Meet the American Red Cross volunteer who keeps the Spokane office running like a well-oiled machine. Part One in our new series highlighting the stories of RSVP volunteers.
RSVP Director's Foreword: One of the great privileges I enjoy as RSVP Director is the opportunity to get to know our volunteers and capture their remarkable stories of service. Every week, I'll be bringing you profiles of the dedicated older adults who exemplify the values that RSVP and national service are built on.
Volunteer: Bob Reimer Volunteer Station: American Red Cross
RSVP Member Since: 2003
As an organization, the American Red Cross needs little introduction. For 138 years, they have provided emergency assistance, disaster relief, and disaster preparedness education in the United States, and their logo is recognizable across the globe. The organization relies on hundreds of thousands of volunteers who respond to over 60,000 disasters every year, train over six million people in lifesaving and disaster preparedness skills, and provide services to over 400,000 military members, veterans, and their families.
Mobilizing all these volunteers and services requires a tremendous amount of administrative and logistical support. Individuals like Bob Reimer, who has volunteered at the downtown Spokane Red Cross office for over 26 years, are some of the unsung heroes of the Red Cross, working behind-the-scenes to keep things organized and running smoothly.
A typical day for Bob involves coming in and tidying up the kitchens upstairs and downstairs as well as the Disaster Assistance Team (DAT) supply room. Maintaining the inventory in the DAT room could practically be a full-time job in its own right. The shelves are chock full of blankets, clothing, toiletries, and other necessities for disaster victims, plus dozens of buckets containing smoke alarms for the Red Cross's Home Fire Campaign. With a goal of reducing fire-related deaths and injuries in the US by 25%, the Home Fire Campaign has installed over two million smoke alarms and saved over 700 lives nationwide since it launched in 2014.
Some of Bob's other duties include buying supplies for the office, handling upkeep of the building, and overseeing maintenance and registration of the Red Cross vehicle fleet. This fleet includes a number of emergency supply trailers strategically located throughout the Red Cross's multi-county service region.
Bob is also a permanent member of the Red Cross's board, on which he's served for 15 years. So trusted is he as a volunteer that the Red Cross leadership provided him with his own Red Cross credit card in order to facilitate his job duties. In fact, Bob considers his volunteer position at the Red Cross to be his longest career - longer than the 21 years he spent in the US Air Force as a personnel officer! "I don't change jobs very often," Bob joked.
Bob enjoyed his time in the Air Force handling record keeping and reassignments. His family was able to accompany him wherever he served, even as far away as Guam and Spain. After retiring from the Air Force at 60, Bob spent the first two years tending to household chores - painting the fence, cleaning out the basement and garage - only to find himself sitting around doing nothing.
My wife said, "You gotta find something to do." . . . Later on, [she] said, "I only meant for you to go four hours a week, not four days!"
Before he retired, Bob kept a little card in his wallet, and whenever he thought of things he might like to do after he retired, he would write them down. One of the entries that stuck out to him was the Red Cross. He also happened to bowl with someone who volunteered there. She invited him to take a tour, and he began volunteering regularly soon after.
Bob started out volunteering on the Disaster Assistance Team, going out to house fires and other disaster sites to provide immediate assistance to affected individuals and families. Bob's wife volunteered right alongside him. He recalls vividly the night during the historic 1996 Ice Storm when half the city of Spokane was without power.
She and I went out to the first fire and it turned out it was a fireplace. They didn't have power, so they were trying to get more heat from the fire. Well, the . . . heat went through the wall into the wood behind and started a small fire behind the wall. Before we got finished there, we got another call, a second fire. Before we got finished there, we had two more calls, for two more fires. And then we had a fifth call. And they were all due to people without electricity whose fireplaces got too hot . . .
The Reimers didn't get home that night until just before daylight. Meanwhile, the Red Cross office was also operating without power or heat. Still, the staff and volunteers carried on, with only a small generator to supply lights. "You do what you have to do at the time," Bob remarked with a smile.
Any two house fires are not the same, because the people are different.
Bob related another particularly memorable service call that exemplifies the full scope of the aid that Disaster Assistance volunteers provide. Bob and two other Red Cross volunteers responded to a house fire where a family of five had only just escaped their burning home without being able to grab any of their possessions. They hadn't even had time to put shoes on. Because their car keys were all inside, they had no transportation.
Our policy was not to transport individuals in Red Cross vehicles. If they need transportation, get 'em a taxi. Anyway, I transported all five - father, mother, 17-year-old boy, seven-year-old boy, and a two-year-old child.
Bob brought the family to Union Gospel Mission, where they opened up the men and women's clothing banks, pulled out a suitcase, and filled it with clothes for the entire family. The Red Cross put the family up in a motel for three days, and during this time, Bob and his fellow volunteers continued to provide support. They took the father back to the house to get the VIN from each of the family's vehicles, in order to get new keys made (which the Red Cross paid for). They took the family to the courthouse to initiate the process of obtaining new birth certificates, and to the Social Security office as well.
That was the one family that I really remember. That was probably 15 years ago.
Bob was modest about the assistance the Red Cross provides. "We can provide immediate need - food, blankets, shelter for two to three days - but once that's over, that's basically all we can provide." But it's hard to imagine that the family who lost everything would have described the help they received as "modest." In times of crisis, when something as simple as a warm blanket or a pair of shoes can make all the difference between hope and despair, volunteers like Bob are there to serve.
In addition to his work at the Red Cross, Bob is active at the Touchmark community where he resides. He serves as the treasurer on the Resident Council, donating another ten to twelve hours a month of his time to his fellow residents. He feels fortunate that he is still able to drive, and he enjoys taking walks around the Touchmark property.
Bob is quite vocal about his belief in the health benefits of volunteering and staying active in the community. He was eager to share these words of wisdom with other seniors:
Get off your butt, go do something. For me, and for senior people, once you get to 60 you think, "Well I'll go travel." You better do it while you can, because one or the other spouse isn't going to be able to shortly. If you don't do those things right away, you might not get the chance.
But you can always volunteer. There are a hundred places to volunteer, the schools, right on down the line. Do something. I give credit to the Red Cross here [for] giving me something to do that's constructive every day, just going in and cleaning up the kitchen, that I would not have done before. I'd be sitting on my bottom doing nothing. I started volunteering here when I was 62. I'm now 89. I give the Red Cross credit for me living as long as I have.