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Policy keeps onsite Red Cross volunteers out of select MKE zip codes

Posted at 10:36 PM, Dec 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-28 00:28:59-05

The Red Cross is implementing a new policy in regards to fire response. In ten Milwaukee zip codes, the Red Cross says they will no longer have on-site response teams.

Rather, the fire victims will have the opportunity to meet them at a police station or the Red Cross office. 

"This is a way to get fire victims to a safe warm," said Patty Flowers, Regional CEO of the American Red Cross of Wisconsin. "And continue to give them all the support they need."

The Milwaukee Fire Department will give victims a card to contact a Red Cross volunteer after a fire so they can start the process of getting help. Then, they can meet with a volunteer face-to-face at either a police station or the Red Cross headquarters. 

The zip codes where on-site services will be stopped are 53204, 53205, 53206, 53208, 53209, 53210, 53215, 53216, 53218 and 53233. This cuts right through the heart of the city, excluding the outskirts. 

Alderman Bob Donovan says that points to one thing.

"It's telling me Milwaukee's inner city is perceived to be unsafe by the Red Cross," Donovan said. "That's the bottom line, no matter how they sugar coat it."

"This is where we're implementing it now," Flowers said. "It's been across the entire area. Outside of those zip codes, we've been doing this kind of a process. Now, we're doing it consistently because we're regionalizing."

Donovan doesn't blame the Red Cross, as he understands they provide a much-needed service. However, he says having them on-site is paramount.

"To have to tell these folks, ok you've just suffered a devastating fire or other tragedy and if you want help, drive down to District Two and there might be some volunteers there to help you out," Donovan said. "The fact those pepole are there and on-site giving aid and comfort is so incredibly important."

Lynne Johnson knows that first hand. 

"I lost everything," Johnson said. 

Johnson's apartment went up in flames nearly six years ago. She has the Red Cross to thank for getting her back on her feet. 

"It brings me to tears sometimes," Johnson said. "It's really helpful. No questions asked, they really helped. We were able to have a place to relax and calm down and feel safe."

Johnson says the money and shelter they provided was huge but the personal touch of having someone there as she watched her life go up in flames was something she'll never forget. 

"They were really supportive and comforting," Johnson said. "It was easy to be strong because there was somebody there."

For those who lack transportation or the funds to get to a police station or Red Cross headquarters, Flowers says they have agreements with taxi services to get the victims there free of charge. 

"We're always looking at ways to keep people safe and warm," Flowers said. "That's the number one thing for all of us. We want to be there for every single house fire client we have. If someone needs us, we will be there. This is just being efficient with our time and volunteers."