Emergency Response Team

An Unexpected Offering


by Alex Smith


On the way up to Montana we were stopped at a gas station to fill up the convoy. While a couple of us were standing around, a gentleman came up and began to talk to us. He was a local pastor and wanted to thank us for all the wonderful work we were doing and appreciated the effort we were putting in. He joked with us and talked with us for a few minutes, said he would pray for us and we'd be in his thoughts, and went back to his car. At this point, we hadn't done any work. We had just been learning in classrooms and driving. But the program itself is what he was talking about, and he wanted to thank us because of the great history of service that the St. Louis ERT has. Even though we hadn't accomplished anything of our own yet, we all felt incredibly honored and privileged to be a part of a program that receives such positive praise and admiration from people in the local area and surrounding states. For me, at least, that meeting filled me with resolve and pride in what I was doing, and strengthened my determination to give the upcoming weeks in Montana my all.

Alex In Montana

First Time Camping


by Emily Jack


On the night of September 28th, I had my first big Montana adventure-camping! Believe it or not, this was my first time ever sleeping outside in a tent...and it was quite an experience to say the least. As we sat around the fire at Fleecer Cabin, making S'mores and listening to Bruce's stories, I excitedly told anyone who would listen about how my parents never wanted to take my younger brother and myself camping as children; how they refused to view sleeping on the ground for a week with no amenities as a vacation-thus depriving me of what I had always seen as an essential rite of growing up. All of my friends went camping with their families, so it couldn't have been that bad right? Well, as I laid down in my sleeping bag a few hours later, clad only in two layers (long underwear with PJ's on top) I all at once came to the decision that perhaps they had been onto something. I was fairly comfortable on my blow up sleeping mat and mummy bag, but my naturally cold body temperature combined with the frosty 20 degree Montana night made sleeping impossible. I could not get myself to warm up at all, my attempt at throwing a blanket on top of my face resulted in the condensation from my breath freezing over and sticking to it, and I was so frigid that I did not want to give up what little protection my sleeping bag was giving me to throw on more clothes. Needless to say, the next morning I crawled out of my tent, bleary eyed and wondering why I didn't listen to my parents.

As the days went on, and some of the older members of the Corps learned of my struggle, I was gifted with advice, tips (and even a sleeping bag liner!) on how to keep warm in a tent. I began to wear more layers of clothing, including hats, gloves and even winter jackets, was shown how to better insulate my tent, and even experimented with a homemade solar panel. (It didn't really work, but I was proud of my innovation!) In the end, I grew to enjoy the simplicity of living in nature, and the peaceful quiet that comes along with camping. That night was my very first challenge, and I am proud of myself for sticking it out. I know that there will be many more trying experiences throughout this year, and I now feel as if I am much better prepared for them, all because of one night in a tent. After all of this, I am both nervous and excited to see what the future in this program holds for me.

Tents At Fleecer

Spanish Peaks


by Liana Kopp  

Almost two years ago I traveled to the Spanish Peaks Trail in Ennis, MT for my first project with ERT. I knew almost nothing about how the program worked, what to expect, how to saw, how to build trail, or what an invasive plant was. All I knew was how to follow the leadership team into the woods and do what they asked of me.

Last week I went back to Spanish Peaks Trail. My second year with the program is almost over and being back at the place where it all started made me realize how much I have learned. The moment we learned we were going to reroute the trail I knew exactly what tools to grab, how to scratch in the trail, and how to build water features.

11902459_865136423521658_6907043712585858924_n I began to think of the other hard skills I have learned- how to fell a snag, how to double bit ax through a log, how to mix chemical, how to change the oil in a truck, how to put up facia on a building, how to muck and gut a home. The skills I am leaving this program with are too many to count.

