Most days, I ride my bike to work. I’m not the only one who does it. Usually, at least 4 bikes can be found in our foyer. My bike is the red one with a metal commuter coffee mug that used to be red and, now, isn’t. Day after day, I undergo the same routine. Wake up. Make coffee. Do all of the stuff that’s less important than the coffee. Thank the coffee. Bike to work with the coffee. Sneak a sip at red lights.
Facing the Chicago weather has stripped the color off my commuter mug. I bike for two reasons. One, coffee tastes even better when you’re cold. Two, facing the brutal elements keeps me grounded.
As a Red Cross staff member, being grounded matters. At the American Red Cross, we encounter about 3-4 families a day who have lost everything in a fire or flood. They face the elements until we help them find shelter. Our job is to provide authentic relief in the form of food, shelter and comfort. Many Red Cross volunteers and staff choose to bike to work regardless of the weather, so we remember that our 3-4 fires a day are our client’s 1 fire in a lifetime.
But you’ve heard this story before. Our blog is full of stories about fire response. The story that sometimes goes untold is another group of people who, like us, face the unforgiving elements everyday and go to every fire. Firefighters face fire, wind, cold, and water most days. Their work is tireless.
Today, I responded to the large 3-alarm fire that struck N. Lincoln Ave. Watch our video for detail. Drifts of high-expansion-foam used to suffocate the fire covered the streets. As firefighters fought the blaze, one said to me, “I worry that they won’t stay hydrated,” as she looked up at the several others who were cutting through the roof with a chainsaw in an area that continued to reignite, relentlessly. Brown smoke billowed against the crisp, blue sky behind them.
Today, no one needed our help except the firefighters. We sent a dozen bottled waters across the long tower ladder that stretched from one of the firetrucks to the burning roof — their lifeline to escape the blaze. Below the burning building, Red Cross volunteers provided hot coffee and cocoa to the firefighters on the ground.
Tonight the foam will be replaced with snow. Colder temperatures will mean hotter fires. The storm winds will spread the blazes quickly leaving only still ash behind. The dichotomies are real and sobering for firefighters and Red Cross disaster volunteers.
As we talked with them about what they needed, we could see our breath. Our hands clench the coffee to stay warm. Relief. Who needs it, who gives it, and what form it will take is rarely clear.
Today, relief was coffee.