Rochelle Family of 4 People & 4 Pets Alerted to Basement Fire from Smoke Alarms Installed Just 8 Days Earlier

A Fire Below

On the afternoon of May 22, 2022, Clarence Weber and his family stood outside the Rochelle, Illinois home he has lived in for 41 years and watched as local firefighters arrived and starting putting out a fire raging from the basement. Clarence says it was the smoke that he remembers most; thick, dark that he couldn’t see through and toxic, especially after he got a few whiffs of it.

Clarence had heard a small explosion in the basement followed by the high-pitched tone of two smoke alarms going off. At first, he used a fire extinguisher to attempt to put out the fire growing in the basement but soon realized it was getting too big too quickly for the small hand-held extinguisher alone to smother.

“All I saw was flames that I thought I may have been able to put out but the things that were on fire became toxic smoke immediately,” Clarence remembered.

He quickly got himself and his wife, daughter and granddaughter out of the home safely. The four pets of the family including two dogs, a cat and a lizard also all got out with the help of of the firefighters.

Smoke Alarms Above

Just eight days before, on May 14th, 2022 Clarence and his wife had been at home when a knock at the door revealed several volunteers offering to install some new smoke alarms in the house at no cost. They considered if their current alarms were sufficient but determined they had to be at least 20 years old and likely outdated technology, so they welcomed the volunteers.

“I saw it as a gift,” he said. “As a homeowner for many, many years there’s so many different things you keep up on and you’ve got to remember and sometimes the files get crowded [in your mind] ….did you change that battery?”

Red Cross volunteer Jan Fulfs and a partner volunteer from the city of Rochelle installed two 10-year smoke alarms and reviewed some home fire safety information with the family as part of the national Red Cross initiative “Sound the Alarm” where volunteers canvas neighborhoods across the country providing fire safety education and installing new, free smoke alarms.

“I saw it as that, something brand new for me that I didn’t have to pay for at my own cost to upgrade it to brand new technology. That caught my ear right there and it had a ten year battery life,” he said.

Clarence says he feels grateful to have had the new smoke alarms, unsure if the old ones would have gone off in the same situation or if the family had been asleep when the fire started in the basement, where fires often burn for a while undetected.

Resilience Within

During the fire, paramedics, firefighters and neighbors arrived to help including a pair of Red Cross volunteers; Tracy and Tony Bustos, a husband and wife team from Freeport, IL. The Red Cross provided emergency financial assistance, basic essential items, medication refills and connections to many resources to make sure the family had what they needed while dealing with the aftermath of a home fire.

Though mostly contained to the basement, much of Clarence’s house was damaged by either fire, heat, smoke or water including many of the family’s materials related to hobbies. Through it all, Clarence maintains that his whole family and all their pets are safe and he’s thankful for the outpouring of support from the community.

“This little fire is just a bump in the road. We’re blessed at the response and all the things that have fallen into place.”

Rochelle Fire Department Chief Dave Sawlsville says having working smoke alarms and knowledge of multiple ways to escape your home could be the critical difference for families who experience a home fire which is why partnering with the Red Cross for “Sound the Alarm” aligned with their goals for the community. He says it was “eye-opening” to see how many families did not have smoke alarms that worked or did not have any at all.

“Today’s fire house fire is so much different than the house fire of ten years ago or 15 years ago. It’s it’s so much hotter and so much faster and and the black smoke is so much thicker, you know, that it’s it’s an entirely possible for you to get turned around in your own house and that’s the message we’ve been trying to tell people,” Chief Sawlsville said.

The Rochelle Fire Department and the Red Cross continue to install smoke alarms, a small device that can increase a person’s chances of surviving a home fire by 50%. In the event of a fire, you may only have 2 minutes or less to get out of a home.

“It makes a difference; it could have been my entire house without them and possibly the loss of a life or a pet,” Clarence said.

