The 8-year-old veteran and other tales

Lighthearted anecdotes for National Tell a Joke Day

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

“M-O-U-S-E!” An 8-year-old sang, making the toy I had given him dance on the table. His grandmother, whose apartment was one of several impacted by a fire the previous night, stood next to me. Two other American Red Cross members and I had spent the day in the building, assisting those affected by the disaster.

American Red Cross volunteer Tim Poe at the annual toy giveaway for families that experienced a home fire

As part of our assistance, I asked the grandmother questions that help us find resources for those impacted by a disaster. With each question, the child paused the doll’s dance to tell me how to spell names and something about the person.

“Are you or any member of your family a veteran?” I asked the grandmother. As she shook her head no, the child looked up, wide eyed, and shouted, “I’m a veteran!”

“No, you’re not, dear,” the grandmother said, patting his shoulder.

“Am too!” he shouted. “I don’t even like meat!”

The moment was a delight and much needed by all of us in the room.

In my various roles volunteering with the Red Cross, there have been many such lighthearted, fun moments. Today is National Tell a Joke Day, and while the Red Cross and its services are no joke, fun moments do happen. Here are a few.

American Red Cross volunteer Tim Poe at the annual toy giveaway for families that experienced a home fire

Before the pandemic, I took part in distributing toys for the holiday season for children whose families had been affected by disasters. Several tables were filled with toys, and we would help families pick something out. One child excitedly ran to all the tables, looking, but not selecting anything. He turned to me and asked, “Where are the drones?” The parents, alarmed, standing behind, subtly shook their heads but appeared relieved when I explained we didn’t have anything quite so fancy. After his initial disappointment, he seemed thrilled with a toy truck and crayon set.

One of the many benefits of being a Red Cross volunteer is working alongside unique, caring people with differing perspectives. Stories such as Christy Peters’ grandparents and tattoos emerge from our communications meetings.

This makes it a continuous learning experience, even about communicating. After a particularly strange sequence of events, and a fellow volunteer and I finished up and returned to a Red Cross vehicle. As I searched for words to begin processing the roller-coaster ride we had taken, she summed it up.

“Dude!” she said.

I can be verbose, but sometimes a single word is all that’s needed.

On another call, to an apartment where the fire was fortunately contained to a single unit and no one was hurt, an elderly lady emerged from her apartment, saw us, and stopped. “Mm hmm,” she said, pointing to a door. “That’s the one you want. And tell them never leave a candle burning and go out for a sandwich! Could’ve killed us all!” While to my knowledge the Red Cross has not offered this specific fire prevention tip, it’s good advice.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer
Posted by Ryan Lang, American Red Cross volunteer

Red Cross disaster response teams active in early April

One-hundred residents of Northern Ohio received Red Cross assistance during the past week, April 4-10, as volunteers responded to two-dozen home fires.

Five of the fires affected multiple-family homes.

Cleveland Fire

“Our volunteer disaster responders have been very busy, and we are grateful that they answer the call, no matter when or where it happens,” said Tim O’Toole, Regional Disaster Officer. “They are true humanitarians. We could not respond to the needs of people in crisis without our volunteers.”

Immediate financial assistance totaling more than $22,700 was given to the affected residents. The money can be used for a hotel room, to replace clothing or other lost items, for meals or for whatever each resident prioritizes as a need.

In addition, Red Cross volunteer caseworkers reach out to the affected families to connect residents with additional community resources, as they try to move forward with their lives following the loss of their homes and possessions.

And if needed, Red Cross health and mental health volunteers are available to provide assistance as well.

The Red Cross never requires payment for the services provided to people who have experienced a disaster like a home fire. Such assistance is made possible through the generous donations of supporters. To help the next family that is forced by fire to flee their home, visit redcross.org/donate. You can also text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation, or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) to make a donation on the phone.

March 23rd is Giving Day, and the need for Red Cross services is critical

By Tim Poe, Red Cross volunteer

March 23rd is the eighth annual American Red Cross Giving Day, when communities come together to raise awareness about our critical disaster relief mission and fund our lifesaving work across the country. As recent events show, the Red Cross mission and services are critically needed, as #HelpCantWait.

As I reported earlier this month, Disaster Action Team (DAT) responses in our region increased by over 30% in February, mainly due to home fires, and March has continued to be exceptionally busy. Nationally, the Red Cross responded to more than 15,900 home fires since January 1, providing help to almost 60,000.

Please see this video for a behind-the-scenes look at the work Giving Day makes possible.

