When Mike Huffstetler heard about the tornadoes in Alabama on Feb. 17, he expected to hear his phone ringing soon.
At 1 a.m. Feb. 18, he got the call he'd been waiting for. Huffstetler, a volunteer with the American Red Cross, was sent to aid the relief efforts in Prattville, Ala., after severe weather and tornadoes swept through the area just north of Montgomery.
Huffstetler is trained to operate an Emergency Communications Response Vehicle, which comes to disaster scenes equipped with cell phones, lap tops and satellite communications. The truck can even generate enough power to run a small shelter.
When he arrived in Alabama, Huffstetler was nervous. This was his first deployment as a Red Cross volunteer, he said, but his training kicked in quickly.
"It was exactly like the training," Huffstetler said. "It's long hours. You know, it isn't an 8 to 5 job. You work sun up until you can go rest. It's 12, 14 hours a day maybe."
Operating radios and electronics always has been a hobby of Huffstetler's. He started toying around with communications as a ham radio operator in Gaston County, N.C. more than 10 years ago. He volunteered for Emergency Management in Gastonia and when he moved to Indian Land with his wife, Jenny, the retired couple decided to volunteer for the Red Cross.
An employee at the York County Red Cross office suggested that Huffstetler, with his background in electronics, train to run an ECRV.
"I jumped at the chance," Huffstetler said. "I just enjoy emergency communications, enjoy working with radios, and enjoy working with people."
As an ECRV trained volunteer, Huffstetler is on call every few months, for 30 days at a time. When he gets the call that he is needed at the scene of a disaster, he has three hours to respond.
When on call, Huffstetler said that he keeps a bag with clothes and toiletries packed and ready.
"You hit the ground running," Huffstetler said. "I love it."
In Alabama, Huffstetler's job was to support the communications and activities of other Red Cross volunteers and employees. He enjoyed meeting people from around the country who, like him, volunteer for the Red Cross to help out their neighbors in need.
"I like people and people have been kind to me over the years," Huffstetler said. "It's a way of paying back my fellow neighbor. I like to think someone would do that for us in our area. You give them a helping hand, the best you can. It's another way of doing something for church, too. It's my personal outreach. I can give back."
Huffstetler said he hopes to be volunteering with the Red Cross for a long time. He's on call again in April and said that he'll probably be watching the news closely wondering if he'll be needed somewhere in the country.
"You hear something going on in the U.S., you get to wondering if the phone is going to ring," Huffstetler said. "But as long as I'm able to go, I'm going to try to keep doing it."