HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Mary Pirtle of Wailuku has been with the Red Cross for 15 years, first as a public health and safety instructor. Then after retirement as a disaster volunteer, handling everything from fires to hurricanes.
"Last couple weeks ago we had the Kahikinui fire, the brush fire. So we were busy setting up a shelter and making sure we had that staffed."
When disasters like these happen, Pirtle knows exactly what to do.
"We send out a team and we interview the people to find out what their needs are."
"Food, clothing, shelter, those are the basic needs that we make sure that they have covered."
Being on the front line of other people's tragedies is not easy, but it is rewarding.
"To have someone come running up to you with tears in their eyes and hugging you and just saying thank you, thank you so much for being here. Thank you for coming out and helping us."
Pirtle also educates the public about safety and disaster preparedness. "We educate the public as far as hurricanes. We have a big hurricane expo that is usually held at the end of May just before hurricane season starts."
For many in the community, these yearly reminders are not just helpful, they're necessary.
"We need to have them prepare with these things on hand. The canned goods, the things that don't spoil."
"You can have these things ready... before the storm gets close."
After the countless hours and painstaking work she's put in, the thanks for this honor, she says, does not belong to her alone.
"To be nominated by my peers is the ultimate. I can't think of anything more rewarding. I have thanked those that nominated me and they said you deserve it. Well, we all deserve it."