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Knights build on history of responding to crises

Members of the Knights of Columbus have a long history of serving after disasters, dating back to at least 1906 when they helped Californians recover from The Great San Francisco Earthquake.

During last month’s Front Range flooding, Colorado Knights mobilized right away to assist first responders, as part of a national Second Responders’ initiative being rolled out across the country.

“It’s been a wonderful thing for us, and we’re happy to do it,” said Patrick Callahan, Grand Knight of Council 14398 at All Souls Parish in Englewood. Callahan was one of several volunteer responders who arrived at a Red Cross shelter in Commerce City Sept.12, with an hour and a half notice, to help evacuees by cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner; and set up cots and bedding.

Knights manned two additional shelters in the area as well, and drove Red Cross supply trucks into affected areas to deliver thousands of pounds of cleaning products, food and water.

“We work closely with partners through COVOAD (Colorado Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster),” explained Sir Knight Branden Baalman, from Council 13221 at Our Lady of the Plains in Byers. Baalman is Colorado’s inaugural Second Responder Coordinator, an appointment he received last April.

The Second Responder initiative was announced at the Supreme Convention in Denver Aug. 2011. Since that time, the Supreme Council has gradually been rolling it out state by state, with the ultimate goal of having a team in each of the 50 states. The program is designed to help local councils respond to natural or manmade disasters by providing food, clothing, shelter and other services.

Shortly after the initiative was being launched in Colorado last spring, the Black Forest fires raged near Colorado Springs. A team of Knights spent Father’s Day cooking meals for first responders and manning shelters to allow other volunteers a break.

“The caboose has been in front of the locomotive the entire time,” explained Baalman, a 30-year veteran fire fighter, now retired and working in farming. “It’s such a new program; we don’t have the guidelines in place yet… (but) we have an idea of the direction we want to head.”

Once fully up and running, the top priority for Second Responders in Colorado will be helping parishes and parishioners, Baalman said.

“The number one thing we want to do is get the church back on its feet as soon as possible,” he said. “So they can have Mass, provide shelter and feed people.”

The Second Responders, who will receive training, will take direction from Incident Command Centers, generally coordinated by a town council, fire or police department, or a state or national organization such as FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).

“Our job is not to duplicate services,” Baalman said, “but coordinate with other agencies including Catholic Charities, who we will work with very closely.”

Baalman would like to see that state divided into regions that will have trailers, stocked with services, ready to respond.

“We look forward to this fall and winter when we can sit down as a state committee and start hammering out the details,” he said of the future of Second Responders in Colorado.

At this point, more than 100 Knights are involved statewide. More information will be provided to councils by the state committee as it is available.

“I really look forward to (formally) establishing the Second Responder program,” he said, “to working with these men of high moral character and strong faith.”

Last year, the Knights’ Supreme Council spent nearly $1 million on disaster relief efforts including Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas; and tornadoes in Moore, Okla., among others.

Knights continued to help at the centers while they were open, responding to immediate needs. For a video from the Greeley site at St. Mary’s visit http://ccdenver.org/colorado-flooding.

Julie Filby: 303-715-3123; julie.filby@archden.org; www.twitter.com/DCRegisterJulie

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