Attorney Kip Scott has plenty of experience helping others—outside of his legal practice.
Scott first got into volunteerism during law school in his late 20s (his first career was in engineering). ” I had the opportunity to volunteer as a summer camp counselor for kids who were living in group homes,” says Scott, who helped with whatever activities they wanted to do, from swimming to bow and arrow(!) . ” I found it much more rewarding than a lot of stuff I did at work,” he adds. Scott volunteered at the camps for four summers and then 9/11 happened.
Again through his church, Scott volunteered with the relief effort. “I had one week’s notice to pack, take a few classes in disaster training and get to New York [from California], a city I had never been to,” says Scott. “We stayed a few blocks north of ground zero and worked 10-14 hour shifts. I drove a little cart around that carried supplies—food, water, firewood (to keep everyone warm at night)—for the police, fire department and the Port Authority. Most of the officers I spoke to just wanted someone to talk to about California, to keep their minds off what had just happened. Of course many people were emotionally numb; I owed them a great deal of respect.
“Basically Ground Zero was an open grave. We didn’t take any pictures; we wanted to honor the dead. It was really tough for everyone and every night after our shift we came back to the hotel and were debriefed about what we saw, what happened and what took place. The disaster training classes taught us what not to say and not to give advice; just be there for support.
“Most of us who worked at Ground Zero were so busy we didn’t have time to think about what we saw or smelled. There was a food tent and two supply tents set up and everything was being worked on including the subway. Often the gas lines would give way and everyone would have to evacuate; everywhere smelled like an electrical fire—it was surreal.
“The other part of my job was working at the medical examiner’s office—where the bodies were processed. When a body or partial body was found, they would bag the remains, put a bar code on the bag, put the bag on a gurney with a flag on it, salute, put it in the ambulance and drive the ambulance midtown to the NY Medical Examiner’s office. Again, I was there to make sure all the tents had supplies. I was there a few times when the bags were opened. The doctors would cut a piece of muscle or fingernail and bone marrow to get DNA samples. The triage room smelled like dirty ammonia, which made the doctor’s voices hoarse because the ammonia had eroded their esophagus.
“Our shift was over after two weeks and another group came in but I felt bad for leaving so many people still working there.. I would have stayed for as long as necessary.”
Then came Hurricane Katrina. Just as he did after 9/11, Scott dropped everything on short notice and traveled to Mississippi to help those in need. “I first arrived in Gulfport, where the eye of the hurricane hit,” says Scott.
“We helped flood survivors (they were not called victims) because their insurance wouldn’t help them. We would take all their furniture, appliances, clothes, everything, onto the curb of the street in the front of their house, in separate piles. Then we brought out all the drywall to expose the rafters so the wooden beams would dry—mold was a big issue. It was physically intense and the conditions were bad: it was about 100° with heavy humidity. Lots of windows wouldn’t open because the wood was swollen and inside the houses it was even hotter. I worked there for about two weeks until Hurricane Rita came and we had to leave.
“Even though for just a brief time, I’m glad I was able to help some people. And I wouldn’t hesitate to help in this capacity again—God forbid it won’t happen again. “
Back in California, Kip Scott helps personal injury victims at the Personal Injury Law Center in Orange County.