Sunday, January 31, 2010

on call

I have spent this week staying close to home and my car, carrying a constantly charged Blackberry. It's my first week on call for Emergency Social Services for the city that employs me. So far no calls, but I'm on until Tuesday morning. I hope I'll get no calls, because a call means a person or family is out of his/her/their home.

I have been an Emergency Social Services volunteer for about 5 years, and have taken training, but have only been called once to help at a respite centre for a few hours, in a supporting role. Recently, I was invited to join a team of staff members who rotate on-call responsibility to respond if a resident is put out of the house by a house fire or other disaster. I have learned that most calls are for single individuals or single families, but the situation can be larger, like a multi-unit apartment fire, or a gas leak that forces evacuation of a neighbourhood.

If someone is evacuated, and has nowhere to go, the fire chief or police officer on duty will call the Blackberry and I will respond. The Province of BC has a program that provides funding for 72 hours of shelter, food and clothing in emergencies, and my job is to help determine what the people need, and make arrangements for this. In the case of one family I can set them up in a hotel, arrange for meal vouchers, and give them a form that allows them to get enough clothing and personal items for a day or two at a local store. I can also arrange transportation. If it's a larger event, I might initiate setting up a place for people to go (a school or recreation centre) and a way to get there (a bus).

In any case, I can call other team members to help. The Emergency Social Services Director has been great and encouraging, and tells me just to call him when I get my first call and we'll work through it together, so I'm not as nervous as I would be if I was waiting for the Blackberry to ring so I could respond all on my own. I have a car filled with two big totes full of forms and a yellow safety vest, a bag packed with outdoor wear (boots, rain jacket, jeans), and a log book to record any incidents in detail. I have learned that every city or jurisdiction has a program like this. The province provides the overall program, regulations and funding for amenities and callout hours. The cities recruit and train teams of staff and volunteers and ensure that someone is available to respond all day and night, year-round. The cities also set up arrangements in advance with suppliers of food, clothing and shelter, so getting people what they need goes as smoothly as possible.

I'm excited, and a bit intimidated. I've been sleeping okay at night, knowing that I wake easily and will be helping someone in their time of need if I am called. The only thing I miss is walking home from work. I have to have a vehicle with me, ready to go, and that doesn't work with walking an hour from work to home. I've had to pick and choose what I do in the evening, so I'm not too far from home when I get a call, and I can't have a glass of wine when I'm on call. All of these are small concessions in return for being part of something that makes a big difference when help is needed.

If I do get a call, I won't be able to tell (or blog) much about it, due to rules and considerations of confidentiality. Just know, if you hear the fire sirens late at night, maybe I'll be there too, learning how to help.

question: do you know anyone who had to relocate because of a fire?

mompoet - ESS Duty Officer (sounds official, huh?)

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