Red Cross adds health, safety position

Health and safety in Island County has received a boost with the hiring of Connie Almon as health and safety coordinator for the Red Cross.

The position has been vacant for “many, many years,” said Barbara Johnson, executive director of the organization.

Offering a succinct job description, Johnson said Almon will be “focusing on helping people; finding out their health and safety needs.”

Almon has had about a month to settle in and get comfortable in her cozy office at Red Cross headquarters near the main gate of the Navy base. The green Geico gecko sits atop her computer, and a picture of her husband, Oak Harbor Police Chief Steve Almon, smiles down from above, stuck to the top drawer of the filing cabinet.

This is not Connie Almon’s first stint with the Red Cross. Although she’s had her hands full foster parenting in recent years, she formerly held a similar Red Cross job in Oklahoma before she and her husband moved to Oak Harbor about four years ago.

Almon said she has more than enough to keep her busy for the 20-hours she was hired to spend at the Red Cross each week. A major part of her job is to search for qualified instructors to teach health and safety classes. She would like to expand the number of classes available to better serve the needs of the business community, particularly.

“I can’t do this all in 20 hours,” Almon said with a smile. Many business employees have to be certified in CPR, HIV/AIDS or First Aid, and the Red Cross presently offers eight classes a month. Almon’s goal is to make it a dozen.

Or, as Johnson said, “Our goal is to meet the goals of the community.”

Almon said she would like to expand to include Red Cross classes on Camano Island and South Whidbey, so people there won’t have to travel to Oak Harbor for certification. One sticking point is the shortage of dummies for people to practice their life-saving techniques on. “It would be great to buy more mannequins,” she said.

Almon is one of the certified instructors, taking on classes in CPR, First Aid and AED devices used to re-start hearts. That’s one reason she wants more instructors. “If I can’t find instructors it falls back on me,” she said.

About 1,200 people a year go through the Red Cross certification classes, which include disaster training and babysitting.

“We have the potential to serve many more,” Johnson said.

“Babysitters are waiting in line,” added Almon.

Traditionally, instructors have not been paid. Almon would like to change that and offer at least a stipend for those who donate their time to pass on life-saving skills. “At least a little bit of pocket money,” she said. For that to happen, she will need board approval.

The Island County Chapter of the American Red Cross is overseen by a board of directors that presently consists of five members, although there is room for 15. Rick Bell took over as chairman on July 1.

With Almon now in charge of the health and safety chores, Johnson can spend more time helping people get ready for the big one — whatever that may be.

“I’m trying to break the myth that Whidbey Island doesn’t have any disasters,” she said.

Last year the Red Cross responded to 15 personal disasters involving house fires, and its classes help people prepare for extreme weather events or earthquakes. Johnson keeps First Aid kits in her car and home, and hopes to persuade more people to do the same.

With a budget of just under $300,000 annually, all locally raised, the Red Cross has a lot to with with a small amount of money. With Almon on board, Johnson said the organization will now have “better access to the community and more visibility.” Not to mention a healthier, safer island on which to live.

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