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Chalfont woman wins Florence Nightingale Medal

On Sept. 11, 2001, Meredith Buck watched advertisements for the American Red Cross flash across her television in the midst of the chaos. She signed up as a disaster responder the next day.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Meredith Buck watched advertisements for the American Red Cross flash across her television in the midst of the chaos. She signed up as a disaster responder the next day.

Now, after aiding in 55 local and 12 national disasters, not to mention her involvement with other volunteer and advocacy works, Buck has joined the ranks of the 1,337 nurses worldwide to receive the Florence Nightingale Medal, the highest honor a nurse can get from the Red Cross.

The award, established by the International Committee of the Red Cross in memory of Nightingale's selfless and dedicated career to reform hospital practices, is distributed to men and women who exemplify the mission of the organization.

"The nomination really wrote itself," said Tom Foley, chief executive officer of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross, who spoke of Buck's devotion and focus.

After Buck was nominated by her local chapter, her application was sent to the American Red Cross national headquarters in Washington, then to the international committee for consideration. She received the medal last week in Washington.

Buck, 49, of Chalfont, became one of 60 Americans, including two others this year, to earn the medal since the award's inception in 1920.

"I'm still not sure it's all sunk in," Buck said. "It's exciting."

Buck volunteers as a nurse, an instructor for the Emergency Services Department, and co-captain of Disaster Health Services for the local chapter of the American Red Cross, one of the biggest chapters in the nation. She serves as an on-call nurse on Saturdays and a backup on-call nurse every other day.

She also owns her own law practice, which focuses on medical-malpractice defense and offers pro bono services for clients in protection-from-abuse cases. In 2007, she won the Bucks County Bar Association's Arthur B. Welsh Award. This year, she received a Pro Bono Award from the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Buck said that despite her numerous duties, the Red Cross does not take up too much of her time. "I feel guilty when I can't respond," she said. Until she started her own firm, she used her vacation time to volunteer.

Before 9/11, Buck said, she had not realized the scope of the services the Red Cross provides. She thought that the group worked primarily with blood donations and lifeguards.

"People don't understand it on a local level," she said.

She joined once she learned about disaster services, which provide food, clothing, shelter, and medical services to victims.

Starting in December 2001, after training with the Red Cross, she stayed in New York City for six weeks, offering medical services. The day she returned home, she was sent to West Philadelphia to work with victims of an apartment fire.

Since then, she has run shelters, trained nurses, and assisted with disaster response across the Red Cross chapter's coverage area, which includes Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties. She has also helped with national disasters in seven other states.

Her work is rarely done. Last Christmas Eve, Buck was going to a party when she fielded a call about a house fire in Lansdale. She immediately rerouted to the scene.

"I had a home to go home to," she said. "They had their homes and lives destroyed."

She has been an active member of the Bucks-Mont Katrina Relief Project and has traveled south several times to help with rebuilding projects. During one trip, she worked with area lawyers to prepare Little League fields in Hancock County, Miss., for opening day.

And in case she was not busy enough, she is running for the Chalfont Borough Council. Come October, her election signs - pink with a ribbon for Breast Cancer Awareness Month - will be planted around town.

"She just has been so selfless," said Mary Etta Boesl, spokeswoman for the National Red Cross. "She is a public servant of the highest order."

Buck, though, doesn't see herself as extraordinary.

Sitting in her office, she gestured at her wall of certificates and awards.

"It's not why we do it," Buck said. The single mother interacts every day with people of all walks of life who serve as volunteers, including her daughter, Lindsay, who serves in the Peace Corps.

"I'm no different than anybody else," she said. "I want to help. That's what I do."