More importantly, I learned how to be a better friend and teammate, how to lead a group of my peers, how to be flexible in ever changing conditions. I became a more outgoing and capable person. And I made some of the best friends I will ever have. Looking back at that first week at Spanish Peaks it is hard to believe how much I have changed and how much I have gained serving with the ERT.



by Helen Lahoda  

Besides the usual splendor that Montana offers, it also offers a chance to increase skill levels. Unfortunately, beetle kill has done so much damage to the lodge pole pines of the West that trees are falling over without warning, and therefore often getting hung-up. My task for the first 3 weeks of Montana was to clear trails, including the widely known Continental Divide Trail (CDT). We are not only responsible for bucking up the trees right on the trail, but also trees that will fall on the trail soon or are hung up on top of other trees over the trail.


I have been lucky enough the past few weeks to have a great chainsaw teacher. Although I have practiced taking down hang-ups in Missouri, I could continuously talk through hang-ups here in Montana, and put theory into practice. It can be daunting to have a massive snag at the will of you and your chainsaw, but getting comfortable taking down somewhat challenging trees has been one of the most rewarding things about my year in ERT.

Bat Caves


by Kelsey Anderson 10414530_602766766490257_4292758902833884903_n

The caving project at Silver Mines Recreational Area was the best and most rewarding project I have been on thus far with ERT. I had the unique opportunity to assist in rigging a high line across a river, cutting steel using an oxyacetylene torch, and putting together a steel gate expertly designed for bats. Additionally, I learned a great deal about bat species in Missouri from our very knowledgeable and enthusiastic contacts. We worked long days in some extremely wet working conditions, but seeing the four completed gates at the end of the ten day was well worth the adversity my team and I faced.

Trail 101


by Danielle Snowden  

Crushing rock and building trail, always breathing to exhale. Arms are tired, feet feel heavy, pushing ourselves to the levy. Finding rocks for the perfect fit, they can't be off, not one bit. Clear the muck, and create a drain, so water flows smoothly through the strain. It's time to go and hike back out, the day is done, we have to shout! And with the sun, we rise again, to build more trail, to maintain and then.....

Morning Commute


by Michael Rood  

Hop out of the truck. Shake off the morning dreariness. Pack my bag. Toss on some chaps, throw a saw over my shoulder, and start walking. One foot after the other. Each one leading to the work site a mile and a half away on top of Buford Mountain. Having long legs offers its advantages. A steady pace ensures I pull away from my teammates. After 10 minutes of hiking I am alone, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the woods.


My morning commute takes me up the mountain, past the rock wall and fire line that was completed last week. After taking a right at the rocky outcrop and hiking a quarter mile down the grassy path I arrive at the work site. Woodlands give way to a rocky glade where we are tasked with felling cedars that are crowding out native plant species. I enjoy my morning commute. It is tough but not stressful. I don't get stuck in traffic or worry about arriving late. All I have to do is put one foot in front of the other and arrive at a place performing work that I love doing.

Waking Up

by Scott Frey I'm home again, submerged in the familiar smells of Christmas. Reaching across the table, mouth bulging with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, I reach for the nice plump turkey leg I've been eyeing since my first plate. This is the third day in a row stuffing my face with delicious, home-cooked meals. The third day in a row I've virtually done only the things I wish to do, whether it be lounging on the couch all day watching Netflix or out with my old buddies. And just as I felt as though I couldn't be any happier, the timer sounds telling me that dessert is ready. My ears perk up. That doesn't sound like the sweet sound of the alarm on the oven though. That sounds like...

The sound of 0600. It's the first day back in service since I have returned home from Detroit nearly two weeks ago. Even though we are getting into the thick of the coldest time of the year, I'm excited to be at it again. Mornings are rough; so are morning temps in the single digits when you know that within the next hour you'll be out of that nice cozy sleeping bag and into a woodland area completing the tasks needed to meet the day's objectives. And though a part of me longs to lay back in bed, I know I will regret not ever getting up and doing something fulfilling with my day. This is what ERT is all about. This is what ultimately gets me out of bed in the morning, and, for that, I am grateful.

