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