Eli Russ credits the start of his career with a 10 a.m. phone call in October 2010. On the other end was his best friend telling him there was an apartment fire in Larchmont.
The then 16-year-old didn't hesitate. He was on his way. But first, he needed to ask his mom for a ride.
Thus, began the odyssey of a first responder.
As president of the Mamaroneck High School (MHS) Red Cross Club -- for all of 30 days -- Russ had knowledge -- though no experience. His backpack stocked, he did what he was assigned upon arrival at the scene: helping evacuees from the burning building recollect at the local community center.
Russ has since taken on countless fires and other natural disasters as both a volunteer and manager for the American Red Cross. Now 23, the Larchmont resident said he knew after that first call five years ago that helping others and "being in the action" was what he wanted to do.
He credits his years at MHS for exposing him to community service where, as president of the Red Cross Club, he helped secure funds for the Haiti earthquake.
It was that experience that helped him two years later when Hurricane Sandy struck. Mamaroneck High was a Red Cross shelter and Russ was among those that helped dozens of displaced students. He was also responsible for organizing a furniture drive and helping local residents recover.
“[Organizing people and disaster relief efforts] was something I naturally found myself good at; I kind of thrive under pressure and thrive in emergencies,” said Russ, who also serves as a first responder for the Larchmont Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
“An emergency scene is not something everyone is built for.
"These are naturally chaotic environments where a lot of things are happening and first responders are doing what they’re trained to do: save lives and protect property.”
Russ’ flaming passion -- pardon the pun -- and too-numerous-to-count safety missions made him the first recipient of the Navin Narayan Excellence in Youth Leadership Award which he received in 2013. The award is meant to recognize one who demonstrates “exemplary leadership skills and service.”
“That was an incredible experience because that was after years of responding to fires, doing the Red Cross club, doing the National Youth Council, and this was the first time that award was given,” said Russ, who was 18 at the time.
“I’ve been really, really lucky throughout my life to be able to know what I wanted to do from a young age, to get the help that I’ve gotten, to get the recognition that I’ve gotten and to be where I am today.”
His passion and work followed him to Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA where he graduated this past May with a Bachelor’s in Public Health. He continued, and still continues, his work with CERT and helping Red Cross by leading their Disaster Health Services team.
He now works full-time at the Long Island Red Cross where, as a mass care manager, he's helped with local, national and international disasters. He assisted, oversaw volunteers, and managed approximately 124,000 evacuees collectively in the Canadian and California wildfires that occurred in August and October, respectively.
Former colleague Abigail Adams, Red Cross’ Greater New York Regional Communication Officer, said it's been a pleasure to watch Russ's compassion and commitment. “Eli went from being the president of a Red Cross high school club to running the sheltering operations during the California wildfires," she said.
"He never stops learning and pushing himself.”
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