The Pack Test

by: Cynda Marrero  

A few months ago ERT members completed their pack test. Carrying 45lbs. on their backs for 3 miles in under 45 minutes. I was impressed and so proud of my team. The day of the pack test was exciting for everyone. We made plans to relax with breakfast and mimosas after. I began along with everyone else and quickly made my way to the end. After my first lap, I remember Sara telling me that I needed to move faster to stay on track. My music was not fast enough. I was not fast enough. I pushed and started to feel a very familiar pain. My shins became stiff. My teammates passed me as if I was the checkpoint. I couldn't continue. I had to remove my pack. I knew that I could try again but that fear haunted me for months. Whenever we hiked or went on a long walk, I was always behind. I feared that I was not qualified for this task. I didn't feel like a member of ERT. I didn't belong. It took me longer to not only hike up hills but down as well. I pushed myself to prove that I was qualified but in the back of my mind, I never thought that I was. Year 21 Pack Test

When Sara announced that we would be taking the pack test again, my heart dropped. I had no idea what to expect. I had been working so hard ever since the last test but I was still terrified. The thought of failing again left me petrified. I started working out and stretching again. I knew my shin splints wouldn't be so bad if I stretched my legs enough. Maybe. "You're doing great, you have only two laps left!" My jaw dropped and rose instantly into the greatest smile I could ever make. I felt amazing! I could have done another 8 laps. As much as I felt like dropping to the floor in the first two laps, I was so happy. I pushed and pushed. Scott stood by my side distracting me from any doubts that could possibly come. I crouched down and sped up around the curves. I focused on my breathing. I smiled every time I saw the rest of my team standing at the finish line smiling for me. They cheered and encouraged me more than I could have imagine. They all came just to support us.

Placing my pack on the ground meant letting go of more than just 45lbs. I dropped any negative thoughts that had festered since the last test. I walked an extra lap smiling so wide, my cheeks started to hurt.

At that moment, I realized something that I will never forget. Endurance can't be measured. We set out to achieve new goals because everything unfamiliar is a goal to achieve. Passing the pack test did not make mountains any flatter. It didn't make blowers more enjoyable to carry all day. It sure as hell never kept the rocks in place when scaling down a steep hill. So why did I think I could measure my strength the way others who do not know me would?

We hold more inside than what we could ever carry.

Erik Steciak - A Life in Service

Erik Steciak, Year 14 ERT, was killed by a utility vehicle while on duty as a paramedic in Bel Air, Maryland.  His family and friends are in our hearts.  He will always be a part of the AmeriCorps St. Louis family.  Two of his year mates shared their memories of Erik as a way to pay tribute to his life and commitment to service. 1930312_539367486176_1956_n


