Red Cross volunteer Joe Brennan visits with a Louisville resident during a canvassing project to promote fire safety and prevention in 2009.
Louisville Area Chapter volunteer Joe Brennan has been deployed on numerous disasters, exposing him to the aftermaths of floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and ice storms. His extensive experience makes it no surprise that he’s a master of speed packing.
“Within 20 minutes, I can pack,” Joe says. “I have it all in a box—everything from toothpaste, to toilet paper, to shirts. When I give an orientation, I tell people, “You never know.”
Yesterday afternoon, he packed up once again, boarding a flight to North Dakota where he will assist a fellow Red Cross Chapter responding to flooding. As a mental health specialist, Joe helps ensure that those affected by disaster receive the emotional support they need to make it through trying experiences. Once he assesses the situation and becomes familiar with local resources, he can take action to prevent additional stress.
Joe says letting people know that their reactions are normal is one of the most important things he can do, but he insists the real support comes from family and friends. Knowledge of partner organizations also helps in offering referrals for long-term support.
While deployed, Joe will also support Red Cross workers. Disaster workers are deployed anywhere from a few days to four weeks, and the stress of the operation can take its toll.
“Sometimes things get to you, and you have to pull yourself away from it,” he says. To keep himself positive, Joe reads, goes on walks and even does Tai Chi.
Disaster operations are demanding, but Joe says he loves the opportunity to meet and work with new people from all over the country and all walks of life.
“There’s no upmanship,” Joe says of working on disaster operations. “People are just people doing their job. They’re there to help others, and that’s the bottom line.”