Clarence and his family are staying with a relative until they can move back into their home and says he is “thankful for not only the gift of the smoke alarms but the relief that was brought forward immediately,” he said. “It raised my level of belief in humanity quite a bit that day and the following weeks after that; all the surrounding people and the support from this incident has been overwhelming and I’m grateful, very grateful.”

To learn more about the “Sound the Alarm” initiative or to get involved as a volunteer with the Red Cross, visit www.redcross.org/soundthealarm

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Holly Baker

Red Cross provides basic needs, shelter after Calumet City Memorial Day Fire

The American Red Cross has volunteers on the ground in Calumet City continuing to provide support after a large fire broke out on Monday at an apartment building on Park Avenue. Volunteers responded to the fire and provided comfort and hygiene items, snacks and food, mental health support and resources including helping people get basic items they need like medications and eye glasses.

The fire affected hundreds of units and nearby buildings have also had utilities shut down in the days following. Local officials from the city stepped in to provide lodging at a nearby hotel for many of the people displaced for two nights. Since their apartments sustained much damage, many people may be out of their homes for much longer and the Red Cross opened a shelter at a local community center to offer a safe place to sleep for more days ahead if people needed it.

Volunteers like Jackie, Thomas and Ruthann assisted in setting up and coordinating meals and connecting individually with people affected to provide casework and additional resources. As of June 1, seven people were registered guests at the shelter, but ultimately utilized additional resources provided by the city for alternate accomodations.

Sonia, Joy and Diane are three people who came to the Red Cross shelter. Sonia and Diane are sisters and neighbors. Joy is also a neighbor and cares for Sonia who has cancer. Sonia credits hearing the alarms for getting out safely. Her sister on the other hand was in a deep sleep and did not hear the alarms but woke up to a lot of commotion and fire on her balcony. They reunited and waited from 6 pm to 1 am before finally going to a hotel. Despite the circumstances they are in, they smile and laugh and are happy they are together and alive.

Sonia, Joy and Diane

Meet Agnes and Mel. Both residents of 300 Park Avenue. Agnes lives on the 2nd floor and Mel on the 5th floor. Agnes was sitting by her patio and saw the fires start in one section and pop over to the next. Her daughter was with her and ran out to alert everyone on the 2nd floor and ran up to the 5th to get Mel who is almost immobile. She found someone who carried Mel down from the 5th floor. They are both eternally grateful to the fire department for their professionalism and dedication. They wish to express their gratitude to them and to all who have the calling to serve. And they’re still smiling because they have today and they are alive.

Agnes and Mel

Those interested in helping the people affected should coordinate with the Illinois COAD by emailing neilcoad@gmail.com.

Anyone displaced by the fire and in need of shelter or additional resources can contact the Red Cross at 312-729-6100.

Learn more about volunteering for the Red Cross here.

Neuroscience Graduate Inspired by Red Cross Mission

Neuroscience Graduate Inspired by Red Cross Mission

“I thought I was going in for a routine internship … little did I know it would change my life.”

Joyce Ruan, a neuroscience Loyola University graduate, recently completed an internship with the Red Cross of Greater Chicago Disaster Relief team, but her connection to the Red Cross goes further back. While in high school, Joyce donated blood and participated in community events through the Red Cross, and she carried this practice through her college years.

During her final year at Loyola, Joyce wanted to find an opportunity within the non-profit sector in Chicago as it was part of her non-profit studies. Not only was Joyce interested in a local non-profit, but she was looking for something that incorporated service in emergency situations. That’s when it hit her — the Red Cross is a non-profit humanitarian services organization! Joyce quickly connected with the Red Cross through our Volunteer Services team and put her emergency medical response experience to work in Disaster Relief.

While Joyce enjoyed and appreciated the office work, the most fulfilling part of her internship experience was the field work. Showing up to a fire response to provide aid and being able to be there when someone needed it the most.

As was the case last January, when a man named William had a house fire in the middle of the night. He was taken to the Emergency Room and was evaluated and told that because he had no burns, frost bite, or smoke inhalation, he was free to go. William was discharged from the hospital wearing only pajamas and socks. He had no phone, identification, money, and it was frigid cold. Not only was he devasted … William did not know where to go.

