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They considered if their current alarms were sufficient but determined they had to be at least 20 years old and likely outdated technology, so they welcomed the volunteers.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

Volunteers “Sound the Alarm” in Joliet

Dozens of volunteers with the American Red Cross gathered on May 21, 2022 in Joliet to canvass neighborhoods installing free smoke alarms and providing fire safety education to families and helping them create a home fire escape plan.

“Sound the Alarm” is a national initiative by the Red Cross to make homes safer from fires across the country by installing more smoke alarms and making sure families know what to do if there is a fire. Studies show many people believe they would have five minutes or more to get out of a home on fire when in reality they have two minutes or less, and having a working smoke alarm increases your chances of surviving a home fire by 50%.

Don Cusack and Elsa Preciada are two volunteers who went to six homes on Saturday and installed over twenty smoke alarms. They were one of many teams out meeting people and installing smoke alarms for them in Joliet neighborhoods including a woman who was over 100 years old, families with many small children, multiple generations living together and more!

Volunteers replaced old, expired smoke alarms at Bob Lefevers’ home with brand new ones that last 10 years. He was glad to hear about the initiative as so often you hear about tragic fires where homes didn’t have alarms, so he thinks taking preventative measures like this is a good thing.

In total:

  • 269 free smoke alarms installed
  • 102 homes made safer
  • 363 people better protected against home fires

Thank you to all the volunteer and community partners like Exxon Mobile who helped make this “Sound the Alarm” event possible. Join the Red Cross and help “Sound the Alarm” in a neighborhood near you by signing up at www.redcross.org/soundthealarm.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Holly Baker

Getting Involved: Beverly and Emilie

Beverly Tomita and Emilie Lemieux

Getting involved and helping other people are priorities for Beverly Tomita and Emilie Lemieux. Now, they are encouraging their peers to get involved and join them as volunteers.

Beverly and Emilie are medical students in the Champaign-Urbana area. Together, they are working to build up a base of volunteers at their school, with a focus on disaster and emergency medicine.

Both have volunteered with the American Red Cross before; most recently during a Sound the Alarm home fire safety event. The duo visited numerous homes in the Bloomington-Normal area this May, installing smoke alarms and sharing home fire safety information with residents.

“This is a very valuable learning experience for us, because we are learning about fire safety as well as teaching the community about important disaster preparedness tips, and getting some life skills, too.”
-Beverly Tomita

“It’s awesome to see how excited people are to see you help them. It’s a very rewarding feeling inside, to see how the community opens their arms to you.”
-Emilie Lemieux

Beverly and Emilie hope to spark interest in volunteering in their fellow students, while continuing to serve others by helping the Red Cross.

For Emilie, volunteering gives her “valuable exposure and experience with different aspects of serving.”

Beverly enjoys the opportunities available to serve others, both locally and around the world. She says, “It’s a really great way to get involved and give back to the community, while living the student life.”

We are thankful for Beverly and Emilie’s time and efforts in supporting our mission! Visit redcross.org/volunteer to find a volunteer opportunity in your community.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Red Cross and Partners Team Up to Sound the Alarm in Peoria

American Red Cross volunteers and community partners gathered in Peoria Thursday, May 5 to install free smoke alarms in dozens of homes and share home fire safety information with residents.

The event kicked off the 2022 Sound the Alarm campaign in the Illinois region. Volunteers will be installing smoke alarms in numerous communities in the region in coming weeks – 50,000 in total, throughout the U.S.

Volunteers gathered at the Red Cross chapter office in Peoria, where Peoria Fire Department officials instructed them on how to properly install the smoke alarms. Teams of two or three went out into the community from there, to educate homeowners on fire escape plans and complete the installations. Volunteers installed 74 smoke alarms in homes of Peoria residents.

“It is important that we partner with other community leaders to promote fire safety,” said Jesse Getz, CEO of Getz Fire Equipment. “It was very rewarding. Any time you can volunteer to help others in your community, it’s just a great experience.”

Click here to see more photos of the Peoria event.

Thank you to the following community partners for helping make this possible:

Ameren
ATS
Caterpillar
Commerce Bank
Getz Fire Equipment
Maxim Healthcare Services
Peoria Fire Department
Salvation Army

The Sound the Alarm program is part of the Red Cross home fire campaign, which has helped saved 1,275 lives since launching in October 2014.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Red Cross Month: Getting Involved and Making a Difference

Shelly Oliver started volunteering for the American Red Cross in 2018, shortly before Hurricane Michael made landfall in the U.S. She has traveled to Florida, Oregon, Louisiana and elsewhere to provide disaster relief after hurricanes, wildfires and other disaster scenes.

Shelly lives in Macon County, near Decatur and responds locally to home fires and other incidents, providing immediate assistance to people who have been impacted by disasters. She also helps install smoke alarms as part of our Sound the Alarm program.

“I like the disaster response work, being on scene with the clients. You take these people with you. I call to check up on them and they will call me sometimes,” she said.

Despite the challenges presented during the COVID pandemic, Shelly still has been able to assist in a virtual setting, and she is glad to have had to have been able to serve during this time.

“I love the virtual intake process because I am still able to meet with the clients, even though it has not been in person during the pandemic,” she said. “When we do intake over the phone, we’re able to connect a little deeper because we have more opportunities to talk after the initial response.”

Shelly has been a great asset to the Illinois region and beyond. Her positive attitude and strong work ethic have helped people in numerous situations during her time as a volunteer. For Shelly, it is something she enjoys doing.

“I love everything about Red Cross. I wish I had known what the Red Cross did a long time ago, I would have gotten involved long before I did. Four years ago, I had no idea all they did; it just amazes me.”

If you would like to sign up as a Red Cross volunteer, please click here.

In March, the American Red Cross of Illinois is honoring the people who make its mission possible every day during its annual Red Cross Month celebration – a national tradition started nearly 80 years ago when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the first national Red Cross Month proclamation recognizing those who give back through the American Red Cross. Each U.S. president has issued a proclamation ever since. Join Red Cross Month by visiting redcross.org to make a financial donation, sign up to give blood, become a volunteer or take a class in lifesaving skills, such as first aid and CPR.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen