This Saturday, Jan. 5 marks the 13th annual Bucket Brigade Blood Drive Challenge, a friendly competition among participating fire departments throughout Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties to see which department can host the largest blood drive. While the need for blood is fairly consistent throughout the year, it is during this season when blood banks find it particularly challenging to obtain blood donations.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to work with fire departments and the fire departments to work with their communities and encourage blood donations,” says Kim Walsh, Donor Recruitment Representative for Vitalant, formerly Blood Centers of the Pacific. “The winter months are always a struggle for us to collect blood, not just locally but on a national level. We have the holidays, people are busy, it’s not a great time for the businesses that we work with to run blood drives, schools are of course closed for holiday breaks and it’s also cold and flu season. So it’s a really challenging time.”
On average blood is needed every two seconds in the United States, and Vitalant collects between 100 to 150 units per day throughout their Northern California region which covers the area between Santa Cruz and Willits. Besides blood drives at schools, offices and events, the blood bank collects blood at their centers in Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Napa and Fairfield as well, which is then delivered to hospitals throughout the region. Because blood has a shelf life of 42 days, and platelets only of three days, it is crucial for the blood bank to collect blood throughout the whole year.
The Bucket Brigade has 21 participating fire departments this year, and all drives will occur in the months of Dec. and Jan. Last year the Healdsburg Fire Department won and Walsh is hoping for a bigger turnout in Rohnert Park this year. The event has been growing in this city from year to year. In 2017, 29 units were collected at the Rohnert Park drive and in 2018 that number climbed to 43. “It’s growing, it’s really fantastic,” says Walsh. “We’re really excited to see it grow.”
Even though walk-ins will be accepted, the blood bank highly encourages appointments be made ahead of time so they can ensure that all participants will be given the chance to donate blood. Appointments can be made at vitalant.org or by calling 707-890-1458. The drive will take place at the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety on 5200 Country Club Dr., between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Donors are expected to be done within an hour and this year Sally Tomatoes will be providing lunch for all participants. Donors also receive a free Bucket Brigade T-shirt. Participants need to be at least 16 years old, be at least 110 pounds and need to bring a photo ID. Those under 18 also need to bring a signed permission slip which can be downloaded online.
“We’d love individuals to come down and donate blood,” says Walsh. “It’s one of the easiest and most generous life changing things people can do. It takes one hour to come in and save potentially three lives. Every donation is super important, as there’s no substitute for human blood.”