Lazenia Adams Honored as American Red Cross 2016 Disaster Services Hero

IL-Disaster-Services-Award(CHICAGO, IL) – Lazenia Adams of Richton Park saw a news report on television one morning about American Red Cross volunteers helping a family after a home fire.

“A feeling hit me that this could have been my family,” she said. “I asked myself, ‘Do I have the time to do this?’ And I said yes.”

An accountant by day, Lazenia did the math and found some time each week to volunteer on the overnight shift from midnight to 6 a.m. Two years later and after having responded to more than 300 home fires as a member of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, one response hit home. The house her parents owned on the South Side of Chicago where her brother lived on the second floor above renters caught fire. Luckily, no one was home when the fire started.

“Even though I didn’t live there, it felt like it was my home because I spent a lot of time there with my family,” she said. “It was overwhelming because now I really understand what it’s like to walk in the shoes of all the people I’ve helped after a fire.”

Lazenia not only responds to fires, she works to prevent them. She became involved with the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, a multi-year initiative to dramatically reduce the number of home fire-related injuries and deaths by installing smoke alarms in homes and teaching families how to develop an emergency escape route. Lazenia has led volunteer teams to install more than 3,000 smoke alarms in neighborhoods south of Chicago near her family’s home.

Two months after installing smoke alarms in the home of an elderly man in Phoenix, a community of 2,000 located about 20 miles south of Chicago, Lazenia was called to a local hospital to help a resident who had been taken there after a fire. Lazenia said the gentleman recognized and hugged her, telling her a smoke alarm she installed in his home a few months earlier went off and he was able to get out.

“I was in tears,” she said. “He told me I’m the one who saved his life. It’s all about helping people in our community. You really can make a difference.”

The Disaster Services Award is presented by W. W. Grainger, Inc., to an individual(s) who exhibited heroic efforts in any or all areas of disaster services including preparedness, response to a natural disaster or emergency situation, or providing relief to victims through financial or voluntary assistance.

The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois is honoring local people who demonstrated acts of heroism in the community at the organization’s 14th annual Heroes Breakfast, Thursday, April 28 at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave. For more information:

 Written by: Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

Red Cross Goes Door-To-Door to Install 400 Smoke Alarms on Chicago’s South Side

Roseland Rally Knock on Door 9.19.15(CHICAGO, IL) – Christine White opened her door to American Red Cross volunteers on Chicago’s South Side on a Saturday morning to install smoke alarms in her Roseland home.

“I’ve never needed your services (for disasters), thank God. Hopefully, I never will,” she said as volunteers installed smoke alarms and made a safety plan for her family.

21370799950_04fcf9492d_oA few blocks south on 108th Street, Shavett Lovemore told volunteers, “We haven’t experienced anything personal, but you still hear the stories.”

The Roseland community on Chicago’s South Side has one of the highest numbers of fire fatalities in Northern Illinois. That’s why armed with ladders and drills volunteers went door-to-door to install more than 400 smoke alarms in a single-day on Sept. 19 to help families be safe. 21547221372_49e3d9e1d1_o

The effort is part of the nationwide Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, a multi-year effort to reduce the number of home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent. Working alongside fire departments and community groups, the Red Cross and its partners will install 5,500 smoke alarms in Northern Illinois communities, like Roseland, over the next several months.

For senior citizens and people with physical disabilities, having the Red Cross install a smoke alarm in their home is crucial in those hard to reach places.

CPSXhRiWcAAhyQ6“That’s something I can’t do. Thank you,” said Roseland resident Ed Bishop, when Red Cross volunteer Goeffrey Fishwick installed the device on the ceiling where smoke would rise to set it off if a fire would spark.

It’s also smart to install smoke alarms in bedrooms and hallways to sleeping areas. For Glenda Johnson, a stroke survivor, who needs a wheelchair to move, the Red Cross installed two smoke alarms in her home. “It’s good that you’re coming around,” she said.

For every smoke alarm installed in Roseland, volunteers like Cam Anton, also mapped out how families can safely exit their home in less than two minutes during a fire.

