Loss of camper raises questions of relief

Aid organization reportedly asked if man who lost trailer paid taxes

Brian Cameron pauses as he talks about all the possessions he lost when his camper burned near the Gunnison roller dam in December. Among other items, the former gas field worker had a collection of model trains and a library of railroad book in the camper, which was a total loss.

Brian Cameron had plans to open an Internet business painting and selling his collectible model trains.

But the intricate pieces, along with thousands of dollars in related literature, his wallet and all but the clothes on his back, burned up in a Dec. 29 camper fire.

Cameron, 51, had called his camper home since October, when he was let go from work in the oil fields.

For about a week and a half, he had parked it on a trailer behind his 1978 Ford pickup on Bureau of Land Management land near the Gunnison River’s roller dam, in a general area where transients congregate.

After his generator caught some nearby items on fire, he dialed 911 on his cell phone, fearing a nearby propane tank also could ignite. By the time firefighters from the Grand Junction Fire Department arrived, the blaze had gutted most of his camper, ruined his vehicle and gnawed into most of Cameron’s belongings, about $15,000 worth, he estimated.

Emergency workers that night saw that Cameron had lost everything and requested that emergency dispatchers call the American Red Cross for assistance.

What came over dispatch next shocked emergency workers as they battled the fire and the night’s frigid temperatures that dipped into the low teens.

“The Red Cross needs to know if the man is a taxpayer,” a dispatcher relayed, a message which aired over emergency personnel’s radios.

Battalion Chief John Williams went silent.

Fire Department spokesman Mike Page, who came on the scene, wondered aloud whether only taxpayers contributed to the Red Cross.

No one, it seemed, had ever heard of Red Cross asking about someone’s financial status as a qualification for getting assistance.

Volunteers from the Red Cross did respond and Cameron was assisted with three nights’ stay in a hotel and $240 in cash.

But the “taxpayer” question brought up more questions.

Scott Kline, the program manager at the western Colorado chapter of The American Red Cross, said Cameron was offered assistance because his camper is considered a “home.”

Cameron, who was unemployed at the time of the fire, found a pipe-fitting job last week. He now spends nights in a Grand Junction homeless shelter.

If someone lived out of a tent, and accidentally burned it down, would the Red Cross help?
Kline said he didn’t know. He’s never had that situation occur and it’s a question he’d pose to his superiors in Denver. Whether someone is employed while living in a “home” doesn’t factor into their decisions.

“It doesn’t matter at all,” Kline said, about employment. “We’re a humanitarian organization.

We’re there to provide immediate relief.”

Kline said the western Colorado chapter, which covers a 10-county area, assisted with 48 incidents each year in 2007 and 2008. One Delta resident was helped twice after his home burned on separate occasions. Also at the end of last year, the Red Cross helped an extended family of 10 with immediate funds and a short hotel stay.

Not everyone affected by disasters requests assistance, Kline said, and the amount of aid given is determined by a standardized price list.

“For me personally I wonder where we draw the line for personal accountability. But as a Red Cross volunteer, it’s not like we provide people with a whole lot of money,” he said. “It’s really just to get them by.”

Cameron said he never expected assistance from Red Cross, though he is thankful for it. He also received some clothing from Catholic Outreach, where he went for lunches.

“Here I lost everything, but I seem to be OK,” he said.


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