Throughout the day Wednesday, American Red Cross Metro New York North volunteers assisted residents whose apartments were damaged or destroyed by the fire at Raymond Castle Apartments.
Volunteers took care of intake for the residents who were initially taken from the E. Funston Ave complex to the Spring Valley Police Department. By 7:30 p.m., they were preparing the gym at Spring Valley High School for the possible arrival of 55 people or more.
Red Cross Assistant Response Director for Rockland County Mary Ellen Williams said mass care, mental health, logistics and health volunteers were getting ready to assist people as they arrived and dinner was provided. She said 55 people were displaced because they lived in the 15 apartments determined to be uninhabitable. Williams had no idea how many of them would take advantage of the shelter set up at the high school. One distraught family was at the school speaking with the specialists.
“This is the quiet before the storm before people realize they can’t get back into their apartments,” said Carolyn Sherwin, volunteer spokesperson.
Williams said there could be even more people affected because the condition of 15 other apartments in the fire-damaged building was being assessed. She said the building with the fire had 30 apartments with a firewall dividing them in half. Williams said many residents were at the fire scene hoping to get into their apartments either to stay or recover belongings.
“We have to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” said Williams.
Depending upon the need, the shelter would be open from one to three nights providing people with a safe place to sleep, food, emotional support and health services and referrals for longer-term housing.
Thomas Crump serves as logistics supervisor volunteer and mass care supervisor for the Red Cross in Rockland, Orange, Westchester and Sullivan counties and Greenwich, CT. He was in charge of a trailer containing 180 cots, 360 blankets, administration kits for registration at the shelter, signage and mental health kits.
He said in addition to the trailer, the organization pre-stages a 53-foot box truck at the Rockland County Fire Training Center for emergencies.
“We place trailers and box trucks in strategic areas,” Crump explained, adding that the Red Cross works closely with local emergency management offices.
When people showed up at the shelter, Crump said, they would set up separate areas based on need: families, single women, single men, the elderly and special needs.
Sherwin said the Red Cross was notified about the three-alarm fire soon after it started. She said the cooperative effort between the involved agencies – fire services, police department and mayor’s office - was outstanding. The early notification helped with the volunteer turnout.
“We’ve had a tremendous response from the other counties,” said volunteer Elizabeth Cino, listing Westchester, Orange, Sullivan, Suffolk counties, New York City and Greenwich CT.
Sherwin said they started with three volunteers, that grew to seven and more were expected to arrive to assist with the overnight sheltering. Other volunteers were slated for Thursday to help with casework.
To make a donation to help the residents, go to the American Red Cross website: www.nyredcross.org.