I could tell you how many fires we respond to monthly, daily and hourly. I could tell you the many different precautions to take and how to make an escape plan with your family. I could tell you anything and everything about smoke alarms and fire extinguishers. I could recite many different safety tips but to be honest these lists didn’t make an impact on me until I saw my first fire.
When I showed up for my volunteer shift at the Chicago Red Cross I thought it would be another normal day, until I heard the words, “Dana, there’s a fire, go get ready.” I hate to say I was excited, because a fire isn’t a good thing, but as a volunteer and a field reporter it was a great opportunity.
After changing my clothes, putting on my Red Cross vest and climbing into the responders van I was ready to go. The other two responders in the van seemed very calm as we got on the highway in the big squeaky van. As I bounced around in the back seat I couldn’t help but picture the different fire scenes I have seen in movies. I have never experienced a fire first hand so I didn’t know what to expect. I just felt like I was in the back of the Bat-Mobile pulling up to a disaster scene to save the day.
“Your destination will be on the left,” said the GPS, interrupting my daydream of superheroes. My heart jumped with nerves and anticipation as the Red Cross responder answered a phone call with the words, “We’re on scene.”
As I walked around the van a cool breeze came by with the smell the smoke and burnt rubble. No one was really around except the families involved, a couple neighbors and the Cook County Board up Services.
We were told we could go inside the house while the family sat in a car nearby. The trees and bushes in front were so over grown that you couldn’t see anything until you walked up the front path to a devastating sight.
As we walked in the door way into what was once called the living room you could tell this place had been through a lot. The place was turned upside down. The only thing left in this home was a burnt metal futon frame, a flooded toilet and a busted open fridge with a surviving box of instant mash potatoes and a bottle of apple juice inside. The walls, the floor and all of the remaining undeniable objects were colorless after being blackened with soot from the fire.
The only sounds you heard were rushing water from broken pipes, the cracking of wood underneath your feet and the inconsistent banging as the men outside boarded up the windows. As water dripped on my head I looked up to see the sun shining, the second floor of this house was non-existent.
The place was a mess and shocking to see. I tried to picture what it would have felt like during the fire but it was just too hard. I wondered if these walls could talk, how they would describe this experience.
As we exited the house and approached the family, they seemed a bit shaken up, but for the most part they looked pretty calm. Two older brothers lived there together, one 80 and the other 76 years old. They had quite a story and were happy to share it with us. The men thank their adrenaline for taking over since they both made it out of the fire safely without the help of their walkers, which they usually depend on daily.
Experiencing this fire and seeing the disaster it left for these two men really helped me to understand how important fire safety tips are. No one should have to experience a fire like this and the American Red Cross can help you prepare. Having a kit, making a plan, and being prepared with smoke alarms and fire extinguishers are just some simple things you can do. Understanding these fire safety tips can help keep you, your family, and your home safe.
Written by Dana Morones