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Turlock retiree makes free time count with Red Cross
Red Cross volunteer
As fires burned throughout Northern California last month, Covenant Living of Turlock resident Dan Hardesty volunteered with the American Red Cross as Disaster Services Technology Chief from his home due to COVID-19 (Photo contributed).

Having volunteered with the American Red Cross for the past 22 years, Turlock resident Dan Hardesty thought he had seen it all — from helping those affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to making sure team members could communicate with one another in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. That was the case until this year, when he was called upon last month to help those affected by the onslaught of fires which had engulfed the northern half of the state.

While Hardesty was no stranger to providing aid during a crisis, this was the first time he had to do so during a global pandemic. 

He received a call from the Red Cross on Aug. 17 while at his home in Covenant Living, a senior community in Turlock, and was asked to accept a position as Disaster Services Technology Chief. The position would be part of a Rapid Response Team and Hardesty’s job was to ensure that up to 450 Red Cross staff could communicate with each other and Red Cross Headquarters. 

While this was something he had done before, the task looked much different this time around due to the pandemic. COVID-19 concerns required that all management positions do their jobs virtually, with volunteers working from home and communicating by computer and phone. 

“It’s a challenge because you don’t have eyes on what’s going on and you’re directing staff all by phone,” Hardesty said. “To be a supervisor or manager with a staff that you haven’t laid eyes on for the whole length of the deployment is a different experience.”

Hardesty is used to interacting with people while on the job. He began volunteering with the Red Cross after retiring 23 years ago from his job designing and producing cancer treatment equipment, he said, in an attempt to find something “useful” which could occupy his time. Since then, he has assisted with almost every major crisis in America. His first big assignment sent him to New York City following the Sept. 11 attacks, where he saw firsthand the much-needed aid that the organization provides.

“It was an eye opener,” Hardesty said. “Those big, tough firemen and policemen would come in just wanting a corner to sit back and cry in or have some space. That had quite an impact on me because these people I had always thought of as being invincible were really suffering.”

Hardesty has since worked his way up in the organization, starting out by helping with sheltering individuals and buying office supplies to now coordinating communication between those on the front lines. 

For two and a half weeks as the fires burned, Hardesty was inside of his home, tethered to his computer and phone for 12 hours a day. His first priority was to order 30 laptops, 30 phones, five printers and various network equipment to provide internet access for those on the ground and working remotely. Together with two technicians, Hardesty and company also provided whatever technology Red Cross staff needed to supplement anything they already had.

All meetings were held virtually, he added, and Hardesty even oversaw staff training in Kentucky and Minnesota to make sure staff members knew how to use Microsoft TEAMS. One task Hardesty would typically be in charge of during a crisis is to ensure internet access inside of whichever location or warehouse the Red Cross team has set up in, he said, but with everyone working from home this time around, that was one responsibility he didn’t have to worry about. 

After 17 days on the job, Hardesty was relieved by a fellow Red Cross volunteer. He’s already helping out with fires again, however, filling in for a staff member in Fresno and driving down to help every other day. While most retire from their day jobs to relax, Hardesty doesn’t mind dedicating his free time to such a worthy cause.

At 76 years old, he intends to continue volunteering for as long as he can.

“I enjoy it. My favorite part is actually working with the people in the Red Cross. It’s a pretty remarkable group of people you get to work and you lose some of that with the virtual stuff,” Hardesty said. “I’ll do it as long as I can contribute. When I figure I'm getting in the way and not contributing, I’ll try to be smart enough to say, ‘That’s it.’”