by Suzanne Buzek
It had been decades since Fred Sansone last entered a Red Cross station anticipating work, but when he walked into his community Red Cross office this past September following a severe windstorm that blew through the Midwest, a familiar feeling came over him.
"Our electricity was out for only 14 hours from the windstorm, so it was soon that my wife and I were able to turn on the television and see the magnitude of need out there," recalls Sansone, the director of Gift and Estate Planning, East Region. "Listening to the news, there was a statement that said the Red Cross was looking for anyone who had time to volunteer immediately."
The next day, after leaving work, Sansone found himself at the Red Cross station.
"I walked in, and immediately I saw classes taking place, people signing up to volunteer—just a lot of activity and buzz," he says. "I thought, 'This is something the community needs, and I have some experience, some time, so I'll see what's needed."
His willingness to help was just enough to land Sansone a job manning a shelter the following evening and the day after that. His wife—a crisis counselor at the Veterans' Administration Hospital—joined him on the job, and together they were able to make a home-away-from-home for those displaced in the windstorm, offering food and place to sleep.
"It was really a jump into the water and learning how to swim with just a little bit of training in class that I sat in on the day I signed up," says Sansone. "Within several hours of when I walked into the Red Cross office and sitting in on a few classes, my wife and I had enough preparation to be disaster relief workers in a shelter area." But the information wasn't completely new: Sansone did similar work when he first graduated from college.
"I was working as a disaster relief worker at a time when there was great concern about the Vietnam War," says Sansone. "Some servicemen were coming home and having difficulties re-adjusting, so we had effort there. Also at that point in time, we had issues with the Ohio River and flooding, so we would plan and figure out how many people would be displaced at various levels of the Ohio River and develop strategies to keep them safe."
Since his initial work with the Red Cross, Sansone has moved throughout Ohio and worked in several jobs. But even during his time running an insurance company's marketing and regional sales office, he volunteered as an emergency paramedic while he and his wife were starting their family.
If there's a common theme running through Sansone's life experiences, it's planning. And now that he's involved once again with the Red Cross, Sansone plans to keep growing.
"The Red Cross offers courses ranging from disaster relief to CPR to first-aid, in which I have prior training from being a paramedic, but I really want to learn about becoming a ham radio operator," says Sansone. "It's something I have been wanting to do for many years, and now that the opportunity has come up and I'm available, I plan to become qualified to operate communication services in a disaster situation."