On April 27, 2019 nearly 100 volunteers gathered at Columbus Park in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood for an American Red Cross “Sound the Alarm” event.
Chicago Fire Commissioner Richard C. Ford as well as Alderman Taliaferro and the CEO of the Red Cross, Celena Roldan, spoke to the volunteers and emphasized why what they were about to do was so important.
“Sound the Alarm” is the Red Cross’ life-saving campaign to install free smoke alarms in homes across the country and it takes many community partners, sponsors and enthusiastic volunteers to make it happen.
Denise Daichendt of Norwood Park was one of those volunteers. She has helped out with many other volunteer organizations, but this “Sound the Alarm” event was the first time she was volunteering with the Red Cross.
When she heard of the program through another volunteer, she immediately thought of the two young brothers lost to a terrible fire in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood in January of this year: Abelardo and Pedro Sanchez. They were just 25 and 16 years old. Pedro had sat right next to Denise’s son in chemistry class at Lane Tech High School.
The Chicago Fire Department reports that a fire broke out at their home on W 53rd Street around 8:30AM during Chicago’s “polar vortex” week in January. School was not in session due to the cold weather and the young men became trapped in the home’s attic from the heavy fire. The department also reports that there were no smoke alarms in the attic area.
Denise decided to sign up as a volunteer and dedicated the event to Abelardo and Pedro; writing their names on the back of her volunteer shirt.
“Something in me was just bursting to dedicate this to them,” Denise said. “It didn’t feel right if I didn’t.”
Denise, a mother of 6, along with other local families and Lane Tech’s director of culture and climate also helped organize a balloon memorial for the brothers and helped the family with collecting donations and getting new furniture. She says hopefully they can move back into their home soon.
“It was devastating, I can’t imagine what their mother goes through,” Denise said.
Denise says she wanted to honor the brothers and hopes that by sharing the story, more people will learn about fire safety and make sure their homes are equipped with working smoke alarms. After being a volunteer firefighter in college, she says it’s not enough to teach children about fire safety at school- it has to get to adults as well.
The components of “Sound the Alarm” include installing new smoke alarms with 10-year batteries and also going over fire safety with members of the household. Volunteers also provide families with a home escape plan so families can create and practice their plan to escape from their home in the event of a fire.
During the April 27th event, Denise says she visited a home in the neighborhood that had just had a fire in the basement days earlier and her volunteer team was able to install multiple alarms in the home, thinking of Abelardo and Pedro with each one.
“You see the Red Cross at like, hurricanes and different disasters like tornadoes, but you don’t know all the aspects of what the Red Cross does so this was a great experience.”
The family and the community is deeply mourning the loss of these beloved family members. “They were lives lost too soon.”
For more infomration on how to get involved with “Sound the Alarm,” visit www.soundthealarm.org/chicago. To sign up for an appointment for a free smoke alarm at your home, visit www.getasmokealarm.org.
Written by Red Cross communications manager Holly Baker