RoselandVolunteerInstallAlarm 9.19.15At Erma Washington’s home, where Cam’s team installed two smoke alarms, he walked her though her home pointing out possible exit areas through windows, and the front and side doors.

“So right there you’ve got three escape routes, and that really gives you a good game plan should an event actually occur. Hopefully not, but if it does, you’ve got a good game plan,” said Cam.

The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois responds to 3 to 4 home fires every day, providing food, shelter, clothing and emotional support.21371469408_06f47f601d_o

Home fires tend to increase in the fall and winter, which is why Regional Disaster Officer Harley Jones said the Red Cross is making a big push now to be prepared for the colder months ahead.

“Home fires are tragic and devastating to those who experience them,” said Jones. “Our aim is to arm as many families as possible with these safety measures to help prevent another tragedy.”

TWO MINUTES TO ESCAPE  It is estimated that you may have only two minutes to get out after a fire starts in your home. As part of the campaign, the Red Cross is also asking every household in America to join us in taking two simple steps that can save lives: checking their existing smoke alarms and practicing fire drills at home. Every family should develop a fire escape plan, and practice it.

21369962598_25d54af9c8_oGET INVOLVED People can visit to find out more about how to protect themselves and their loved ones and homes from fire or contact their local Red Cross to find out about smoke alarm installation events in their community. They can also help by volunteering their time or making a donation today to Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations to Disaster Relief will be used to prepare for, respond to, and help people recover from disasters big and small. We respond to nearly 70,000 other disasters every year, from home fires to hurricanes and more. Learn more about how Disaster Relief donations have helped people affected by previous disasters including home fires.


Roseland Rally Group Shot 9.19.15

American Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteers Tyler Bieschke, Eleanor Lyon and Alex Sobczak contributed to this story

 Photos by American Red Cross Volunteers Danny Diaz and Bill Biederman

 For more photos of the Roseland Smoke Alarm Installation Event:


“I’m Thankful the Red Cross Could Do Something For Us”

IMAG3211For 35-year-old Towanda Price, Thursday morning started out as just another day at work at a local restaurant.  But just minutes into her shift, she got a phone call that her Southside Chicago apartment was on fire.

Towanda’s son Terrance was at home sleeping at the time of the fire that started in the apartment above them. The 16-year-old inhaled some smoke, but got out safely.

Everything the family owned was completely soaked in water and ruined.  With almost nothing in the refrigerator, and a home that was uninhabitable, Towanda was grateful the Red Cross quickly arrived on the scene.

“I’m thankful the Red Cross could do something for us,” she said. “I’m not sure what we could have done without their help.”

Both mom and son were tearful that they lost their home, but said help from the Red Cross, and words of encouragement from the dedicated volunteers, will help them get back on their feet.

Story and photo by Bob McCaffrey, American Red Cross Volunteer

Johnson Family is thankful for the Red Cross this holiday season

IMG_4986Shanquell Johnson was in the kitchen prepping a turkey dinner for her family on the eve of Thanksgiving.

“Then the whole house went black, and then flames came through the walls,” she said.

Shanquell, her brother, and her four children, 15-year-old Shavon, 12-year-old twins Jachi and Jacruri, and 10-year-old Jakyla left everything behind and ran outside. They moved into their home in the Roseland neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side the month before. A few weeks earlier, everything was on the upswing for the Johnson family. They were unpacked and settled and looking forward to the spending time together in their home during the holidays.

“We lost everything in the fire,” said Shanquell. “I’m still in a state of shock.”

Shanquell returned to her scorched and boarded up home on a cold December morning to salvage what few items were left scattered inside the ruins of her living room. Finding a new place for her children to live is the only item on her Christmas list now.

Like the Johnson family, so many people are in need this holiday season. But the Red Cross is there, responding to 3 to 4 home fires every day in the Chicago region to help families recover. Volunteers find shelter, food, clothing, replace medications and offer mental health services to talk people through the stress of coping with loss.

Shanquell and her children are staying with family and friends, but the night of the fire the Red Cross responded to help with her family’s immediate needs. Volunteers gave the Johnson family the means to purchase food and warm clothes like coats and socks and find a safe place to sleep.

