March 18, 2005 – The tight-knit community of Frydenhoj has rallied around the survivors of Wednesday's trailer home fire that killed three.
"The first thing I realized is that this is an insular community," said Bill Young, director of Emergency Services for the American Red Cross. The agency responded after 19-year-old Shatia Ridley, 2-year-old Lashawn Donovan, and 63-year-old Dorothy Donovan died trying to escape a burning trailer home. (See "Three Dead in Frydenhoj Fire").
Young says his team is working in particular with three survivors who are children and teens, but wouldn't share the nature of their relationship with the victims.
"That community took them in to their homes. They didn't ask–they just took them in, wrapped their arms around them," said Young. "That's going to be their saving grace. They have someone to lean on, cry with, scream to."
The first objective of the Red Cross is to take care of the humanitarian needs of the survivors, providing them with food, clothing and long term recovery goals. From there, they will follow the grieving process of the survivors.
"It's sensitive. It's not going to get better anytime soon," he said. "You have good days and bad days. Days when a scent or a sound from down the street will evoke a memory and [you're] ready to be in tears."
Normally, as the director of Emergency Services, Young would take the lead role in handling the situation, but because of the sensitivity of this case, the Red Cross will follow the lead of its mental health professional who is known in the community.
"Our mental health lead and the family services lead spent hours there Wednesday and Thursday making sure the needs of the survivors are met."
Young stresses that this is different than a fire where survivors will move on and recover after a few weeks.
"These people are going to have a hard, emotional road ahead," said Young. "This is an ongoing thing, there's not a template for dealing with it. The needs are addressed as people face them. Everyone is different in their grieving, and in this case, the survivors are very young."
In addition to offering counseling and aid to the survivors, the caseworkers have counseled people in the community who witnessed the fire.
For community members wishing to lend their support, Young offers this piece of advice, "Give the family the space they need, be there for them when they need a shoulder. They need to go through what they're going through. Think about if this happened in your family how you would want to handle it."
The American Red Cross of the Virgin Islands runs on tight funds, and relies largely on the support of the community.
"This is exactly the type of service we do. We won't stop doing it. We do fires, we work with families of military–those are the untold stories that need to be funded every day," said Young. "We are part of the community. We hope people will support us."
Donations to support the local chapter of the American Red Cross can be sent to Nisky Center, Suite 222, St. Thomas, VI 00802.
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