The blood supply is vulnerable, and help is greatly needed, from blood donors, volunteers, and those providing financial support.

In addition, climate change, global instability, and the effects of the pandemic will continue to pose challenges for all humanitarian services. Challenges that, with your help, the Red Cross will rise to meet. 

On a personal note, as a disaster responder I have seen the benefits of Red Cross services. I often saw the relief on people’s faces when we arrived after a home fire, knowing they would have help recovering. And, as assistance was provided, I also frequently saw human resiliency and signs of hope returning. Such moments occur, on average, more than three times a day in Northern Ohio and are made possible by donors and volunteers.

Here are some examples of what a financial gift can provide:

  • $3: one comfort kit containing hygiene items.
  • $15: one smoke alarm installation with fire safety education.
  • $50: a full day of food and shelter for one person.
  • $135: one smoke alarm and fire safety education for a hearing-impaired person.
  • $150: travel, meals, and shelter for one day for a deployed Red Cross disaster relief, health, or mental health worker.
  • $200: a full day of food and shelter to a family of four. Includes the cost of Red Cross workers to provide this service.
  • $350: the daily cost to deploy an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV).
  • $605: financial assistance for a family impacted by a local disaster, like a home fire. This helps the family purchase food, lodging, clothing, and other critical needs.
  • $4,000: a Sound the Alarm event. Includes installing smoke alarms and providing a fire safety package, deploying an ERV for the day, and lunch for volunteers. Average events install around 200 alarms.

To participate in Giving Day, please visit redcross.org/GivingDay. A gift of any size makes a difference.

For Northern Ohio volunteer opportunities, please visit this link..

To donate blood, visit RedCrossBlood.org.

To learn lifesaving skills like CPR and First Aid, consider taking a class at redcross.org/TakeAClass.

Video streamers can also help. See here if interested.

Time to Turn and Test to stay safe and on time

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

Good news is on the horizon: If it’s time to “spring ahead” one hour on Saturday night, can spring be far behind?

Good news right away: You can protect your home and family now by “turning and testing” Saturday night.

American Red Cross volunteers like John Muni, a retired firefighter in Medina County, are urging everyone across northern Ohio to test the batteries in their smoke alarms this weekend, before they turn their clocks ahead one hour to stay in step with their neighbors.

“Smoke alarms are our silent sentinels, our sleepless watchers to alert us to a disaster nobody wants –- a home fire,” John said.

Fox 8 reporter Todd Meany interviews Red Cross volunteer John Muni

“Just since the first of the year, our Red Cross Disaster Action Teams have responded to more than 250 home fires across northern Ohio, bringing comfort, support and immediate assistance to 1,000 families who were living through a nightmare,” John said. “It’s been a rough start to the year, and we don’t want more folks to go through that.”

That’s the purpose of the fall and spring “Turn and Test” campaigns nationwide, because home fires are the nation’s most frequent disaster.

The Red Cross wants people to take three simple steps:

Install smoke alarms. If you don’t have smoke alarms, install them. At least, put one on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. If you have an alarm that’s more than 10 years old, replace it; smoke detection strips wear out.

Check smoke alarm batteries. This is “Turn and Test.” Push the test button on each alarm and replace batteries, if needed. It’s a good time to check carbon monoxide detectors too.

Practice an escape plan. Make sure everyone in your household knows how to get out of every room and how to get out of the home in less than two minutes.

In May, the Red Cross will resume its “Sound the Alarm” campaign, working with partners to install free smoke alarms in homes and to brief residents on fire safety and escape planning. The campaign had to be adjusted during 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19.

This year, the Northern Ohio Region of the Red Cross has a goal to install more than 7,200 free smoke alarms and make more than 3,000 homes safer. Local fire departments, civic groups and workplace teams will provide the volunteer manpower for these important efforts.

“Sound the Alarm” is a national Red Cross program similar to one that started in Cleveland in 1992 as a partnership between the city’s fire department and the local Red Cross chapter. Since 2014, the campaign has installed more than 2.2 million(!) smoke alarms across the country that have saved more than 1,200 lives.

For more information, including safety tips and free resources, visit redcross.org/homefires or download the free Red Cross Emergency app by searching for “American Red Cross” in app stores.

And if you need free smoke alarms in your home, visit our website to ask for a home fire safety visit.

