’re not able to see during the time of a disaster.”

Ellis is the lead chaplain for the city of Maricopa and the Arizona representative for the International Conference of Police Chaplains. When he’s helping the Red Cross on a scene, he said, he’s just a volunteer.

He does this kind of work here in Arizona and all over the country during natural disasters and in emergency situations.

“Most of the issues that they’re dealing with is the unknown,” he said. “They come in here, you know, they’ve left their belongings behind, depending on the circumstances, maybe everything they own. Their possessions are sitting back and home and they’re not sure if their house is going to be intact when they return.”

So, he said he tries to redirect their thoughts to the fact first responders are doing everything they can to help and reassure them that, usually, people are able to go back to life as normal after a disaster.

Then, it’s important to assure them their feelings are a natural response in an abnormal situation.

“A fire is not a normal experience that we typically have, but the feelings that we do have as a result of that, are a normal response to that abnormal situation,” Ellis said.

He said, this can be difficult.

“It’s almost like they become ‘tunnel visioned,’ and they can’t see either side, they’re looking just in one direction,” he said. “And our job is to help them see the whole perspective.”

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