Couple Recovers After Destructive Home Fire

Couple Recovers After Destructive Home Fire

“We hit rock bottom,” said Nick Tedeschi. “And the Red Cross gave us a start.”

Nick and his wife, Shirley, were going about their daily routine on Feb 13, 2016, when their condo caught on fire. They were left with the clothes on their back. “You never expect, when you leave for the day, to come back and have lost everything,” said Nick. Their Valentine’s Day plans were derailed as they tried to recover.

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Nick and Shirley lost everything in the home fire.

The Red Cross responded to the fire, caused by a next door neighbor’s cigarette, to help them get back on their feet during the immediate recovery after their loss.

Nick reflected on that time, “I was totally gutted out.”

He talked about the months following the fire as a very difficult time. He would wipe his tears away and keep it inside while he was at work, delivering supplies to customers throughout the loop. He didn’t want anyone to know.

Nick and Shirley showed resiliency, and even humor, during a difficult time. Nick said he watched his house burn down while eating a bowl of chili he had picked up on the way home. He laughed, looking back on it, because the chili was from a local chain called Firehouse Subs.

They moved into her daughter’s basement for a few months until they were able to purchase a new home. “We were blessed tremendously,” Nick reflects.

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The house that Nick and Shirley purchased after a fire destroyed their previous home.

Now, he and his wife live in a house and, Nick says, they do things differently. They triple check everything before leaving the house, they put in new smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and they keep flammable things away from their house – they don’t even have a grill. “We have backyard BYOF parties: bring your own food,” said Nick.

In 2017, Nick plans to volunteer for the Red Cross to answer telephones at a Red Cross telethon. “You guys did so much. It gave us a starting point.”

Learn more about the American Red Cross Home Fire Prevention Campaign.

By: Cat Rabenstine

American Red Cross Reflects on Beloved Volunteer

American Red Cross Reflects on Beloved Volunteer

One of our long-time friends and volunteers, Robert Wahlgren, passed away on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. Upon receiving the news, the Red Cross family spent time reflecting on our wonderful shared memories of Bob. We were trained by him, we watched him respond to disasters with kindness and care, and we learned from his determination.

Bob was always modest about his accomplishments, positive in his outlook, and made everyone feel welcome in his presence,” says Peg Gramas, who volunteered with Bob as part of the Disaster Action Team (the volunteers that respond to home fires, for example).

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Bob and his family volunteering together.

Bob was integral to the work at the Red Cross in his role as the County Volunteer Lead for our team in DuPage and Kane counties. He was also a highly active volunteer leader in our Disaster Action Team, mass care, and casework programs.

Betsy Johnson, who has worked in Disaster Services at various locations for 22 years, shadowed Bob on her first home fire response. She says there couldn’t have been a better way to begin.

Despite the chaos of the fire, Bob presented the face of Red Cross with a countenance of confidence and care.  Each family felt respected and listened to and helped,” recalls Betsy. “I remember Bob asking each family, ‘What do you need right now?’ He waited for each person to tell him what was most important at the moment, a technique that takes patience and gentle guidance, but gives each person the respect and dignity they need to start their own recovery.”

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Bob meets Governor Bruce Rauner while volunteering at a telethon.

Howard Goldstein, another long-time Red Cross volunteer and friend of Bob’s says, “If not for Bob’s stories about his Red Cross experiences I don’t think I would have gotten involved in the first place.”

Bob was also the co-founder of Bridge Communities, a visionary non-profit providing housing and mentoring to homeless families.

“His knowledge of the housing market and his concern for the long term welfare of not only Red Cross clients, but everyone in need, was helpful in putting together a Long Term Recovery program,” says Howard.

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Bob and Geoff volunteering together.

Geoff Fishwick met Bob while responding to his first home fire. “I was in a hurry to interview my first client. Bob told me to be patient and take a seat,” remembers Geoff.

“Every 15 minutes I would say, ‘lets go see if we can talk to the client.’ After two hours of this, Bob took me aside and said, ‘You have to show more patience. You have to remember the trauma our clients go through. This man just lost his wife and his son, and his daughter is in the burn unit at Loyola. You need to show more compassion.’ Until that time I saw the Red Cross more as a job then a compassionate mission.”

Geoff recalls taking the next few hours to think about what Bob had said and reflecting on how his words of advice could make him a better person. “He changed my life,” says Geoff.

It is with a heavy heart that we reflect on all of the times he responded to a fire in the middle of the night, guided a family who lost everything through their long-term recovery, managed a shelter, worked the phones at a telethon, handed out food during a canteen response, and so much more.

“I’m so glad I learned from Bob first, and that our paths continued to cross over the next couple of years,” says Betsy. “Just three weeks ago we were discussing how Bob could lend a hand with onboarding new volunteers. I feel sad for the new volunteers who weren’t as lucky as I.”

Bob will be greatly missed by his Red Cross family.

To read more about Bob, please click here. A memorial celebration will be held on Saturday, November 12 at 4:30pm at MacAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage.

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: http://www.redcross.org/news/article/local/il/chicago/American-Red-Cross-Honors-Local-Heroes.

 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 redcross.org 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 redcross.org, 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:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/chicagoredcross/albums/72157658419790759

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“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