"In general I saw Erik as someone who pretty well had his life together as far as knowing what he was going to do with it. It seemed like his service with the ERT was just a brief pause away from what he really wanted to do, being a firefighter. Erik really identified and was passionate about serving people through the fire service.
   What I remember most about Erik is the time we spent responding to the flooding of the Mississippi river in 2008, in Clarksville, MO together. Clarksville was from my perspective the most intense disaster response that we went on in year 14. We spent the first several days working 20 hours a day and doing all that we could to help protect the town from the rising flood waters. I think that Erik was really energized by providing service that had direct and immediate consequences. Erik was leading a team of volunteers that was building a sandbag wall close to the downtown area. I remember us having to almost force Erik to take some time and rest once reinforcements arrived. He was committed to giving the people of that town his best effort and in that he was a role model for the rest of us. I gained a lot of respect for Erik on that response, and though we were not close friends I felt a strong bond with him after Clarksville. I'm sad to hear that the world has lost Erik's energy and passion for helping others and I'm grateful that I got to spend the time that I did with him." - Dan Ulrich, Years 14-16
"I had the honor of serving with AmeriCorps St. Louis as an Emergency Response Team member for two years, working on staff at AmeriCorps St. Louis, and I currently work for another AmeriCorps program in town as its Program Coordinator.  I’ve met countless big hearts over this time, but few more passionate, more unrelenting than Erik Steciak’s.  He was an unwavering vigil, an engine of service that refused to quit—even when asked, repeatedly.  True, Erik’s passion for service could wear on you when you yourself were already weary, buried beneath mountains of stress and frustration, but in the very next moment, you could be inspired by Erik’s boundless energy that was always committed to getting the job done.One of my favorite memories of Erik happened when ERT was deployed on disaster.  Nearly seven years later I can’t really remember what it was or where we were—maybe it was during the ice storm in Columbus, Kansas or the tornado that leveled Neosho, Missouri—but I remember Erik holding about seventeen nails in his mouth as he nailed down a blue tarp.  It was dusk approaching night, and it was time to pack it in for the night.  Our team lead called for us to finish tarping the damaged roof we had climbed onto when Erik decided that the tarp just needed a few more nails to hold it down.  I remember our team lead yelling at Erik to come down because it was too dark and me and everyone else piled into back seat of our pick-up echoing it back just so we could get to dinner faster.  I remember being annoyed by the time Erik finally slid down the ladder, but I think that was just Erik to a tee.  He was going to make sure that tarp stayed on that family’s roof no matter what.  He didn’t care how many others thought that it didn’t matter or that he should hurry up; he was committed to serving, even if it meant an over-commitment to it.  That's how I knew Erik to live his life.I’m thankful that I had the chance to get to know Erik, and I’m proud that I got to serve beside him on a team that binds us together forever." - Jeremy Brok


For information about his viewing and funeral services, visit the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company's page.  



by: Sarah Wood “This is something I hope everyone can experience for themselves: To challenge oneself to a long term task, purely out of one’s own desire to experience life in a different way, and then to come out on the other side, satisfied and whole.” –Chelsea Cash


A year ago I left my family. Not my biological family, but a family nonetheless. For two and a half years, I worked with a phenomenal group of people in the mountains of Southern California, teaching science to sixth graders. From hiking in seven feet of snow with a group of students to climbing in the sun at Joshua Tree National Park, we were always together, exploring the world and working to make it a better place for the young people we taught. When the time came for me to leave, my friends presented me with a journal, encouraging me to document my life after our time together.

It’s been a year since they gave me that journal, and I’m proud to say that it’s full. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fill it in 365 days. We’d created such a wonderful bubble for ourselves in our mountain home, and I didn’t know if I’d ever find something so 10419041_10152469168155248_4868712271084135594_ngreat again. But I tried anyway, setting out to ride my bicycle across the country by myself. My journal quickly filled with stories of people I met, sights I saw, food I ate. Those days spent on a bike seat reminded me of who I was on my own: how I made decisions, interacted with strangers, spent my free time. While I enjoyed the opportunities for autonomy presented by this journey, I missed the feeling of togetherness from my little cocoon of community.

My time with ERT has more than fulfilled my sense of belonging. Never have I felt more immediately at home with a group of people. I’ve probably managed to fill my journal so quickly from writing DANCE PARTY and LAUGHING FIT in all caps so many times. I feel incredibly fortunate that I’ve once again found myself with people who care about the world, who devote their lives to others, and who do it all while having fun with each other. As sad as it was to begin my journal by leaving a group of people I love, I am thrilled to close it out with memories from another.


Burn Piles

by: Carrie Stephen The smell of cedar fills the air As flames leap up the pile White ash falls on the snowy ground As we move logs in style


Donning yellow and green we charge To keep the piles burning And ensure safety of the woods Young firefighters learning


Keeping our posts, watching the fires Piles glowing in the glade Beacons from Gondor to Rohan What beautiful piles we have made

Diving In


by Anthony Bagnasco 1503347_959147530780761_6237530231101926869_n

It's wonderful how close you can get to your teammates in such a short period of time. This week I was tossed in with a good group of people who were already close to each other, roommates actually. Honestly, I was even intimidated by one of them! How silly it seems now how I felt two weeks ago. But what it comes down to as a member of this program is the requirement to be flexible enough to work with whoever you come into contact with. You have to just dive head first even if you think you might have cold feet. I couldn't have wished for stronger, smarter, or goofier teammates. After a little while we joked like lifelong friends and I found myself adopting some of their silly mannerisms and language.