“I’m thankful for that, otherwise we wouldn’t have had a place to go,” she said.

  Written by: Patricia Kemp

Apartment tenants grateful the Red Cross was there for them

photo“Are we homeless?”  Lisa asked as firefighters fought to save the apartment she shared with friends in Lombard, Illinois.   

The blaze started before 2 a.m. and quickly spread through the 12 units on the north half of the Willow Lake Apartments building, collapsing the roof. Most of the tenants had been sound asleep, but were jolted awake by fire alarms and confronted with smoke and confusion. In the hallways, sirens were blaring and neighbors called to each other, “Get out!” 

In the Greater Chicago Region, the Red Cross responds to three to four home fires every day, on-call 24/7 ready to help any of the 9.4 million people in 13 counties in Illinois and Northwest Indiana. Through the dedication of trained volunteers who care and the generosity of donors, the Red Cross is helping to ensure the needs of people affected by these disasters are met.

Lombard_Fire2The Garcia family escaped; the children leaving behind shoes and coats. In another part of the building, Sunitha bundled up her 3-month-old baby and fled with her husband. Everyone got out safely, but they all lost their home.

 All combined, 42 people, 16 of them children, were affected by the Willow Lakes Apartment fire in DuPage County.

 Red Cross disaster relief teams arrived to help. From the pre-dawn hours through late afternoon, volunteers met with tenants and provided assistance for shelter, food and clothing. Volunteers gave winter coats and shoes to the Garcia children and infant supplies and formula for Sunitha’s baby. Lisa and her roommates were assured they would have safe place to stay. All of the tenants were grateful the Red Cross was there for them.

   DuPage County OHSEM (@ProtectDuPage)
10/26/13, 11:41 AMThanks @ChicagoRedCross for helping our residents in unincorporated Lombard who were displaced by an overnight apartment fire.

 Written by Judy Gustafson & Patricia Kemp

“You Rescued My Family”

It was more than 40 years ago, but Mary still remembers waking up to the orange glow at the top of the stairs. Her home in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago was on fire. Suddenly Mary, her parents, and seven brothers and sisters were standing outside in the dark night.

We were homeless. Nothing was salvageable from the house. We had only our pajamas—what we wore to bed. Our clothes left in the home were either burned or saturated with smoke. Then, the Red Cross stepped in to help us. It was the Red Cross that put us on our feet after that devastating fire. You rescued my family.

I tell this story to anyone who will listen. It is my effort to pay back the Red Cross—hoping it will encourage others to contribute to the Red Cross. Their help is so much more than all the tangible stuff, it’s knowing someone is looking out for you and will lift you from the ashes and put an arm around you when you think things are hopeless.

Written by: Mary, Wheeling, Illinois

Glen Ellyn Couple Celebrates 35th Wedding Anniversary Volunteering with the Red Cross

GramasphotoLee and Peg Gramas spent their 35th anniversary on June 24, 2013 together—just not in the way they planned. Yet, on the day they celebrated their commitment to each other, they also showed their commitment to the American Red Cross and the people of Chicago.

That day, the Glen Ellyn couple, who are both volunteers for the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, received a call to respond to a multi-unit apartment fire in the Little Village neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. 

 What was supposed to be a quiet, romantic evening turned into a long night. They planned to cook fresh salmon and vegetables, but dinner had to wait when Peg received the call from the Red Cross. Together, they agreed to say yes, saying “I’ll go if you go.” They put their anniversary plans and dinner on the back burner and set out to the fire.

Lee and Peg have been volunteers with the Red Cross since 2010. They are involved in their community separately, but wanted to find something they could do together. Joining the Red Cross as disaster responders allowed them to do that. They’ve each been to dozens of fires with other volunteers but because of their different schedules, they rarely respond to disasters together. This made the call that night even more unique.

Peg and Lee did get their dinner after all. When they returned home that night, the couple got out all the food they put away and began again, eating their salmon well after midnight.

“It definitely wasn’t the quiet night we had planned,” Peg said with a laugh. “But we got our dinner eventually.”

Why not turn down the call and celebrate privately? Lee says it’s the caliber of people at the Red Cross who keep them coming back.

