This is the type of job where volunteers serve others because it’s their passion to help in devastating situations: being impacted by fires, floods, tornadoes or hurricanes. Red Cross does not see this as work but as a service rendered to the human population at the right moment.
Every 80 seconds there’s a home fire in the U.S. and on average, the Chicago Red Cross responds to three to four home fires per day in the Chicago land area. On Tuesday night a fire destroyed the entire side of an apartment and Chicago Red Cross saw the need to set up a shelter for the affected residents. The next day, I was able to get a glimpse of what the neighbors went through with the fire’s aftermath and what it’s like to serve people in need.
We arrived on the scene of where the apartment fire took place at 2:15 p.m. As we stepped out of the truck, I looked across the street to see how the building looked. It appeared that a couple of windows were shattered. The fire didn’t even touch the left side of the apartment complex, but the destruction on the right side took my breath away. What remained of the apartment rooms we looked in was rubble. The stairwell that spiraled down the outside of the building hung suspended in the air burnt to a crisp. I thought the inside apartment was devastating, but the back of the apartment and house is really where all the destruction took place. What used to be the garage no longer existed and the van still sat there but the insides were demolished.
Right then and there I began to see why the people had to evacuate the apartment building and the need for a Red Cross shelter. Not everyone in the apartment units was affected, but everyone was told to pack up and leave the premises. I will never forget the response I heard from one of the apartment residents, “There is no good or bad side to this situation when you have to leave your home.”
It wasn’t until I talked to some of the neighbors that the whole story began to make sense. Initially, the fire started in the garage and set the van that was in front of it on fire. After the van caught on fire the wind carried the flames to the pole that sat in between the house and apartment building. Once the fire traveled up the pole it spread to the apartment’s back porch where the staircase sat.
One of the stories I remembered was a resident saying he was cooking in his kitchen when he heard a loud boom, looked outside his window, and saw fire and smoke coming from the garage. All he could do was tell everyone in the house to get out. “We weren’t just worried about ourselves, but my friend and brother went to the garage and kicked the door in to make sure no one was in there,” said Steve Williams.
Immediately, I began to see the positive impact the Red Cross had on the community. In the 90 degree weather, Red Cross provided bottles of water, snacks and sandwiches, as well as providing information. Red Cross worker Cam C. Anton was on duty at the shelter and when guidance and comfort was needed, he was there to help.
Besides giving people food, drinks and shelter, they needed someone who would listen to them about their frustrations, sadness and fear. Red Cross helped fill the gap.
Red Cross volunteers who provide disaster relief are needed daily during national disasters. Their compassion and commitment to others develops overtime from serving those in their community. That’s what Red Cross did for these residents: provide a sense of hope that life will continue.
For more information about how to volunteer with Red Cross, click here.