Around the corner from the hospital came Joyce and Sophia, Joyce’s supervisor. Together, they helped William secure transportation to a warm hotel, saw to his basic needs, but most importantly, they were there to provide compassion and comfort.

Joyce pictured with her internship supervisor, Sophia Kluessendorf, Disaster Program Manager

“I was so moved and inspired by William. He was living through a terrible time in his life, yet he was so incredibly optimistic and appreciative that we were there for him,” states Joyce. “At that moment, William put so many things in perspective for me. I realize that I’ve been so fortunate, but disaster can happen to anyone and no matter what socioeconomic status or where you live, for the most part, we are not prepared, and we all would like to have someone lend a hand.”

Joyce has since completed her internship and moved on to pursue her Physician Assistant degree, but she remains committed to continuing to volunteer with the Red Cross. She credits her time as an intern and seeing how vital volunteers are to organizations like the Red Cross, as her motivation to add her name to the group of dedicated volunteers. Her biggest wish is to inspire her generation to volunteer.

Joyce and family at her graduation.

“We need to be there for our community. A disaster can happen to anyone and if it happens to be you, you’re going to want someone to help you. We can all learn more about ourselves and our community from volunteering and there are many volunteer opportunities within the Red Cross. Being a humanitarian is one of the best traits I have, and I hope everyone gets a chance to experience this side of themselves!”

Volunteers at the Red Cross carry out 90% of the humanitarian work. Joyce invites you to make a difference and be a volunteer. To join her, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Help Can’t Wait: Home Fire Response

Fire destroyed Debbie Barger’s Benton, Illinois home earlier this year. Jane Perr was there to help.

Take a look at this video to learn more about why Jane loves what she does as a disaster volunteer, and to hear why her efforts made a big impact on Debbie.

Volunteers like Jane make up 90 percent of our workforce. Please visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up as a volunteer and to learn more about what we do to help people after a disaster. Thank you for supporting the American Red Cross!

Volunteer Spotlight: Pat D’Alessandro

Pat D’Alessandro of Le Claire, IA is the Regional Recovery Lead for the American Red Cross of the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois chapter, and has been a volunteer for almost 12 years. She has been deployed in many Operations Management roles as well as taken part in the Volunteer Leadership team for the Quad Cities. As a volunteer, she has been deployed to Superstorm Sandy, Hurricanes Matthew, Florence, and Irma just to name a few.  She has worked in many regional Disaster Reliefs such as the 4-month flood in the Quad Cities. Not only is she heavily involved with disasters, she also helps teach disaster classes, works on the Sound the Alarm initiative, and is part of the Quad Cities Service to the Armed Forces knitting group. Pat is always lending a helping hand wherever it is needed, and she puts the livelihoods of others before her own needs.

Pat says that she thoroughly enjoys volunteering because of the people she’s met and the sense of accomplishment she feels knowing that she is helping people during some of the worst times of their lives. Pat is an incredible individual and has no idea how much it means to those experiencing a crisis that she cares about them and wants to be of service.

“I tell people that this is the best job I’ve ever had. Where else can you get paid in hugs?”  -Pat D’Alessandro  

Part of her volunteer work includes helping with Sound the Alarm, the American Red Cross initiative to help install free smoke alarms throughout homes in the community. In the event that there is a fire, smoke alarms play a vital role in reducing fire deaths and injuries. They aid in alerting families and giving them time to get out of their homes safely. Pat says initiatives like Sound the Alarm are part of the mission of the Red Cross to help in prevention of disasters, as well as respond to them and help people recover from them.

The Red Cross mission spans across five lines of service: Biomedical Services, Disaster Relief, Training Services, International Services and Services to the Armed Forces. Pat has found a place for her skills as a volunteer in multiple lines of service and anyone can find a place at the Red Cross including virtual work, or in-person responses. Pat says that if disaster response doesn’t sound like your “thing”, we always need help with blood drives, fundraising, working with Service to the Armed Forces, and helping around chapter offices.

Pat had been looking to give back as a volunteer at an organization that provided opportunities to help those in need both at home and in other parts of the country. She identified a connection with the Red Cross because of what they had done for her community and she felt a strong need to be part of it. Ever since then, Pat has volunteered to a great capacity and the American Red Cross cannot thank her enough. Individuals that do what Pat does have such a big heart for others and never fail to bring a smile to those who need it most.

To find more volunteer opportunities at the American Red Cross click here: www.redcross.org/volunteer

Written by Communications Intern Alyna Morales

Red Cross Consistently Shelters Handful of Residents and Their Pets after Chemtool Fire in Rockton

The Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) is parked among other first responders working to help after the Chemtool Inc. fire began in Rockton, IL

“This really put Rockton on the map, though I wish it was for a different reason,” Lori Oostendorp thought aloud in the Roscoe Middle School gym. Seated next to her at a round table was her mother, Kathryn Markley. They both were in the evacuation zone after a fire started at Chemtool Inc. just down the road from their homes on Monday, June 14, 2021.

Mother and daughter Kathryn Markley (R) and Lori Oostendorp (L) embrace in the Red Cross shelter and spend time chatting with other evacuees over meals and snacks provided by volunteers.

The American Red Cross of Illinois has converted the middle school into an evacuation site, first and then a full shelter when local authorities made it clear those who evacuated could not immediately go home. The Red Cross is providing the air-conditioned space, meals, snacks, water, personal hygiene items, cots and blankets and more to the people who left so quickly.

Other family members joined them; Kathryn says in her haste to evacuate she grabbed her two cats first and says she was thankful it wasn’t a problem to bring them to the shelter. They’re kept away from other guests, but she says there’s no way she was leaving her 2 black cats, Ferrari and Neelix, behind.

Kathryn Markley plays with one of her cats in the Red Cross shelter.

“I think a pet is like having a baby, you are responsible for that life,” Kathryn Markley declared, and finds comfort in having her pets nearby during the evacuation.

On Wednesday, more furry friends were in the shelter to provide support to all those experiencing being out of their homes in the form of comfort dogs. Golden retrievers were available for guests of the shelter to meet and pet and relieve some of the stress they may be feeling.

One of five comfort dogs smiles while visiting the Roscoe Middle School Red Cross Shelter in Rockton.

The mother/daughter team isn’t the only set of family members; Patrick Mira-Contreras and his brother are also staying at the middle school during the evacuation order and experiencing national attention for the first time.

“You always hear about this stuff happening and its almost like its not real….I’ve never been in a disaster-type situation like this before but from what I’ve experienced you guys are doing a great job of offering water, food, accommodations and what not,” he said.

Patrick Mira-Contreras maintains a positive attitude for his family and the handful of other people staying in the shelter.

Mira-Contreras is focusing in mindfulness during this time of being uncomfortable and trying to stay positive, an attitude that is rubbing off on others staying in the shelter.

“If you have a good outlook, things will work out,” he said confidently.

A sense of cameraderie is evident throughout the people during their time, and at the age of 94 Mickey Tooley says she’s happy she had a place to go after the shock of the blast and knew some of the other people there.

“The smoke was just pouring out from the fire and I kinda left in a hurry,” she laughed, “and I forgot all my meds but they were so nice,” and she was able to get her medications with the help of the Red Cross and local police.

Ninety-four year old Mickey Tooley rests in the bleachers of the middle school gym after lunch.

Tooley says she’s hoping to go home soon but if the Red Cross shelter is where she has to be in the meantime, she’s grateful.

“The Red Cross has been really wonderful with all the food and snacks! Everyone has been so nice but everyone will be really happy to get home.”

“You guys go above and beyond to try and make it as comfortable under the circumstances as you can,” said Oostendorp.

Sometimes the shelter guest numbers dwindle to just 5 or 6, but as long as people need a place to stay the Red Cross is working to be there for them and provide resources such as this. Executive Director of the American Red Cross of Northwest Illinois, Leslie Luther, explained to local news media how the Red Cross is providing a safe place for anyone who seeks it.