“We’ll be volunteering at fires until we can’t do it anymore.”

Written by Lauren Lindstrom

Team Firestopper Helps Families Feel Safe


Tonya Howard is a foster mom who wants a safe home for children. That’s why she opened her door to the Chicago Red Cross Team Firestopper to check for potential fire hazards.

Tonya lives in the Roseland neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. The area is one of the highest response zones for Red Cross disaster relief teams who respond to home fires there about once a week.

Tonya’s block hasn’t had any incidents, but she’s taking preventative measures. Red Cross volunteers armed her with a new fire extinguisher, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, electrical surge protectors and more. Together, they all walked through the living room, checked batteries in the detectors and headed to the kitchen.

“A lot of fires are sparked by grease over the stove,” said Team Firestopper director Yvette Alexander-Maxie, who advised Tonya to keep the fire extinguisher within arms length. “A lot of people make the mistake of putting it away in the pantry or closet and that wastes precious seconds of time digging for it as flames and smoke climb the wall.”

More than 50 Red Cross volunteers distributed free fire prevention kits in Tonya’s neighborhood whose residents scheduled home visits during a two-day Red Cross community preparedness event last spring.

The Team Firestopper program works to prevent home fires in neighborhoods with a higher number of residential fires as part of its efforts to create a disaster-resistant community. Red Cross relief teams responded to 70 incidents last year in the Roseland neighborhood. After those disasters, the Red Cross assisted more than 300 people, 130 of them children, with food, shelter, clothing, health and mental health services.

Elsewhere in the greater Chicago region, the Red Cross helps people when responding to three to four home fires every day. The Red Cross provides fire victims with immediate assistance and other special needs an affected family might have.

Tonya’s home passed inspection and she was grateful for the fire prevention tips and safety equipment received from the Red Cross.

These safety events are made possible due to Motorola Solutions and State Farm and additional support from UL, First Alert and ACE. For more information on the Red Cross Team Firestopper program visit

Written by: Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross, Greater Chicago Region

You Would Be Surprised What You Can Do Out in the World

Every morning, Ray Carter starts his day with a bowl of oatmeal—but don’t forget the raisins, bananas, and blackberries on top. With a life as exciting as Ray’s, it’s no surprise that he needs to start every day with a hearty breakfast. After retiring from a lifelong career of working for the government (including fraud investigation in Chicago), Ray has been a volunteer at the Red Cross of Greater Chicago for five years.

I met Ray when I responded to my first fire as an intern at the Red Cross. Ray happened to be on call that day, and I met him by the big van bearing the Red Cross logo. Rather than hopping into the van on our respective sides, Ray opened the passenger side door and extended his elbow, chivalrously helping me up the big step and into the van.

As we drove to the fire on Chicago’s South Side, Ray spoke easily about his life working for the government, playing golf in his free time, and visiting Chicago schools. When I asked further about the school visits, he told me about talking to football and basketball players. If the students just get their diploma, or “that piece of paper” as Ray casually called it, there is a whole different life waiting for them. “You would be surprised what you can do out in the world” he tells them, hoping to impart his lifetime of knowledge onto the younger generation.

Ray Carter assessing the damage from a house fire in Chicago

Ray Carter assesses the damage from a house fire in Chicago

I had become so enthralled by his stories that I almost forgot about the fire. We rolled up to the scene and saw that the fire department had come and gone, leaving the house soaking, charred, and abandoned. Ray found the homeowner in the garage behind the house and asked her to lead us through her home so he could assess the damage. I nervously trudged behind him, kicking glass shards from the broken windows out of my path, while Ray strode through several inches of water, soot, and glass with his high-powered flashlight. I worried about the safety of the infrastructure, as one part of the ceiling had fallen in and hung loosely above our heads. Yet Ray radiated the confidence of a veteran fire responder, and I knew that he would not lead us somewhere unsafe.

