Ridgefielder aids CT Red Cross in tornado recovery efforts

When American Red Cross volunteer Thomas Kimball got the call to go to Kentucky after a slew of tornadoes swept through the Midwest last week, the only thing he was worried about was who would take care of his cat, Cleo.

He wasn’t concerned that he wouldn’t be home for Christmas, noting his deployment was two-weeks long. He also said if the organization needs him to stay on site into the new year, he wouldn’t hesitate to do so.

The Red Cross has “large relief efforts” underway in four of the states affected by the recent tornadoes: Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas. It’s working to provide people with housing, food and “emotional support and comfort after one of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in years.”

In Kentucky alone, the death toll has risen to 74, the Associated Press reported. The destruction caused by the weather systems has also cut off heat, electricity and water as temperatures drop below freezing in some areas.

Kimball’s prior Red Cross deployments:

Hurricane Irma, Orlando, Fla., (2017)

Hurricane Florence, Wilmington, N.C. (2018)

Hurricane Michael, Albany, Ga. (2018)

Camp Fire wildfire, Paradise, Calif. (2018)

Hurricane Dorian and Tropical Storm Imelda, Texas (2019)

Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta, Louisiana (2020)

Hurrican Ida, Baton Rouge, La. (2021)

Kimball, of Ridgefield, has volunteered with the Connecticut chapter of the organization since 2016. He admits, however, that he should’ve joined in 2005 — the same year he got involved in amateur radio.

Kimball is a member of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service and the Candlewood Amateur Radio Association in Danbury. In 2009 he began volunteering at the New York City Marathon to relay runners’ injuries to nearby mile captains.

Kimball’s current deployment to Kentucky marks his seventh with the American Red Cross. While deployed in disaster-affected areas, Kimball works “behind the scenes” to provide communications support, he said.

As a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics mobile outreach vehicle, which partners with the Red Cross, Kimball ensures case workers can deliver help to those in need without technological interruptions.

Kimball completed two deployments in Baton Rouge, La., earlier this fall after Hurricane Ida devastated the area.

“While we were there we … (went) out to shelters to (set) up internet Wi-Fi capabilities because everything was out,” he recalled. “We set up computers, printers and laptops so people (could) get out into the field at the shelters and do the client casework.

“Sometimes amateur radio is involved if other lines of communication fail,” he continued. “We’re kind of like a Geek Squad on wheels.”

Kimball is working out of the Red Cross’ disaster relief operations headquarters at the Kentucky Dam Village State Park in Gilbertville. Though only on the ground for a week, he described seeing apartment complexes “leveled” and homes “completely destroyed.”

“When you’re on deployment you’re at ground zero of where the storms went,” he said. “These people are just trying to recover. They’ve lost everything — they only have the shirts on their backs.”

He added, “For my Christmas present, I just want to be able to do what I can to help the people out.”

Peter Yankowski contributed to this story.