“It doesn’t matter if its one person or one hundred, our volunteers are trained and ready to be a source of comfort during an uncertain time like this,” Luther said. “This was unexpected, but we’re prepared for disasters and to help with easing the big way they affect the people experiencing them.”

Executive Director Leslie Luther speaks with reporters from local Rockford media.

If you are displaced and are looking for support, you can visit the shelter at the Roscoe Middle School on Elevator Road or call 877-597-0747.

Written by Holly Baker, Communications Manager

Red Cross Volunteers Provide Comfort and Assistance to Family After Home Fire

Last summer, the lives of Elizabeth Morales and her family changed in a matter of minutes when a fire destroyed their home in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. “By the time I arrived, I was just watching gallons and gallons of water pouring out of our home. So, at that point, you kind of realize that everything that you have is now destroyed,” recalls Elizabeth.

A fire that began in their neighbor’s home had spread to Elizabeth’s family and in the blink of an eye, the home where Elizabeth grew up and lived for more than 20 years was gone. When the Morales were finally allowed in the house by the fire department, Elizabeth’s husband, Jose, remembers how everything was in disarray, “Everything was pretty much destroyed. Everything was black, pretty much from the smoke. Couches were pushed over; clothes were thrown everywhere.”

Elizabeth and Jose

Elizabeth remembers how overwhelmed the whole family felt after the fire, and how comforting it was to be met by volunteers with the American Red Cross, “they met us at our level of chaos and explained to us what to expect, a list of places to call and things we needed to do next” 

Late that night, Elizabeth recalls, how grateful they were to have the basic items the Red Cross has provided, “They gave us a kit that had all the accessories like shampoo, toothbrush, deodorant, shaving cream. They thought of it all.”  Adding that the Red Cross even provided medications, something she didn’t think of and that members of her family were going to need, “the Red Cross connected us with a nurse and helped us get prescriptions by the next day free of charge.”

Elizabeth and Jose play with their two youngest sons at their temporary home

After living in a hotel for a month, Elizabeth and her family relocated to a temporary home while theirs is being rebuilt, which may take at least a year. As our conversation was coming to an end, Elizabeth reminds us once more about how crucial it was for the family to have the comfort and support of the Red Cross, “they called and checked on us to make sure that emotionally we were still doing ok. How we were settling in, and to let us know all the resources that were available to us.”

You can take two easy steps to protect your home and loved ones from a fire: get a smoke alarm and create a fire escape plan. Having a working smoke alarm cuts the risk of dying in a home fire in half. Find more about home fire preparedness here.

Click here to find out more about volunteering opportunities with the American Red Cross.

Written by Isis Chaverri, Regional Marketing & Communications Manager

Family of 4 Escapes Rockford House Fire Thanks to Red Cross Smoke Alarms

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

Tanya Toribio: Delivering Volunteers to Those in Need after a Home Fire

Tanya Toribio is a disaster program specialist with the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. In that role, Tanya works closely with volunteer services to ensure that the organization has the volunteer workforce to respond to home fires.

Born in Florida and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada by Mexican parents, while attending college in Reno, a friend who was a disaster program manager for the Red Cross encouraged Tanya to become a volunteer with the organization, “I grew up volunteering…so I always enjoyed helping people. And then when I did my first [disaster action team] DAT call…I was hooked. I was like, wow! this is such a great feeling.”

Tanya helps a person to sign up for a free smoke alarm installation

After college, Tanya joined AmeriCorps for a year, helping advance the mission of the Red Cross by teaching disaster preparedness to underserved communities in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During her time with AmeriCorps, Tanya deployed to North Carolina to help with relief efforts after Hurricane Florence. In North Carolina, she worked with displaced residents in the shelters and make sure people were aware of resources available to them. She tells me the story about a family that she met at one of the shelters and that only spoke Spanish and how relieved they were when Tanya was able to let them know about the long-term assistance that was available to them, including resources that they could access through FEMA. Tanya was able to connect them with representative of that organization that spoke Spanish, and that was able to continue assisting them with the recovery process.

