When a disaster such as a tornado or wildfire strikes a town, first responders are on scene quickly. A local church is working to become the secondary responders.

A dozen members of Messiah Lutheran Church went through training last year to become certified with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will allow them into disaster areas while access is still limited.

“Say one of these big fires comes through a small community, say a tornado touches down somewhere, Heaven forbid,” said Messiah Lutheran Pastor Rocco Mallardi. “It allows us to, right after the first responders get done taking care of life, it allows us to come in and help people take care of property.”

A grant allowed the church to purchase a trailer, and Mallardi has been working with a team of students from Fort Hays State University’s 310 Field Work in Leadership Studies to raise funds to supply the trailer.

The team’s main fundraiser, a 5K run/walk was snowed out April 7, but team member Jenny Parker said they aren’t concerned. The group has received donations and also recently had a fundraiser at the Golden Q.

Other members of the team are Samantha Ward, Nathan Toft, Michael Saint and Wyatt Habiger.

“We’re going to do a couple of back-up fundraisers, but we haven’t had to scramble too much,” Parker said.

Parker said the project interested her because it could help in towns like Dighton, where she grew up.

“I’m from a small town, and I just thought it was kind of cool to have a response trailer come around to towns like that,” she said.

The Messiah Lutheran team likely will arrive at a disaster scene the day after to help with immediate repair needs, Mallardi said.

“Generally what we’re doing is not rebuilding homes, but we’re trying to help people preserve the important things that could be lost through this, trying to get their possessions together,” he said.

That work could include putting tarps on a roof or plastic over broken windows, or removing tree limbs.

“If it’s that hands-on manual labor kind of stuff, we’re there and we certainly are trained to do that,” Mallardi said.

Mallardi, who as a pastor has responded on his own to past events, said there also is some “soft-touch” work needed as well. People want to talk about how their life was spared in a tornado or find possessions like a wedding ring.

“When you’re first there right after the first responders, that’s the kind of things people are saying before they even grapple with ‘I just lost my house.’

“It’s a very small window, but it’s where suffering is at its acute moment. So we’re just there trying to help the families get through that acute suffering,” he said.

In addition to fundraising, the FHSU 310 team will assist Mallardi later this semester in shopping for supplies for the trailer. FEMA has supplied a four-page list of suggested items that includes safety equipment for the volunteers, tools for clean-up efforts, and hand tools and battery-operated tools.