Today we celebrated the past two weeks together by literally taking a plunge into a freezing lake, commemorating our commitment to flexibility and each other.

Detroit Secrets

by Alison Tune  

IMG_3359Debris Paneling Sanitize

Debris Paneling Sanitize

Debris Paneling Sanitize

Mucking and gutting may be one of the more repetitive volunteer activities. Occasionally there is a small difference, a blip that makes the day a little different. But for the most part, the same procedure is followed each time with little variation. If this were the entirety of our time in Detroit, every crew member would have probably turned into a muck and gut zombie, fed on moldy drywall and reeking cardboard boxes. Fortunately there is a variable that is ever changing, the homeowners themselves. They are the reason we are volunteering in the first place, and they are the most exciting part of the muck and gut cycle. I am constantly reminded each day how much they appreciate the work we are able to complete.From hugs to delicious Lebanese cookies, their kindness overflows even though they could easily have been bitter about the amount of time it has taken to get volunteers to their homes, or the lack of national media attention.

On Monday, we worked on a homeowner's basement for the entire day. It started with a bite on one of our crew members hands by a dog and ended with exhaustion. But these minor details were all overshadowed by the sweetness of the elderly woman who was unable to work on the basement herself. She hugged each of us and even said a prayer over the team. Even more astounding, this sort of homeowner-crew interaction is not abnormal. Detroit has welcomed the AmeriCorps volunteers into their homes, eaten meals with the teams, and in some cases helped with the basement work themselves. I never thought I would love mucking and gutting basements so much.

The Hampton at Long Branch


by Cameron McCoy  

Shortly after our arrival at Long Branch State Park, we realized we still needed shelter from the cold nights. As we arrived at our campsite individuals began to unpack their hum-drum sleeping arrangements and shelters. As I approached the bed of the truck I noticed a bag that wasn't quite like the others; it had more character (and less parts). As I hefted the nylon shelter out of the truck something in the weight of the bag told me that it held more than metal shafts, and nylon material. It held something special. I emptied the contents of the green sack onto the ground and found to great displeasure that quite a few pieces were missing, along with a tag that read: "Incomplete Tent, Extra Parts".


As I stared at the various pieces of random tents, Captain William arrived on the scene, anxious to construct a work of art. With Gorilla Glue tape in hand he grinned and exclaimed "We are gonna build one fine tent outta this yet!" Something in his excitement gave me the confidence I was previously lacking as I picked up aluminum rods and began to help where I could. Shortly thereafter Cap'n Will had constructed the skeleton of The Hampton. That was when I began to realize what a wondrous structure she was bound to become. Soon we began to pull up the nylon walls, and with a few sticks, and more Gorilla Tape we had constructed the Hampton. But still, it needed something more for the frightful storm that was to come. I sighed a bit, once again succumbing to defeat, but once more Cap'n Will had a plan. "Never fear, for we have this blue tarp here!" Once again he began to construct while I lent a hand where I could, and soon a rain break was fashioned onto the roof of The Hampton. We stood back to admire the work; a bright blue tarp that could make the cleanest ocean look brown, neon orange para-cord that was stronger than steel, and more pizzazz than the other tents could hope to possess.


Cap'n Will and I exchanged a look of approval and I thanked him for his help. As I crawled through the opening of the Hampton it filled me with a warmth and comfort I knew no other tent could give me. As the other members looked at The Hampton's rustic characteristics with disdain and abandoned me to my peaceful seclusion, I enjoyed The Hampton even more. As I lay down upon my sleeping pad and pulled my sleeping bag over me I heard the storm crash above, but I knew the Hampton was built better than other tents. I slept better that night than any infant ever has in the best crib money could buy. I'm so glad The Hampton was mine!

