Doreen McCullough and the two volunteers who installed smoke alarms in her home that ultimately saved her family’s lives from a fire
On September 3, 2019 a vacant trailer caught fire on Bildahl Street in Rockford, Illinois and quickly spread to the home next door where the McCullough family were all sound asleep.
As the smoke drifted in an upstairs window of the home, it set off a smoke alarm waking up 12-year-old Makila. She went downstairs and woke up her mother, Doreen, who then woke up her other daughter, 25-year-old Carmen.
“All I could see was this big orange ball of fire, I mean it was huge,” Doreen said. “I froze, I think I was in shock.”
The entire family escaped the house as the flames started to envelope an entire side of the home. Doreen and her husband Lial as well as their two daughters, Makila and Carmen, all sat across the street in the early morning hours and watched the home they had lived in for nearly 12 years go up in a ball of fire. Soon the Rockford Fire Department arrived and put out the fire, but not before the house was damaged to the point of being unlivable.
The McCullough home on Bildahl Street on September 3, 2019. Photo Credit: Rockford Fire Department
A local husband and wife volunteer team, Scott Suma and Kate Rehak, responded to that fire and helped the family figure out what to do in the coming days and navigate the confusing time after a home fire.
Red Cross volunteers and married couple Scott and Kate comfort Doreen in the days following her home fire
On May 11, 2019 two different volunteers with the Red Cross had previously installed multiple smoke alarms in the McCullough home on Bildahl Street during a Red Cross “Sound the Alarm” smoke alarm installation event.
“Sound the Alarm” is part of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign initiative to install free smoke alarms in thousands of homes across the country, teach home fire safety and help families make home fire escape plans. Every day, seven people die in home fires, with most victims in homes that lack working smoke alarms. The Home Fire Campaign is working to improve the odds and save lives, and four lives were saved this September in Rockford thanks to working smoke alarms installed by the Red Cross.
The volunteers from the installation, Sunilkumar Ravindran and Northwest Illinois Chapter board member Steve Gitz, reunited with the family in front of their fire-damaged home in October, where Doreen offered “thanks yous” and hugs to the volunteers.
Volunteer Sunilkumar was one of the volunteers who installed smoke alarms in the McCullough home just months before the fire
Doreen and her family credit the smoke alarms with saving their lives and giving them extra time to escape the fire, which Doreen says was especially important for her daughter, Carmen, who is autistic.
The family pets, two dogs and a cat, also escaped the home safely with help from Rockford firefighters.
“But the smoke alarm upstairs is what saved us because if it wasn’t for that smoke alarm we wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” Doreen said as she sat with Lial on the home’s front porch.
In just five years, our installation events have accomplished so much across the country including the installation of more than 1.8 million smoke alarms and preparing more than 1 million people against home fires. People who don’t have smoke alarms or need them checked can sign up for an appointment by going to www.getasmokealarm.org.
PRACTICE YOUR PLAN AND TEST YOUR ALARMS For free home fire safety resources, visit redcross.org/homefires or download the free Red Cross Emergency App (search “American Red Cross” in app stores).
- Include at least two ways to get out of each room in your home fire escape plan.
- Select a meeting spot at a safe distance away from your home, such as your neighbor’s home or landmark like a specific tree in your front yard, where everyone can meet.
- Practice your escape plan until everyone can get out in two minutes or less.
- Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, placing them inside and outside bedrooms, and sleeping areas.
- Test smoke alarms monthly, and change the batteries at least once a year, if your model requires it.
Video produced and article written by Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Communications Manager, Holly Baker