Independent Local Hero Claude Dorais and a team of volunteers raised $150,000 for a new American Red Cross emergency response van. | Credit: Courtesy

The American Red Cross emergency vehicle that had served the Central Coast for the past 23 years was literally driven into the ground during the Thomas Fire and debris flow, and the aid agency has operated without one since. That is, until two weeks ago when a volunteer team led by recent Independent Local Hero Claude Dorais and his partner Lynda Nahra unveiled a new, state-of the-art emergency response van thanks to the $150,000 in donations they collected. The vehicle is a multipurpose tool that carries blankets and hot meals and puts Red Cross workers directly in the field.

“When a community comes together to help those impacted by disasters both big and small, it is not only empowering but very uplifting to see compassion in action,” said Tony Briggs with the Red Cross. “This funding for a new emergency response vehicle will not only allow us to be better prepared for disasters but allow us to have a more profound impact on families who have been affected.”

In 1898, the agency said, founder Clara Barton used a wagon as an ambulance, and throughout the 20th century, “clubmobiles” made from converted bread trucks, station wagons, and pickup trucks helped support military men and women. It wasn’t until 1984 that standardized disaster-response vehicles were created around an ambulance design.

“Our community knows firsthand the value of disaster preparedness,” said Janet Garufis, chair and CEO of Montecito Bank & Trust, which, along with United Way of Santa Barbara County, was one of the biggest donors. “The impact of a new emergency vehicle like this is not only necessary; it’s priceless!”


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