Ray’s hearty laugh, kind nature, and tall stature emit safety and comfort. As we assessed how the Red Cross could assist the homeowners, he consoled the woman with a pat on the shoulder and a “hang in there.” We finally pulled away from the scene in the big van, having provided the family with food, clothing, and shelter. I sat in the passenger seat once again, overwhelmed by how grateful the family was for our contributions. Ray, however, drove with one hand on the steering wheel and a content expression on his face, as if to say, “All in a day’s work.”

Ray is just one of the many volunteers who help make a difference in peoples’ lives every day. To learn more about how you can volunteer, visit

By Michaela Zook

Helping Victims of Fire Find “A New Normal”

By Jackie Nelson

“Terrible,” Cai said in English as she looked through her sooty and soaked belongings to try to find her mother’s prescriptions.  It would be the only direct exchange of words she and I would share today.

With her elderly parents, Cai Chen and her husband, Chai Tse, live in the first floor unit of a two-unit home in the Chicago neighborhood of Bridgeport.   Red Cross Disaster Responders Jim McGowan and Roxy Trudeau helped the family figure out their next 48 hours with the help of Cantonese translator Kalina Pon. Pon decided to volunteer her time when she heard of the fire while at her child’s school in Chinatown that morning. Together, the disaster team figured out with Cai and Chai where the family would sleep, ensured prescriptions for her parents were on hand and made plans to launder their wet clothes and shoes.  While the second story of the home was destroyed in a fire in the middle of the night, Cai and Chai were able to salvage some of their belongings from their water-logged unit.

The family fled their home in the middle of the night in the same clothes they were wearing.  They had been on the curb for hours in the cold rain and 40 degree weather when the Red Cross  arrived in the morning, shortly after hearing they were in need.  The sound of hammering echoed from the roof where the board-up company worked in the rain to secure the home. A member of the disaster response team attempted to make contact with the family the night of the fire, but couldn’t get in touch with the family until the next morning. Before the Red Cross arrived, Cai’s mother walked to work in the wet slippers she had been wearing when she ran from the burning home.  She was eager to arrive at work on time to make sure the family’s income wasn’t affected when they faced the reality of having to replace most of their belongings. 

Cai and Chai are also eager to get back to work.  To do so, though, they needed something to eat after an exhaustive night, warm and dry clothes, and information about community partners and agencies that, like the Red Cross, will help them find their “new normal.”  They will need a new residence, replacement furniture and assistance in navigating next steps with their landlord and his insurance.

With the assistance they received from the Red Cross, they will stay tonight in a hotel in nearby Chinatown, close to where they will go back to work tomorrow. 

The Red Cross will continue to try to reach the resident in the upstairs unit to provide assistance, and we are now a step closer to finding him with additional information his neighbors were able to provide.  Also, a new disaster assistance note hangs on his door handle – this one translated into Cantonese by Kalina in hopes that he reaches out to the Red Cross for help.

We may not hear from him in a community so willing to help one another and rise above hardship.

In my four years with the Red Cross, I have grown used to seeing the things that are so personal to families like children’s favorite toys, small flags from the United States and other homeland countries, and school photos reduced to debris that sadly must be grieved and disposed of.  I am saddened by it, but accept is as part of the reality of unforgiving disasters.

What I haven’t grown used to yet is wondering what happens after we leave and when other agencies and communities step in to help.  I find comfort in knowing Cai, Chai and her parents will be OK for the next 48 hours, at least.  I appreciate that she looked at me and said to me “terrible” in English to be sure I understood.  Cai knew that it matters to us, too, to connect with the people we meet during disasters – that this connection is why we volunteer and walk through water-filled basements trying not to step on nails jutting up from collapsed ceilings and walls.

Roxy, Jim, Karina and I dispersed after our response and will likely never all work the same disaster again, given the hundreds of volunteers who respond in Chicago alone.  I probably will never meet the upstairs neighbor.  If anyone from the Red Cross meets him, it will be a different volunteer – whoever is on-call when he reaches out based on the information we left him. 

We will continue to wonder about his next 48 hours and hope that someone is there with him.  Time and time again within the Red Cross and throughout communities, people continue to show up, so it is likely he will find relief somehow.  Now that we have done what we can, I can only hope.

To find out how you can become a volunteer, donor, or learn how to reduce the risk of a fire in your home, visit