Sprinting to the Rescue

Sprinting to the Rescue

Ingenuity challenges disaster.

Hurricane Charley chewed up the U.S. coast nearly 1,000 miles from Alexandria. But one of the newest elements of response and aid to Charley's victims came from here.

Early Sunday morning Angela Palombaro, emergency services specialist, Alexandria Chapter, American Red Cross, and George L. Saunders, Jr., Red Cross volunteer from Arlington, pulled away from the Alexandria Chapter Headquarters, 123 N. Alfred St., in a prototype vehicle specifically designed to deal with urban disasters.

Their destination was the Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte area on Florida's west coast where Charley had practically returned the area to its pre-settlement status. Known as the "Sprinter," the vehicle's first mission was to live up to its name.

"This vehicle was designed and built by DaimlerChrysler to deal with more narrow and hard-to-negotiate areas that are problem areas for other trucks that are too wide and too cumbersome," said Jeanne K. Mankin, director, Service Deliveries, Alexandria Chapter. "It is more narrow, taller, and larger in capacity."

DaimlerChrysler has donated the vehicle on a test basis to serve as a multi-functional vehicle in an urban disaster situation such as the region devastated by Hurricane Charley. "This vehicle can be used for mass care feeding as well as distribution of water and other supplies to disaster victims," Mankin said.

THE SPRINTER is smaller overall than other trucks normally used in these situations but has greater capacity, according to Palombaro. "This is the only one in the country assigned to the Red Cross at the present time. That's why we are taking it to Florida," she said.

On loan to the Red Cross by DamilerChrysler's Dodge Division, its present assignment is a test case, according to Palombaro. "They have a higher degree of turning radius," she said.

Saunders, a 77-year-old retired dental technician and amateur radio operator from Arlington, has been a Red Cross volunteer for five and a half years. "I went to La Plata for the tornado and to Miami when they had 16 inches of rain. But this is going to be a new experience," he said.

As he sat behind the wheel, prepared to drive the first leg of the journey they hoped to complete by Monday afternoon, he praised the vehicle for its versatility and handling. "You can tell its got a Mercedes engine," he said. "It will move."

IT WAS EXPECTED that the local Red Cross personnel will be in the disaster area for approximately three weeks. "When we do a national disaster of this magnitude, the typical assignment is three weeks per person, but it depends on the situation," Mankin said.

"The people that work in mass care are working 12 to 14 hours per day, seven days a week. Mass care is very hard work," she said.

As of Sunday, the American Red Cross had 86 emergency response vehicles, was operating 250 shelters, and was providing 45,000 heated meals, throughout Florida's disaster area, according to Mankin. "We are now structured into service areas to deal with these situations. We are located in Service Area Eight," she said.

"The Sprinter may be assigned to mobile food services or it might be assigned a secondary fixed location to distribute meals. Whatever the assignment, [Palombaro and Saunders] will probably go right to work as soon as they get there," Mankin said.

AS OF TUESDAY afternoon the Alexandria Chapter's commitment to the relief effort increased by another two personnel and one vehicle. Local chapter executive director, Julia Wright, and Alexandria volunteer, Pat Myers Hayer, were deployed along with the chapter's regular Emergency Response Vehicle [ERV].

"We were contacted on Tuesday that they needed more personnel and vehicles," Wright said.

Hayer, a local volunteer for approximately six years, "purposely got her driver's license just so she could be a disaster volunteer," Wright said.

As stated by American Red Cross President and CEO Marty Evans last Saturday, "We are coordinating a massive response effort focusing initially on providing safety, shelter, food and dry clothing to tens of thousands of people. At the moment, hundreds of trained disaster volunteers are converging on the affected areas ...."