Emergency Preparedness Week: Volunteer Spotlight
Learn about two volunteers on our Emergency Support Services team.
Meet Cynthia K. and Victor D., two volunteers who dedicate their time with Emergency Support Services (ESS). Staff and volunteers in the ESS program assist evacuees for 72 hours after an emergency. Learn about their experience with ESS.
How did you get started volunteering with ESS?
From a very young age, I have always had a strong desire to give back to society. My volunteer journey began by assisting my neighbors in small ways, which eventually led me to extend my capacity beyond my community. Over the years, I have volunteered in various ways, including firefighting and leading groups to Mexico annually to build homes for families who needed them. I am always searching for opportunities to serve those in need, which introduces me to new ways I can better support those in my community. ESS presented a perfect opportunity for me to do so.
I became a paid on-call firefighter in Surrey, 19 years ago in 2004. The following year, they were recruiting new volunteers for Emergency Support Services Level 1, which at the time was run by both career and paid on-call firefighters. Even though I didn’t fully understand what it was all about, I signed up and have been an ESS volunteer for 18 years now. Today, ESS Level 1 volunteers include citizens outside of the fire service.
What are your most memorable moments during your ESS volunteer service?
Many of the most memorable moments I've experienced in my work have a shadow of sadness, yet I can’t help but feel the presence of hope. Often, these are the moments when individuals have lost everything they own. In these moments, we step in and provide them with a warm, dry place to stay and resources to plan for their future. It is heartening to see the relief and gratitude on their faces and to know that we were able to make a difference in their lives when they needed it most.
One particular experience that stands out in my mind is when we were called to a structure fire. A good Samaritan had already saved two children from the roof. The fire department arrived and put out the fire, and we were able to assist the victims with shelter, food, and clothing. Later on, the Red Cross stepped in to provide further assistance to the family. It was an inspiring moment to see how everyone came together to play a part in helping a family who had lost everything in the blink of an eye. This moment was filled with so much bravery and compassion. The family was overwhelmed with relief and gratitude, and it was moving to see them realize they had a community that surrounded them, and that they were not alone in their struggles.
After 18 years of ESS service, you get to help a wide range of people who have been evacuated from their homes. Many call outs go smoothly where families have lost everything in a house fire and we can help them immediately by giving them shelter, food, clothing and incidentals so that they have the basic needs in life.
Other calls become challenging and test your patience. We have to practice discernment when the stories from some evacuees don’t match the initial call out we were displaced to. There have definitely been some interesting situations that I’ve come across that have helped me grow on how to handle people in a stressful point in their life.
What kept you coming back to volunteer for ESS?
What kept me coming back to volunteer for ESS is it broke me out of the routine of everyday life, and allowed me to see the disparities that are in my community firsthand. When we get stuck in our little bubble of work or school, coming home to eat, watch TV or go on our phones, and then repeating the same thing every day, we can become blind to what's really happening in the community around us. Volunteering with ESS helps me step out of that bubble and gives me a sense of purpose in life. I truly believe that we are all meant to be there for each other, and helping people not only brings joy to their lives, but also brings me joy as well.
I love being there to help families or individuals after the tragic event when their homes and possessions have been destroyed in a fire or other disaster. When we pull the evacuees aside, introduce ourselves as Emergency Support Services and explain how we are able to help them by setting them up in a hotel and how we can arrange for them to get food, clothing and incidentals for the next several days, and arrange for many other resources that offer continued support, you see an instant bit of relief when they see that we are there to help them in their trauma. With the compassion we offer them, they are so grateful to us and thankful for the services we were able to provide. We get called out any time during the day or middle of the night but are eager to help someone when disaster strikes.
What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering for ESS?
For someone who is considering volunteering for ESS I would say give it a try. It’s amazing how far just a little of your time goes when helping others, especially at their lowest point where they have nowhere else to go.
If you have a desire to help people who had to be evacuted from their home due to a fire or any other natural disaster, then ESS is a great opportunity to work with a team of volunteers who steps up to help these people with their basic needs in life along with care and compassion that they are being looked after.
What is your top emergency preparedness advice or tip?
Pick a time every year to take some time to go through your plan and supplies. I suggest when you change your smoke detector batteries, maybe every time you change your clocks. It only takes minimal time to be prepared for an unexpected emergency. If you don’t know where to start them Surrey Fire will be more than happy to guide you.
I have seen a lot of unfortunate circumstances that could’ve either be prevented or the event could have been lessened by just taking a small amount of time every year. To add to that make sure your have the appropriate insurance. A lot of renters think that they don’t need insurance but insurance covers not just all your belongings but also a place to stay, food, and clothing. I’ve seen way too many people become homeless after a house fire.
Some of the most common causes of house fires that we attend to are unattended candles, kitchen/ cooking fire and bad electrical fires and overloaded outlets. Everyone should have several smoke alarms with working batteries in their homes to test them regularly.