LAKE GEORGE — Barely four hours after Steve Hatfield gets an American Red Cross deployment call, he’s already on a plane headed for a disaster zone for the next six, seven or even eight weeks.
“I had been in Wilmington, North Carolina for (hurricane) Florence for five weeks, when they called and said they needed me in California for the fires,” said Hatfield of Whitehall, on Saturday at the Lake George Winter Carnival.
“They sent me home to do my laundry and then I was on a plane to California. I was there for about six weeks.”
Hatfield, one of several disaster responders on hand at the winter carnival this weekend, shared stories about his experiences with the Red Cross over the past 25 years.
From inside the Lake George Institute of History, Art and Science building on Canada Street, Hatfield, Linda Plante and others told stories from Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Florence and Maria and the recent wild fires in Paradise, Ca.
On Saturday, other Red Cross volunteers braved the whipping February winds outside the history center to talk to passersby about the Red Cross programs, give away Girl Scout cookies and sell raffle tickets for a $200 disaster backpack.
“We want people to realize what we do,” said Plante, who heads the local initiative. “This is a tribute to the Red Cross and what we do.”
During his presentation, Hatfield puts up a picture of a Red Cross emergency vehicle surrounded by billows and billows of tan and copper-colored clouds.
“That’s what you never want to see,” he said, explaining it was a fast-moving prairie fire in Montana.
As he tells stories about the places he’s been, it’s evident he cares about the people he is helping and he’s quick to point out all those who come to the aid of disasters: The National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard; firefighting teams from all over the world including Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, China, Russia.
“At the fires in Paradise, Ca., people worked for 24 hours, some for nine straight days,” he said. “It was totally overwhelming for all of us.”
Hatfield met his wife, the late Joy Neuman, on scene at a hurricane in Louisiana. At the time he was living in Aberdeen, Washington and Newman was from Whitehall.
“We both enjoyed doing this together. Before she passed, she told me to never give up on it,” he said, visibly missing her. “So I am carrying on our legacy for us. I won’t give up until my legs no longer work and then I’ll help from a wheelchair.”
When at home in Washington County, Hatfield switches roles a bit as the coordinator for the Red Cross Disaster Action Team that often helps at local fires.
“We offer whatever support is needed,” he said, adding that they go on scene when the county emergency management team calls them, they do not self deploy. “We are there to make sure the family and the first responders are taken care of.”
Hatfield said that when he retired in 2004, he told the Red Cross he would be there for them.
“Doing this will change your life,” he said.