Red Cross volunteer Phyllis Rand

Red Cross volunteer Phyllis Rand is no stranger to adapting to challenging situations. The Lewiston woman is part of the Central and Mid Coast Maine Chapter leadership team and has deployed to 12 national disaster relief operations during her tenure with the Red Cross.

“The absolute most important thing is to be flexible,” she said in a news release by the organization.

Rand recently returned from a two-week deployment to Oregon’s Bootleg Fire where she served as the government operations liaison at two incident command posts in Chiloquin and Klamath Falls. There she ran daily briefings on Red Cross activities for first responders and partner government agencies.

“It’s more of a behind-the-scenes role and that’s one of the things I really like about it,” says Rand. “I like working behind-the-scenes to make the machine run.”

The Bootleg wildfire started on July 6, merging with the Log Fire about a week later. To date, it’s charred more than 413,000 acres and is not expected to be contained until early October. The Red Cross is working around the clock to help. This wildfire season has gotten off to an early and dramatic start with 108 large fires burning across 15 states. The Red Cross is actively helping tens of thousands of people who have been evacuated from their homes in Oregon, California, Nevada and Montana.

“I’ve never considered deploying a sacrifice. It’s never occurred to me,” says Rand. “It gives you an experience that you would not necessarily have at home.”

Rand has been leaving her family, friends, her full-time job as a water quality control coordinator, and the comforts of home for more than a decade to help those affected by Hurricanes Matthew, Irma and Sandy, flooding in Missouri and Illinois, and wildfires in California and Oregon. She says each mission serves as an opportunity for personal and professional growth.

We caught up with Rand recently and asked her a few questions about her work.

When and how did you get into volunteering? Twelve years ago, I was searching for a nonprofit organization to join. There were many, many great organizations to choose from, and I became frustrated trying to choose one. I shared my frustration with my mother, who then told me about a situation she encountered while my father was serving in Vietnam: My family had just moved to a new military base. My mother encountered a problem and sought assistance from organizations that help military families, but none were able to help her. Someone suggested she contact the American Red Cross, and she did. The Red Cross helped her by sending an emergency message to my father, who then spoke to his commanding officer for help. The problem was resolved. After hearing my mother’s story, I knew joining the Red Cross was my opportunity to repay them for helping my family many years ago. I’ve been a volunteer ever since.

What is the hardest part of your work? Many Red Cross Disaster Relief Operations last longer than the two weeks I am there, so I leave feeling a bit unsatisfied at not finishing the work I began. The work is continued by my replacement on the operation.

What is the most rewarding? Knowing I had a part in helping people affected by disasters, even if we never meet in person.

What was your most frightening or unsettling experience? Driving through a tornado-ravaged neighborhood where the residents, very suspicious of strangers, were defending their property with weapons.

What does it take to achieve the level of commitment you’ve attained? It takes a passion for the mission of the American Red Cross: “to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.”

Any amusing experiences? During our Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Operation in New Jersey, I was one of a four-team group assigned to drive around certain parts of New Jersey to identify potential organizations the Red Cross could collaborate with. I picked up on a weird vibe in our group as we were gathering items for our first road trip. I asked what was going on, and they each admitted they’d never driven in snow. My teammates were from California, Florida and Hawaii. Their looks of relief at hearing I was from Maine made me laugh out loud! I became the default driver for any and all forays, day and night, for the next two weeks.

What are you up to when you’re not volunteering to help others? Working full-time and riding my gravel bicycle as often as possible.

For more information, contact the Volunteer Recruitment Team of Northern New England at 207-523-5107 or email [email protected]

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