As I entered the scene of my first fire I couldn’t help but be apprehensive; adrenaline rushing through my veins, my mind prepared to face whatever was to come. When people compare their life’s experiences to a scene in a movie you never truly understand what they mean until it happens to you. The experiences I lived through that day are as surreal today as they were when they occurred in real time.
Early in the morning on September 20th a fire erupted on the back porch of an apartment building in Chicago. Flames licked the vulnerable wooden stairs leading up to the top floor, destroying everything in its path. The fire alarms did not sound. Everyone slept on. Upon this realization, one person ran to the first floor entrance and push the buzzers yelling to those inside that they need to evacuate the building. He saved everyone’s life that day and is a true hero in my eyes.
There was no trace of flames on the exterior of the building as I walked past the policemen with my camera. I thought, this couldn’t have been a fire disaster- nothing is damaged.
While standing by the main entrance waiting to enter the building a gentleman approached one of the Red Cross responders to say thank you for being there to help and for providing assistance to fire victims. Only then did I realize, as I watched the man walk away, how influential the Red Cross fire response team is in Chicago and how many people we actually help throughout the year.
As I walked up the interior stairs of the building the damage became more severe; wall plaster laden the floors and water pooled on the landings. I looked around to take everything in: the half broken down door laying on it’s side mocked the residence, shouting ‘security no longer resides here, comfort is no longer welcome’; the bright white clouds from outside reflected themselves in the shards of glass that layered the carpet; the smell of burning wood and smoke hovered in the air like an oppressive cloud, never ceasing to evaporate.
In the last apartment the only things standing were the skeleton-like walls.
I took another step deeper into the black hole that someone once called home. Nothing. Everything was completely destroyed. Black soot settled on every surface leaving no trace of life. In a child’s room the juxtaposition of an innocent toy lying next to scraps of wood and ash almost made me laugh because it should never belong there amongst that kind of destruction. I could try to describe what I saw but could never do it justice. In that moment I was filled with anger and a sadness, which consumed my heart. How could this happen, I thought? Why does this happen?
No one should ever have to experience that kind of loss. But fires do happen. And no matter how much pain it leaves in its wake I now know that being a part of an organization that allowed me to help is one of the greatest gifts I could receive.
These incidences occur every day and affect hundreds of people Chicago. What these people went through is irrevocable and only now, after seeing what I saw, do I truly understand why it is part of my job as a Red Cross Volunteer to spread hope to those who have lost everything.
My name is Kendall E. Knyschand I am a volunteer at the Red Cross Chicago chapter.