Detroit Rising


by Emma Lena 10847826_10204097605779129_5778214870993055034_n

moon still out at 2 in the afternoon gray clouds hover over Detroit people manage to smile standing in their flood ruined basements as we throw boxes of their life away



abandoned10849773_10204097603379069_6767499101820580149_n burnt houses boarded up windows with eyes watching don't stay in Inkster after 4 o'clock keep an eye on your person be weary of the night


it's a hard knock life a city once booming fallen so far but if you stand on the right street and listen to the right person speak you can hear the whispers of hope the songs of Motown the rumble of the Ford factories among the despair the sun is rising




A Song About Laundry


by Jenny Pilecki It hasn't been too long without laundry, especially because I flew in on Monday, but I still believe this song I learned from my Dad applies perfectly to the situation we have all found ourselves in...

"Brown Socks, Brown Socks...the longer you wear them the browner they get".

This is only the first week but I have worn the same pair of wool socks everyday and I can only imagine the state they will be in by the time we get to do a little laundry. All I can say is that I'm happy I chose a dark pair of socks to wear.

First Impressions


by Kenan Ender Prior to arriving in St. Louis, I told friends and family about AmeriCorps and the Emergency Response Team. The description was vague and details were foggy and in turn the receiving nods were blank-faced with seemingly slight skepticism. After spending a week at headquarters and in awe of the back rooms, side rooms, and any other space that constitutes the maze of everything that makes AmeriCorps St. Louis what it is, I was aware this was a place I was happy to have ended up. Fleecer Station and the short time in Montana have only deepened such feelings. And as the haze seems to clear on the previously foggy descriptions of our service, I am immensely proud to serve with AmeriCorps St. Louis, the Emergency Response Team, and my teammates, developing a bridge of the new and old corps to form a new family for the year.

T'was The Night Before Chainsaw Certification

by Carly Edgcomb Every minute of of the past month has been leading me up to this point. Prior to joining St Louis ERT, I had never used a chainsaw, let alone a tool. So of course, once I heard about having to meet a chainsaw requirement, a heavy weight of gloom settled upon my shoulders. Originally I thought the month long anticipation for this certification would create an even heavier burden, but the St Louis ERT program and its member slowly began to chip away at my anxiety. I soon learned that many of my new team members were in the same boat as me when it came to chainsaw experience. With the continuous positive reinforcement and encouragement from my team members I became motivated in preparation for what used to be the "dreaded day." It was only yesterday that I learned how to chop wood in a matter of 15 minutes. That may not seem like a lofty accomplishment to some, but to me it was the first step into what would be my role for the upcoming year. Many of my family and friends, as well as myself, never could have pictured me doing this in a million years. This year I have set out to immerse myself in a way of life that is completely outside my comfort zone. As I sit here tonight I am no longer in fear of tomorrow or what may happen. but I am optimistic about what could very well be a pivotal moment of the upcoming year.



by Anita Vollmer Think of a person. Think of an amazing person. A person who has stood eye to eye with a grizzly bear, Or a person ready to jump in to save a life at a moment's notice, Or a person with the strength of both mind and body to participate in multiple triathlons, Or a person always there to lend a helping hand, Or a person studying long and hard to make the world a better place, Or a person dedicating many hours of work to their community, Or a person committed to making a change, Or simply a person determined to do their very best. Now think of a group of such amazing people. A group within which strong bonds of friendship have formed over the course of only one week, A group that has accepted each member's flaws, A group where people, instead of sitting in front of their TV, do circuit training during their free time, A group whose members motivate each other to achieve their best, A group that is committed to a year of service, fighting fire, preserving nature and supporting the community. Picture this amazing group of people and you begin to have a faint inkling of that which is the Emergency Response Team in St. Louis.