Edited By Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Red Cross celebrates community heroes during Red Cross Month in March

Please help celebrate the month and Red Cross Giving Day, March 23, by volunteering, donating blood or providing financial support, as #HelpCantWait

By Tim Poe, Red Cross volunteer

As busy and challenging as 2021 was for the American Red Cross’ Northern Ohio region, 2022 may be even more so. Disaster Action Team (DAT) responses in our region increased by over 30% in February, and we continue to face a national blood crisis.

Red Cross volunteer Ben Weisbrod responds to a hotel fire in Parma

As always, volunteers, staff and donors have been stepping up, but we could use your help. Throughout March, the Red Cross honors those who make its mission possible during the annual Red Cross Month celebration—a national tradition started nearly 80 years ago when Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the first national Red Cross Month proclamation. Each U.S. president since has also issued a proclamation.

“When emergencies strike, our community rallies together to help families and individuals when it matters most,” said Tim O’Toole, the Regional Disaster Officer for the Northern Ohio Region. “We honor this dedication during our Red Cross Month celebration, and we invite everyone to join us by turning their compassion into action by joining our response teams. We need help both here locally and to also send teams across the nation to major disasters.”

Help can’t wait during emergencies. Over the last 12 months—between 2/23/2021 and 2/23/2022—Northern Ohio Disaster Action Teams responded over 1,100 times to help families in need in our region, the vast majority of them victims of home fires. Just this past week our teams were in Harrison County assisting victims of flooding as shown in this video.

Nationally, the Red Cross has responded to more than 10,000 home fires, helping more than 37,000 people, since January 1, 2022.

My experience as a Red Cross volunteer has been exceptionally rewarding, whether in communications, disaster response or assisting in another capacity. It is an honor to work alongside so many compassionate, capable people, helping those in need and seeing the appreciation and relief of those we assist.

Please consider joining the Red Cross Month celebration by volunteering. You can also provide financial support on Giving Day or any time.

Jessica Voorheis donates blood at the Emerald Event Center in Avon

Blood donors are needed. The American Red Cross blood supply remains incredibly vulnerable – especially as doctors begin to resume elective surgeries previously delayed by the Omicron variant. It’s critical that individuals schedule a blood or platelet donation immediately to help ensure patients get the care they need as soon as possible.

To make an appointment to give blood, visit RedCrossBlood.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or download the Red Cross Blood Donor App. As a thank you, all who give in March will receive a $10 e-gift card, thanks to Fanatics. March blood donors will also have a chance to win a trip for two to the 2022 MLB® All-Star Game® in Los Angeles (terms apply; visit rcblood.org/team for details).

Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross volunteer

Honoring Steve Bullock during Black History Month

By Doug Bardwell, Red Cross volunteer

Northern Ohio has had their share of prominent African Americans:  Olympian Jesse Owens, author Toni Morrison, US Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones, inventor of the modern traffic light Garrett Morgan, and first black mayor of a major U.S. city Carl B Stokes. But, closest to the hearts of Northern Ohio Red Crosser’s is none other than our own Steve Bullock.

Steve Delano Bullock was the youngest of 22 children born to a sharecropper family in segregated North Carolina. He was in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1962 when he first volunteered with the Red Cross. He found a fit in the organization that upholds impartiality – not discriminating based on nationality, race, religion, class or political beliefs – as one of its fundamental principles.

– Steve Bullock, Photo credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Steve began his career with the organization in 1962, working as a caseworker on military installations. His work took him and his family to military posts throughout the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Twenty years later, he became the Chief Executive Officer and Chapter Manager of the Greater Cleveland Chapter.

In Cleveland, he oversaw the launch of Operation Save-A-Life, which aimed to reduce injuries and deaths due to home fires by providing residents in at-risk neighborhoods with fire safety education and free smoke alarms and installations. That initiative has been adopted by the Red Cross nationwide and, as of the end of 2021, more than 2.2 million alarms have been installed and more than 1,200 lives have been saved.

– Northern Ohio Sound the Alarm installation event

Steve Bullock’s career with the American Red Cross spanned six decades. During that time, he has been one of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers and paid staff striving to help Americans and people around the world prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.

But there’s one thing no other Red Crosser will ever be able to claim: Steve was the first African American to sit at the helm of our nation’s premier humanitarian organization, when he was named Acting President of the national agency in Washington, DC.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a more inspiring role model than Steve,” says Mike Parks, Regional CEO of the Red Cross in Northern Ohio. “It’s no wonder our humanitarian award is named in his honor. He has lived a life of service to mankind.” 

Thank you, Steve Bullock, for your years of service to our military members, their families, and our mission. 

