Fire chief: Closure hurt local Red Cross

Organization officials say doors are closed but services remain

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If a major disaster were to hit the area tomorrow, Craig Fire Chief Roy Mason said he would not have much faith in the response of the American Red Cross.

"We had a fire last Friday that was devastating to a family and we waited for two to three hours and I'm still not sure if anybody showed up," Mason said Wednesday.

The American Red Cross closed its doors in Craig around the first of the month with the resignation of Deb Lowe, the local director, according to Nancy Kellner, financial development director of the Fort Collins Red Cross office.

Because of budget challenges, the Red Cross needed to cut back in certain areas and when the administration heard about Lowe's resignation "we took advantage of that attrition," Kellner said.

"Just because we don't have an office there doesn't mean we're not providing services," Kellner said. "We just don't have a building."

Services were just what Mason needed Friday when a fire burned down the home of Don Erikson, who lived at 1536 Moffat County Road 22 with his wife, daughter and son.

"The first time I needed (the Red Cross), I had to deal with them long distance," Mason said. "We had to call Fort Collins, they had to route phone calls to Craig -- it was frustrating. They were apologetic but that didn't help the family at the scene.

"Two hours is a long time for people in need. Thank God we had victim's advocates there."

Linda Glendenning, the chief operations officer for the Fort Collins office, blamed the delay on transposed telephone numbers provided by the fire department.

Because of the telephone number mix-up "(the delay) would have happened if there was a local office or not," Glendenning said.

Glendenning said volunteers did respond to the Ericksons' plight and services were provided to the family.

Kim Schleppy, disaster specialist for the American Red Cross in Fort Collins, said trained volunteers were dispatched to the scene where they waited until they were sure the family's needs were met. Schleppy said the Ericksons' insurance agent was on scene and had most, if not all, of the family's needs covered.

"That happens a lot in small communities where people know their insurance agents by their first names," Schleppy said.

Glendenning said the local Craig telephone number is still operational and people can still call that number, which is forwarded to the Greeley office, if they have questions regarding services, training or volunteering.

Schleppy said calls will be forwarded to the Fort Collins office if the situation requires it. The telephones are manned 24 hours a day.

While Red Cross officials say services have not been depleted in Moffat County, Mason maintains that he has seen a degradation of services over the years.

Red Cross has changed over the years with reconfigured boundaries that Mason said has helped the Eastern Slope more than the Western Slope.

"It's another example of a bureaucracy hanging the rural areas out to dry," Mason said.

The fire chief said even in the best of budget circumstances, Lowe, who played an integral part in the emergency response community, would be hard to replace.

"They say they are just a phone call away," Mason said. "But they weren't there on Friday."

Glendenning said she hopes the office closure in Moffat County is temporary but "we don't have a time frame at this point."

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