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Red Cross helps Keeling rebuild after devastating house fire

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From disaster response to blood drives, Red Cross provides a variety of community servic

By Shelley Spillman

When Donald Keeling lost his rental home in an electrical fire, he wasn’t thinking about seeking out the American Red Cross, but they sought him out.

Keeling lived at a rental property on Fairview Road for 14 years. He was cooking breakfast on the morning of July 1 when he smelled something burning. He checked and saw his living room was ablaze. He attempted to put water on the fire, but quickly realized it was beyond his control and he had to get out.

“I lost everything in the fire,” said Keeling . “It was very scary. I had to sit outside and watch it burn. There was nothing I could do.”

The contents of Keeling’s wallet were also destroyed. His drivers license, social security card and other important documentation to prove who he is, all lost in the fire. With the help of the Red Cross, Keeling is slowly putting back together the pieces of his life.

Red Cross put Keeling up temporarily at the Best Western hotel, gave him a prepaid card to buy food and clothing and they’re helping him get his identification cards back.

“I’m very grateful for their help. I’m amazed they came as early as they did,” said Keeling.

With all that happened it was difficult for Keeling to figure out his next steps.

“I couldn’t get it all together. I didn’t know where I needed to go, or what I needed to do,” he said. “I’ve got good friends and people who are trying to help me. I thank the Lord for that.”

Paula Rutledge, executive director of the Franklin County Chapter American Red Cross, said having an individual who is calm and separate from the disaster is very important.

“I always tell my volunteers that it’s your job to think for them while they are not thinking clearly,” said Rutledge.

Rutledge, whose Red Cross region is Anderson, Franklin and Woodford counties, said this past fiscal year alone they’ve had four disaster cases in Anderson County, assisting eight adults and six children.

Red Cross assists individuals affected by a variety of disastrous circumstances including tornadoes, ice storms, floods and single-family fires.

In 2010, Red Cross assisted in a flood in Anderson County, providing feedings and damage assessments. Red Cross also assisted in the 2009 ice storm, providing supplies, bedding and set up a shelter locally.

The Red Cross also attempts to take a proactive approach with disaster preparedness. They have a Disaster Action Team, a group of 24-hour volunteer emergency responders to small disasters.

Bill Hinline, after hours responder coordinator for Anderson County, works with Bart Powell, Anderson County director of public safety, and the fire department to identify areas of need.

They also work with local churches to provide shelters and volunteer training. Currently, Red Cross has agreements with two local churches to set up shelters in the event of a disaster.

In responding to disasters, timeliness is key. Rutledge said the Red Cross is required to be able to set up a shelter and serve a meal within two hours.

In additional to disaster assistance, Red Cross assists with blood donations. Rutledge said in the past, Anderson County has been a big help with blood donations.

Last year, 355 units of blood were donated in Anderson County alone. Every unity of blood can help up to three patients, Rutledge said.

Rutledge said it’s likely that blood donations will assist locally since to the Red Cross is the Frankfort Regional Medical Center’s contracted blood supplier.

Hinline, a former firefighter, often assists at local blood drives; giving volunteers juice, snacks and monitoring them after their donation.

Fundraisers and blood drives are vital to the Red Cross’s efforts.

“We are not a government entity. All our financial assistance comes from the money we raise,” said Rutledge.

The Red Cross also assists in relaying messages from family to military servicemen, which are typically in the event of a serious family illness or death. Rutledge said though they relay messages to servicemen, they do not make the call on whether or not they get to go home. Only the military has the authority to send servicemen home.

Last year, the Red Cross worked three cases of relaying messages to servicemen in Anderson County.

In addition, the Red Cross provides a “Safe and Well” registry to allow people to register as okay after a disaster, hospital and nursing home volunteers, CPR, Health and Safety and babysitter training, book readers to the blind and a program for kids to educate them to not be afraid of emergency responders.

“I’ve always had a desire to help people. What I like about the Red Cross is that there are so many facets,” Hinline said. “Everyone has a niche.”

To find out more about the Red Cross and volunteer opportunities and upcoming blood drives visit www.redcross.org