Spokane nurse volunteers with the Red Cross in his retirement
When there are hurricanes, volcanos, floods, wildfires, mudslides and other disasters, John Jonckers "deploys" as a volunteer with the American Red Cross.
Previously, on active duty in the Air Force and with the Washington Air National Guard (WA ANG), he "deployed" in his career years to serve where needed.
Retiring in 2015, he decided to volunteer with the Red Cross.
Since then, he has gone on the first wave of 21 disaster responses and is on call for Disaster Action Team (DAT) calls locally for the Red Cross after house fires.
During eight years with the Air Force, John moved to Spokane to teach in the Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape program. While in the WA Air National Guard, he deployed for three months at a time when the refueling tankers went to Desert Storm, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia and Iraq.
When he was discharged from active duty, he studied nursing at Spokane Community College, graduating in 1982. For 32 years, he served with Lifebird and MedStar critical care air transport nursing teams responding to emergencies. For 28 of those years, he was also in the WA ANG, deploying two weeks a year and one weekend a month.
On Oct. 20, he returned after two weeks with the Red Cross at Panama City and Tallahassee, Fla., after Hurricane Michael. On Nov. 24, he returned from wildfires in California.
As a nurse, he is usually the "health serve lead," setting up health service centers and shelters.
In 2017, John went to Beaumont, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey, but not to Puerto Rico, because he uses a C-Pap and the power was out.
Last year, he also responded after wildfires in California.
This fall, he spent two weeks in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence, organizing response in two districts. He was home just 10 days before going to Florida.
He usually goes six times a year on the first wave team, which stays two weeks. That gives him more time with family. Second wave teams can stay longer.
The Red Cross was finishing a year after Harvey, when there was more flooding in October.
"Every disaster is different and clients' needs differ," John said. "In the 2017 California wildfires, many nursing homes evacuated to a Red Cross shelter.
"We first deal with people. I manage a team of nurses and health service personnel, who work with other teams to do shelters," he said. "I make many phone calls, guide people, make suggestions to fix things and ask questions. I have to find creative solutions. I know the Red Cross, how to solve problems and whom to contact. Multiple teams make a response successful."
The Red Cross mobilizes people from around the United States and from American Samoa. They come together to work as a team. John has worked with many of the same people on different disasters.
"When we get a call, we find out who is going. Relationships help. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses from working and spending evenings together," he said.
Red Cross volunteers are there to support clients. It's the worst time in their lives, John said.
"Nothing is more devastating than to lose everything and not know what to do next. If they lose their driver's license or ID, they can't cash checks or withdraw money," he said. "We help people focus so they make informed decisions. We don't make decisions for them. We identify barriers for them and mobilize resources to assist. We support local governments who run the response and nonprofits who support the disaster response.
"We start or mobilize Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOADs). Some volunteers in the area may be affected," said John, who attends VOAD meetings in Spokane and North Idaho.
The Red Cross arrives first and begins to assess the damage before FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) does anything, John said.
"We set up Multi Agency Resource Centers where clients access resources in one place: FEMA, the Red Cross, DMV, housing, food and other resources," he said. "One agency sends babysitters so parents can meet with agencies to discuss their needs.
The Red Cross is multi-faceted, so John also responds locally and in the state when there are fires. As a part of a Disaster Assistant Team (DAT), he takes calls from people who may be neighbors and friends with wild fires and house fires.
"We respond to twice as many people in house fires, as in disasters," he said. "Big disasters get press, but it's as devastating to lose your house in a fire here as to lose a house in a major disaster. The feelings are the same, but the support system is better, because others are not affected.
"For big disasters, there are three days of media coverage, then none, but everyone is still devastated," he said.
"We work with many faith-based organizations that come to disaster areas to help with immediate and long-term recovery," John said. "It never ceases to amaze me the number of faith based organizations that come."
Every one of them wears a different color T-Shirt, so John refers to them as the rainbow crews.
"Some help muck out houses. It's neat to see how they are organized," John said. "It restores my faith in humanity to see the people who come out to help others."
John grew up in Texas, Puerto Rico and Ohio, where he went to high school and met his wife. They married, moved to Spokane, and have lived here ever since.
When their six children were young, they went to Kings Community Church. John took teens for week-long campouts in the woods, canoeing, backpacking and biking.
"I'm blessed to be able to retire comfortably, so faith motivates me. We are always supposed to be giving, to take care of one another and to give back," he said.
For information call 326-3330, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit redcross.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, December, 2018