The Jones Family went to bed on a Thursday night following their normal routine. Lights off, devices put away, everyone in their respective rooms. At about 1 AM, a beeping sound woke Paula and she noticed her room was in complete darkness. When she exited her room she smelled smoke, noticed that the house was completely dark and without power, and there was a strange crackling coming from the ceiling.
When Paula confirmed that no one was in the kitchen burning popcorn in the microwave, she made her way outside to try and pinpoint where the noise and smell was coming from. Once outside she was convinced someone’s house was on fire and this is when she noticed smoke coming from the roof of her own house. Paula instantly went into action and ran back in the house to mobilize everyone out of bed and out of the house.
“I usually watch my tablet in bed and wear headphones so as to not interrupt my husband’s sleep since he wakes up very early to go to work. On that night, I don’t know why I put my device away and I never put my headphones on which now—what a blessing I didn’t because the strange crackling and beeping woke me up and I was able to get everyone safely out of the house,” remembers Paula.
The strange crackling turned out to be an electrical fire that started in the attic of her home. Paula, her husband, mother, and three children quickly exited the home, and all Paula could think was, “There are oxygen tanks in my house!” Her mother, who suffers from COPD, needs oxygen constantly and her oxygen machine was in fact the cause of the beeping that woke up Paula. “My mother’s machine has a piercing and constant beeping when its power source is interrupted. On this night, that was our smoke alarm. We all watch movies and TV shows and we see on the news how others are affected by home fires and you never expect it to happen to you. When it does, it’s surreal and just incredible how one reacts. I was fixated on collecting my mother’s oxygen to prevent a bigger disaster meanwhile, I was running around in my nightgown and no shoes.”
The hours following her house fire are a blur. While resting at her aunt’s house, her husband off to work, Paula’s sister suggested she contact the Red Cross for help. Within hours she was meeting a Red Cross caseworker at her house, and this is when they noticed that her house was once again on fire. This second fire finished destroying the home and all that was in it.
“I was so grateful to have the Red Cross caseworker there. She stayed the entire time and walked me through next steps. This is what I needed because my family and I were at a complete loss. We had no idea where to start. How does one begin to recover from a house fire?”
“When you hear that the Red Cross shows up to provide comfort, care, and immediate needs—that’s exactly what happens. The Red Cross helped get my mother’s and son’s prescriptions refilled. They gave me a voucher to replace my glasses, through funds provided by the Red Cross we found a hotel that has been incredibly kind and generous and who has made us feel at home and even welcomed our beloved dog,” continued Paula.
“Not only did the Red Cross help us materially and with a recovery plan, but they also made sure we were well health-wise — mentally and spiritually. That above all is what we will never forget and for which I am eternally grateful. The holidays are coming up and we have a tight knit family and groups of friends, and we will celebrate and give thanks together. As for Christmas, we don’t want gifts. We have asked our family and friends to instead, donate to the American Red Cross. There will be other families in the same situation we found ourselves in and we want to make sure we pay it forward,” stated Paula.
Paula and her family are getting ready to move into a rental property while they sort out rebuilding their home. In the meantime, Paula works remotely from her hotel room, and together, they make plans for this next phase of their family’s story.
The American Red Cross responds to more than 60,000 disasters a year and most are home fires.
As part of the Home Fire Campaign, the Red Cross is calling on everyone to take two simple steps that can save lives: practice fire drills at home and check existing smoke alarms. Increase your chances of surviving a fire:
- Create a home fire escape plan that includes at least two ways to escape each room and a meeting spot to reunite after escaping.
- Practice the plan until everyone can get out in less than two minutes.
- If someone doesn’t have smoke alarms, install them. At a minimum, put one on every level of the home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Local building codes vary and there may be additional requirements where someone lives.
- If someone does have alarms, test them today. If they don’t work, replace them.
Learn more about Home Fire Preparedness and access free fire safety resources.
Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager, Connie Esparza