Tanya is first generation Mexican American, and she sees Hispanic Heritage Month as an opportunity to highlight the different contributions Latinos have made to the country, particularly the many cultures that they represent, adding to the diversity of the United States.

You can find more information about volunteering with the American Red Cross here. To sign up for an appointment for a free smoke alarm installation at your home, visit www.getasmokealarm.org.

Written by Isis Chaverri, Regional Marketing & Communications Manager

Oak Lawn home fire survivor shares her story

In June of 2019, Barbara Juris was preparing dinner for her husband in their Oak Lawn home. It was a summer evening, and she was planning on making french fries and spare ribs – some of her husband’s favorite things. It was in a crucial few minutes when Barbara left the kitchen that would completely change the course of the evening, and her life.

Barbara stepped outside to tend to the ribs on the grill, when she hears her neighbor yelling. The neighbor had seen what Barbara hadn’t yet- smoke pouring out of her kitchen window. She rushed back into the house to see her kitchen stove on fire and quickly spreading up cabinets and to the floor.

The Oak Lawn Fire Department was called and arrived within minutes- pushing Barbara and her husband Walter out of the house.

Barbara’s friends and neighbors gathered around her outside as she helplessly stood and watched the home she had lived in for 64 years go up in terrible smoke and destroy her kitchen and parts of the roof.

“I was devastated because I had raised 4 children in that home,” Barbara said.

Realizing her home was not going to be suitable to live in for a while, Barbara began feeling an unfamiliar uncertainty of not knowing where she would sleep in the coming days.

“We had no place to go,” she said.

The Oak Lawn Fire Department assured her that she would be OK as Red Cross volunteers also arrived at the fire. The two volunteers, Brian and Donald, talked to Barbara and made sure she and her husband had accommodations and helped them through the next steps to take.

“They were just so supportive and everything, and they told me I’ll get through it and they’ll find a place for me… couldn’t ask for anything kinder,” Barbara said.

At 93-years-old, Barbara says she has been cooking all her life, but this still happened to her. She says she is so grateful to her neighbors, the fire and police departments and the Red Cross for supporting her through the fire.

Her home is now under renovation but she hopes to be back in it by Christmas and have a big party to celebrate.

“I cannot rave enough about the Red Cross. They’ve always been wonderful but they outdo themselves,” Barbara said.

Barbara says she has so much to be grateful for, “but I hope that nobody has to go through that.”

The American Red Cross responds to more than 62,000 disasters a year and most are home fires.

Tips to avoid cooking fires include:

  • Keep young children and pets at least three feet away from the stove.
  • Move items that can burn away from the stove such as dishtowels, bags and boxes.
  • Clean the stove and the area around it before turning on the heat.
  • Don’t leave food on the stove unattended.
  • Turn pot handles to the back of the stove to avoid spills.

IF A COOKING FIRE OCCURS If a pan catches fire, don’t move it. Slide a pan lid or cookie sheet on top of the pan to put out the fire. Turn off the heat. Keep the lid on the pan until it cools. Never try to stop a grease or oil fire with water – it will fuel the fire.

If something catches fire in the oven, keep the door closed. Call 9-1-1 so firefighters can make sure the fire didn’t spread to the walls. If a fire occurs in the microwave, keep the door closed and unplug the microwave if you can. Don’t use it again until a repairman checks it.

If the kitchen catches fire, make sure everyone gets out and call 9-1-1 when outside. Once outside, stay out. Never go back inside a burning building.

The Red Cross has been working to reduce that number through its Home Fire Campaign. Launched in October of 2014, the Red Cross and thousands of campaign partners have helped save numerous lives through the effort, as well as installing more than one million smoke alarms in homes all across the country. The Red Cross is asking people to do two things – create and practice their home fire escape plan and check their smoke alarms.

For more information on home fire safety, click or tap here.

Written and produced by Holly Baker, Regional Communications Manager