If you feel a call to serve as Steve did, the Red Cross has a veritable wealth of opportunities for your talents.  Start your journey here.

Multiple weekend fires force dozens to flee their homes

Red Cross disaster workers respond to 17 calls for help

85 residents of Northern Ohio – including more than two-dozen children – spent part of the weekend seeking shelter, following 17 separate calls for assistance due to home fires. 

One of the first calls on Friday night came from Strongsville, where fire affected 18 units of an apartment building complex.

Disaster Program Specialist Jessi Graber responding to fire in Strongsville

Multiple family fires also occurred over the weekend in Elyria, Bowling Green, Rossford (Wood County) and Toledo, where three multiple family fires occurred.

Red Cross volunteer disaster responder Bob Osicki, also in Strongsville

“It’s important for people to use extreme caution if using space heaters or other alternatives to help heat their homes,” said Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio.  “While we don’t determine the cause of these fires, we do know that alternative heating sources are a major contributor to home fires this time of year.”

Red Cross volunteers who responded to these fires provided the affected residents with more than $20,000 collectively in immediate financial assistance, to help these families find a safe and warm place to stay, get something to eat, replace clothing or fulfill other needs.

The funds are provided by generous donors, who contribute to the Red Cross disaster relief fund, to help during and after disasters big and small.

Donations to help people affected by disaster can be made here.  And to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer disaster responder, visit us here.

Red Cross responds to weekend home fires, works to make homes safer

Volunteers install smoke alarms, assist people during their darkest hours

A dozen weekend fires kept responders busy in Northern Ohio, as firefighters throughout the region worked hard to prevent loss of life and property, while Red Cross volunteers assisted nearly 3-dozen people who were chased from their homes.

In Toledo, fire affected residents living in an eight-unit apartment building on Friday, January 7.  See coverage of the response here.

In all, 35 people were assisted by the Red Cross, which distributed more than $9,200 in immediate financial assistance, to help residents find safe shelter, food, clothing, and other immediate needs.

Red Cross volunteers provide refreshments for Akron firefighters battling a blaze at the former Lawndale School on 01-10-22. Photo credit: Teresa Greenlief, American
Red Cross volunteer.

Red Cross workers also helped about 40 Akron firefighters on Monday morning, as they battled flames in an abandoned school building, providing snacks and hot beverages on a bitterly cold morning.

On Saturday, several Red Cross
volunteers and the Cleveland Fire Department fanned out in the city’s Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood to install free smoke alarms and provide home fire safety information to residents.  This followed a fatal home fire in the area last month.

“People don’t stand a chance if there’s no alarm to warn them about a fire,” said homeowner Juan Ramirez, while Red Cross volunteer Benjamin Cutler installed several new alarms in his Franklin Avenue home.  Volunteer Ellen Braun briefed Mr. Ramirez about keeping him and his family safe, including information about testing smoke alarms every month.

“We walk right under it (smoke alarm) every day. You just don’t think about it,” he said.

Marc Ruckel of West Clinton Avenue said he was grateful that the Red Cross was helping him check smoke alarms off his to-do list.  “It’s something I needed to do,” he said, adding, “I just never got around to it.”

Northern Ohio residents can visit soundthealarm.org/noh to request a home fire safety visit, which includes free smoke alarm installations.  Due to the ongoing pandemic, appointments to fulfill smoke alarm requests may be delayed.

For additional photos, visit our Flickr photo album here.

Volunteers respond to multiple local disasters; mobilize to assist in national relief efforts after horrific weekend tornadoes

It was another busy weekend for American Red Cross Northern Ohio disaster volunteers. Disaster action team members assisted families in nine counties who were affected by home fires, storms and a building collapse. The Red Cross helped 56 individuals, providing $11,433 in immediate assistance. Tragically, two young children died in one home fire. The Red Cross continues to provide home fire safety information to residents and install smoke alarms for those who need them. To request a smoke alarm, visit this site

December 12, 2021. Bowling Green, Kentucky. Sharon Wilson speaks to Red Cross volunteer Amy Miller and explains what happened to her last Saturday morning. Photo by Marko Kokic/American Red Cross

In addition to responding to local disasters, the Red Cross is deeply saddened by the loss of life and incredible devastation brought by the horrific tornadoes that touched down this weekend across multiple states in the center of the country. Over the weekend, Red Cross personnel and volunteers were busy mobilizing to help assist on large relief efforts in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri to provide safe shelter, comfort and support in the face of one of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in years. Northern Ohio volunteers will be leaving in the coming days along with two emergency response vehicles from the Region, each with a two-person crew.

If you are a current volunteer with the Red Cross, please consider deploying to assist in the relief efforts around the Midwest and southern tornadoes. With such widespread damage, we know families will need support for weeks to come and the Red Cross will be there for as long as we are needed. To be considered for deployment, please update your availability in Volunteer Connection and someone will contact you. The Red Cross also needs additional volunteers who are willing to be trained and to deploy to future disasters.  A two-week commitment is typically required. Visit our website or call 216-431-3328 to apply.

In addition to disaster relief, the Red Cross has also provided approximately 200 additional blood products to hospitals in response to these devastating tornadoes. We remain in contact with our hospital partners throughout the affected areas and stand ready to provide additional blood products as needed. We anticipate Red Cross blood drives in affected communities may be canceled or experience lower donor turnout in the coming days, straining supply levels. We depend on the community to donate blood so we are able to provide it to those in need each day. If you are eligible to give, please schedule an appointment in the coming weeks. If you have questions about your eligibility to give, learn more here or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Stay safe while cooking this Thanksgiving

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross Volunteer

On Thanksgiving loved ones gather to celebrate togetherness and express gratitude while sharing a feast. Some will also be assisting others, such as first responders, medical professionals and members of the American Red Cross’ Disaster Action Team (DAT). They will likely be busy. Last year’s Thanksgiving weekend, for example, saw Northern Ohio Red Cross DAT responders help 70 people who experienced home fires. They also continued aiding 80 residents displaced by an apartment fire earlier that week.

As wondrous as Thanksgiving is, home fires are a serious risk. The National Fire Protection Association states that cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries, and that Thanksgiving is the leading day for home fires caused by cooking equipment. Other peak days for home cooking fires are Christmas Day, the day before Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas Eve.

I asked Jani Memorich, a Northern Ohio DAT leader, for her perspective. She said, “My experience as a DAT responder has shown me the horrible effects a cooking fire can have on a family and their home. It seems like such a simple thing to avoid and yet it happens all the time. Even when someone doesn’t think what they are doing will end in a fire, it only takes seconds before it all goes wrong. Staying awake and keeping other items away from the stove seem to be two precautions most circumvented on the cooking fires I have responded to. Should the worst case scenario occur, every home should have a fire plan and everyone in the household should know what to do in the case of fire.”

“My experience as a DAT responder has shown me the horrible effects a cooking fire can have on a family and their home. It seems like such a simple thing to avoid and yet it happens all the time.”

Jani Memorich, Northern Ohio ReGION
Disaster action team Leader

Jani offered this cooking safety tip: Create a list of food and when to prep and cook it. “So many of our dishes take several steps,” she said, “and if you put it down on paper, it takes much of the guess work out. It’s almost like a recipe for the day!” Jani added, “Also, a lot of things happen about an hour out from turkey completion so having a checklist will help you keep it straight and on track. Hopefully eliminating stress helps eliminate mishaps in the kitchen!”

To keep you and your loved ones safe, please follow these cooking safety tips:

  • Never leave frying, grilling or broiling food unattended. If you leave the kitchen for even a moment, turn off the stove. In short, “Keep an eye on what you fry!”
  • Do not use the stove if you may fall asleep. I often saw the results of this as a disaster responder.
  • Move flammable items such as dishtowels, bags, boxes, paper and curtains away from the stove. Also keep children and pets at least three feet away.
  • Avoid wearing loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking.
  • Clean cooking surfaces on a regular basis to prevent grease buildup.
  • Fires can start when the heat is too high. When frying, turn the burner off if you see smoke, or grease starts to boil. Carefully remove the pan from the burner.
  • Keep a pan lid or a cookie sheet nearby. Use it to cover the pan if it catches on fire. This will put out the fire. Leave the pan covered until completely cooled.
  • Turn pot handles to the back of the stove, so no one bumps them or pulls them over.
  • Use a timer to remind yourself the stove or oven is on.
  • Limit the amount of people in the cooking area. Besides lessening the chances of a burn or cut, it will also lower the stress of those preparing food.
  • Oven mitts or items designed to carry hot plates/serving bowls are better at preventing burns than dish towels.
  • Consider purchasing a fire extinguisher for your kitchen. Contact your local fire department to take training on proper use.
  • Check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving home to ensure all stoves, ovens and small appliances are off.

In addition to cooking safely, please also test your smoke alarms, travel safely and consider downloading the free Red Cross First Aid app.

Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving!

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer