The Jones Family: Recovery After a Home Fire

The Jones Family: Recovery After a Home Fire

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

Theresa Reed: From Home Fire Survivor to Compassionate Volunteer with the Red Cross

Theresa Reed: From Home Fire Survivor to Compassionate Volunteer with the Red Cross

It’s one of the calls one wishes never to receive, but when it does, the immediate thought is—where is my family and are they okay? For retired Theresa Reed, now Red Cross volunteer, these were the thoughts that raced through her head when she got the call that her house was on fire.

“For years, my family and I practiced getting out of the house. I can’t stress enough how important it is to talk to your children, show them what they need to do in case of emergency. Show them the ways out of the house and how to get out and get out fast! I am so proud of my son who was home at the time of the fire. He remembered our home fire drills and jumped into action and made sure he got himself safely out of the house,” states Theresa.

As Theresa watched the house she had made a home with her loved ones go up in flames due to an electrical fire, along with all the treasures she had collected over the years from her international travels, Theresa remembers being at a complete loss as to what to do next. What stands out from that day, even to this day is the Red Cross who showed up to comfort, provide access for a safe place to stay, and helped Theresa outline a recovery plan. “I had no idea what to do or who to call for help. I will never forget the Red Cross volunteers in their red vests who told me I was going to be okay and that they were there to make sure I knew where to go and what to do next. I vowed that one day, once I was back on my feet, I would pay it forward and become a Red Cross volunteer. Despite seeing my house going up in flames, I felt incredibly blessed to be hugging my son and that I had the incredible support of the Red Cross.”

Theresa’s son who was home at the time of the fire is currently in medical school after many years as a successful pharmacist.

Walk into the Red Cross of Greater Chicago headquarters and Theresa will be meet you with a warm smile and the utmost desire to make sure you are well taken care of. “I see and welcome people who walk through the doors of the Red Cross that have just gone through what I went through, and I know what they’re feeling. I know the suffocating feeling to see everything you own gone and the desolate feeling of not having a home to go to. I tell people, you’re okay. You’re going to be okay. The Red Cross is going to help you with your recovery plan. I am so proud to be part of the organization that stands behind their mission. The Red Cross was a great big light during a part of my life that went completely dark in an instant. If I can be a little bit of a glimmer and reassure anyone that is going through what I experienced, I will proudly do so until I can’t,” explained Theresa.

Theresa, thank you for your dedication and commitment to the Red Cross. We are so proud to count on you to help carry out the Red Cross mission.

Most of us don’t realize we have just two minutes to escape a home fire — which is the nation’s most frequent disaster. That’s why the American Red Cross is preparing families to act quickly through our Home Fire Campaign. Since launching the campaign in 2014, we’ve helped save 1,414 lives across the country by installing free smoke alarms and helping families create escape plans.

Visit redcross.org/fire for more information, including an escape plan to practice with your family. You can also download our free Emergency app and free Red Cross First Aid app for instant access on how to control bleeding, help someone who is choking and other scenarios. Search “American Red Cross” in app stores.

Volunteer Spotlight: Terrence Cook

“I like to get out and mingle with the people and find out exactly what their needs are, try to resolve it and help them out as much as I can.”
-Terrence Cook

Terrence Cook of Mount Vernon, Illinois has been an American Red Cross volunteer for approximately 10 years. During his time volunteering, Terrence has responded to home fires, along with deploying to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other disasters.

After a home fire, Terrence arrives on scene and helps individuals with providing comfort kits, financial assistance to help with lodging and food, assistance with referrals for replacing medications, information about case work and additional assistance.

“You always run into different people, different families and situations,” he says. “Our main goal is to help them with their immediate needs.”

Terrence has deployed to numerous parts of the country for large-scale disasters, including California, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. He spent time helping before and after a hurricane in Mississippi in 2017, where he worked as a supervisor during the Red Cross disaster response, there.

“It is good to work with people after disasters. I was surprised at how many people were willing to help, even though they were thinking about, ‘Is my home alright?'”

Terrence says, numerous people thanked him for being there. He recalls a story of two children sharing their concerns about the impending storm. They asked Terrence, “Are we going to have a home to go home to?” Terrence tried to comfort them and the boys thanked him for listening.

For Terrence, his favorite parts of volunteering include working with his fellow volunteers and helping people. He likes the camaraderie and says he truly enjoys being able to talk with the people he meets as part of his duties.

“My life goal is to keep helping people like that,” he says.

Here is a short video that highlights a recent Red Cross home fire response in the South Central Illinois chapter. Terrence is one of our volunteers who responded to help.

Thank you, Terrence! Visit redcross.org/volunteer to join the team as a disaster volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Volunteer Spotlight: Tina Martin

“I just want to give back to the community, because the Red Cross was there for me, and if they hadn’t been, I would probably not be here.”
-Tina Martin

Tina Martin is a Red Cross volunteer in the Central Illinois chapter of the Illinois region. She serves, because others chose to serve before her.

In 1973, Tina needed a blood transfusion. She says, donated blood helped save her life. From that point on, Tina has felt motivated to help others.

“That’s the reason why I got started in volunteering, was to give back to the community,” she says. “I just really appreciate how everything worked out.”

Tina has been serving as a volunteer in Florida this week, helping people affected by Hurricane Ian. She has helped with serving food and distribution of supplies, among other tasks.

Tina says, it has been a rewarding experience, being able to help others who need it. She is enjoying working as part of the disaster response team serving the community, there.

“People are very nice and friendly. Everyone is just working together to help out and doing their very best. I just enjoy being here an part of the team as a volunteer,” says Tina.

Thank you very much, Tina for volunteering your time and helping others.

Visit redcross.org/volunteer to join Tina as a disaster response volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Red Cross Illinois Region Volunteers Respond to Hurricane Ian

Our hearts go out to everyone impacted by Hurricane Ian’s devastation. The American Red Cross and our partners are working around the clock across multiple states to provide help as people in Florida deal with the storm’s catastrophic aftermath and Ian takes aim today at South Carolina with life-threatening flooding, storm surge and hurricane-force winds.

To date, more than 1,000 trained Red Cross disaster workers are supporting the relief effort and more help is on the way. 90% of our workforce are volunteers who respond to more than 60,000 disasters every year. Large disasters like hurricanes, floods and wildfires are increasing in frequency and intensity. We are grateful to all volunteers who give of their time, talent, and comfort to assist people when they most need it!

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Red Cross. Volunteers are needed everyday to assist with disasters near and far. To volunteer with the Red Cross, please visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Our Volunteers on the Ground

Before the storm, the Red Cross mobilized 83 truckloads of additional cots, blankets and comfort kits, along with tens of thousands of relief supplies, to be prepared to help as many as 60,000 people. Emergency response vehicles are also pre-positioned across the state.

Evacuation shelters are open in Florida, South Carolina and tens of thousands of people sought refuge from Ian in as many as 100 Red Cross and partner shelters across the three states Thursday night.

Dean Otta

Volunteers from throughout the Illinois region have responded by deploying to Florida, and more are preparing to deploy later this week. Ed Johnson, a board member from the South Central Illinois chapter, is in Florida working to help those impacted by Hurricane Ian. Dean Otta, a volunteer from the South Central Illinois chapter, is preparing to deploy later this week. Dean has served in this level of capacity before – he has deployed to more than 10 large-scale disaster scenes, including the Oregon wildfires in 2020.

Ed Johnson

Yasmin Clinton of Des Plaines, a volunteer from the Greater Chicago chapter, will be deploying to Florida later this week to join other Red Cross volunteers to help those in need. Yasmin has been a Red Cross volunteer since 2017 and has responded to Hurricane Ida and other major incidents locally and across the country.

Yasmin Clinton

Marty Knight of Kankakee, a volunteer from the Illinois River Valley chapter, also will be deploying to Florida. Marty has been a Red Cross volunteer for over 10 years and has also helped with past disasters including Hurricane Sandy, the Flint water crisis, flooding in Mississippi, and Hurricane Florence.

Marty Knight

Your donation enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from this disaster. To help people affected by Hurricane Ian, visit redcross.org.

We are grateful for your generous gift to support people affected by Hurricane Ian. The humanitarian efforts of the Red Cross provide comfort and hope to many in their time of need. On behalf of those we serve, thank you.

Ready To Help When Help Is Needed: American Red Cross Home Fire Response

Greg Voyles was fishing one night, when he learned his apartment was on fire. He returned home and found the building uninhabitable. He also found South Central Illinois chapter volunteers, Keith Hertenstein and Terrence Cook, ready to help him with his immediate needs.

Hear what Greg has to say about his experience in this video, and visit redcross.org/volunteer if you’d like to join the team as a disaster volunteer.

Lifelong teacher and radio show ‘Red Cross Minute’ creator celebrates 35 years with the Red Cross

Lifelong teacher and radio show ‘Red Cross Minute’ creator celebrates 35 years with the Red Cross

Career counselor, radio personality, teacher, first aid and emergency preparedness trainer, volunteer, humanitarian — the list goes on, but for the past 35 years the one constant for Steve Swett has been his dedication to being a Red Cross Volunteer.

“I’ve been around a very long time,” laughed Steve. “But you know what? In my 35 years at the Red Cross, it’s always been something different – the learning is constant and with learning comes power and responsibility. For me, learning has given me the drive and power to help, and it makes me feel so good when I connect with people and hear how the Red Cross and volunteers like me have made a difference.”

Steve during a severe weather preparedness training.

In addition to his commitment to learning, Steve has dedicated time to teaching for decades at Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby, Illinois and for many years providing Red Cross training to youth groups, other non-profit agencies like The Salvation Army, and at Sheridan Correctional Center. Amongst his biggest accomplishments, Steve created and maintains a 30-minute segment on WCMY ‘Red Cross Minute’ which over the years has served to inform the public of resources, trainings, blood drives, safety preparedness, and other valuable information. Special recognition and much gratitude to Steve’s The Morning Mix on WCMY radio co-host, Margaret ‘Maggie’ Frost of LaSalle who passed away last month. Maggie, along with Steve, supported the Red Cross and over the years, both helped amplify the Red Cross message and what started as a 5-minute segment with special guest Red Cross representatives turned into a 30-minute program that LaSalle County residents have come to rely on.

When asked why he volunteers, Steve stated, “Volunteers like us have an important role and perform a lot of different tasks. We feed and shelter people, gather information, and coordinate with local government and community partners. We help clients and communities in the recovery process during and after a disaster. There is so much one can do. Bottom-line—we [Red Cross volunteers] are the line of hope for many and we have the responsibility to be there for each other when and where it’s most needed.”

Whatever your interests or abilities there’s a role for you as a volunteer at the Red Cross. What do you like to do? What gives you personal satisfaction?  There are many ways to be a volunteer with the American Red Cross. Join us! Visit redcross.org/volunteer to find out how you can support your community.

Thank you, Steve for your dedication of time and talent over the past 35 years! We look forward to many more years! We couldn’t do it without you!

Steve finds time for a much-deserved break with his beloved Annie.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

An Unexpected Call to the Rescue

<strong>An Unexpected Call to the Rescue</strong>

In May of this year, the Tate’s family residence became uninhabitable when, due to exposure to the Midwest elements, their roof collapsed destroying walls, furniture, appliances, and precious personal items. As they sat on the porch of their home trying to make sense of what happened and what to do next, Giovanni Tate’s phone rang and he says, “It was a call from an angel—it was the Red Cross.”

In a matter of hours, on that unforgettable Thursday night, the Tate Family found themselves at the American Red Cross of Illinois headquarters, meeting with two caseworkers who immediately went to work to make sure the Tate Family, including their puppy Loki, had a place to stay that night.

“We had only heard about stories of people affected by disaster or a home fire and organizations that show up to help. You hear about it, but don’t know how entirely true it is. I was humbled that the Red Cross, who knew nothing about me and my family, without asking, made that call that for us, was a rescue call. We are forever grateful to the angels from the Red Cross that worked with us and made sure we weren’t left homeless while we worked out what to do next,” stated Giovanni.

During the midst of it all, top of mind was the impending graduation taking place that Saturday. Shaniya’s graduation gown and decorations were all in the house under piles of rubble. “We were so concerned how this would affect my daughter’s special day. Luckily, we were able to go into the house and retrieve a few things—most importantly her graduation dress and gown. That brought a sense a normalcy to all of us during a very surreal time,” explained Giovanni.

Fast forward to today, with the help of neighbors who helped with repairs, the Tate Family is enjoying their refurbished home with plans to volunteer for the Red Cross. “The Red Cross was a real blessing. I want to be there for someone in their moment of need,” said Giovanni.

The angels on the phone who met with Giovanni and his family that Thursday night were Red Cross volunteers Cathy Dixon and Morrie Bowie. Volunteers are the lifeline of the Red Cross. For disasters big and small, our volunteers provide comfort during what can be the worst days of people’s lives. Thank you, Cathy, and Morrie, for being there for the Tate Family and countless others you have impacted with your compassion.

Learn how you can volunteer at redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Volunteer Spotlight: Angela Baker

Angela Baker (right) receives her 10 years of service pin from
Disaster Services program manager, Jamie Beaver

10 years ago, Angela Baker was at a local church, where disaster shelter training was taking place. It was at that moment she realized she wanted to volunteer with the American Red Cross, in case a shelter were to ever open in her community.

A decade later, Angela is a dedicated disaster services volunteer for the South Central Illinois chapter of the Illinois region. As part of her role, Angela frequently offers support to individuals who have gone through disasters, such as home fires.

“When you see the clients who have had such devastation, it’s nice to offer comfort and concern to them, and this is a way to do that.”
-Angela Baker

For Angela, this is a way of doing things for others that she would want others to do for her loved ones, if it were necessary.

“If anything like that, a fire or something, happened to my loved ones, I would want someone to be there to help them, so this is a way I can reach out to help others,” she says.

Angela describes the work of a disaster services volunteer as fulfilling yet challenging, as many situations can be emotional, working with individuals who have suffered losses such as homes or pets.

“Some of them break down and cry, you just kind of have to listen and see where you can help, what you can say if anything and how to respond and just comfort them as best you can,” she says.

Angela recommends volunteering with the Red Cross, as it is “a great opportunity, and a way to comfort and help other people who have gone through a hard time.”

Visit redcross.org/volunteer to join her on the disaster response team. Thank you, Angela for your service to the community as a volunteer!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Patty Williams: Commemorating 50 Years of Volunteer Service

Patty Williams: Commemorating 50 Years of Volunteer Service

This year marks a half century of service at the Red Cross for Patty Williams and what a journey it has been! Starting at 13 years of age as a swim teacher through the Red Cross, then aiding in blood donor paperwork processing at her local hospital, providing service to the military, volunteering throughout her college, and teaching career days, and donating blood for most of her life, through today, Patty continues to deploy and respond to disasters which are too numerous to keep count.

Not only a committed American Red Cross volunteer, Patty was also as an elementary school teacher who managed volunteering while working until she retired from teaching in 2014. These days, Patty is busier than ever responding to fires in and around her community as well as deploying when disasters have struck other parts of the country.

“I have always felt compelled to serve in large part because I can’t sit still,” chuckled Patty during a recent conversation. “At a very young age, I set out to give the Red Cross 50 years and here I am – celebrating my 50th anniversary. I’m so very proud of being part of the Red Cross who whether it’s night or day, cold or hot weather, rain, or shine, will always be there during someone’s time of need. Disasters are hard to live through, but when you have someone show up and ask, ‘What do you need?’ it not only changes the affected person’s perspective, but something inside of oneself does too. One day it could be me, it could be you, regardless, having someone show up to help is life changing.”

Patty’s dedication to the Red Cross has not only been life changing for her, but her 50 years of service has also left an indelible imprint on the many people she’s helped, her fellow Red Cross volunteers, as well as the business of disaster response operations. In 2017, Patty was instrumental in establishing a food truck system that helped feed 60,000 people on a daily basis during Hurricane Harvey, a system which is still employed today when having to feed masses of people during a disaster response. And thanks to her lifesaving training, Patty has been able to save two people! One of those a student in her class who was choking on a mint.

Hurricane Harvey, 2017 – Partner food truck canteen services

Patty remains committed to answer the call for as long as she can, but emphatically notes that we will always need more volunteers, “I know there are many people out there who want to help, who feel the calling to show up and help their community, their country, when it’s needed. I call on them to join the Red Cross. The experiences, friendships, and connections I’ve made and maintain through my 50 years and counting are priceless. I’ve not only been able to put my humanitarian values to use, if I can help, I always will.”

Volunteers like Patty are the lifeblood of the Red Cross, and we are proud that 90% of our workforce are volunteers. Volunteering not only provides a sense of purpose, but it also can also improve health and happiness and for Patty, these 50 years have given her a lifetime of friends, moments she will never forget, and daily motivation to assist her community and beyond.

“Over the course of the past 50 years, I have attended to home fires, multiple family fires, tornadoes, floods, bombings, train wrecks, and so many disasters I’ve lost count. I’ve also saved lives thanks to my first aid training, but through every one of my experiences, I’ve been present because we need each other. So many times, in times of catastrophe, we just need someone there.”

These days, when she’s not responding to disasters for the Red Cross, we can find Patty piloting a hot air balloon. We applaud and profusely thank Patty for her five decades of service and look forward to continuing to work with her as she continues volunteering.

We’d love to celebrate a milestone with you! Put on a red vest and join us. Visit redcross.org/volunteer to find out how you can support your community.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza