Tips for decking the halls safely

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

When I was young, I visited the home of an elderly Finnish couple. I remember the heavenly
aroma of special cookies baking for the upcoming Christmas holiday.

But my most vivid memory of that visit was of an unfinished wooden frame in the shape of a
Christmas tree with delicate straw ornaments and real candles burning!

I asked my dad why we didn’t have real candles on our tree. He immediately dismissed the idea as “too dangerous.” Boy, was he right: According to the National Fire Protection Association, candles cause an average 20 home fires a day in the U.S., and these emergencies peak in December and January.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com


The American Red Cross suggests that if you’re decorating with candles this holiday season, consider using the battery-operated kind. They’re flameless, many are scented and they come in a variety of styles, from votives and pillars to tapers for windowsills and the dining table. If you must use real candles, keep them away from anything that could burn and out of reach of pets and children. Never leave burning candles unattended.

The Red Cross offers other steps you can take to be sure you and your family enjoy the
holidays safely:
– Check all light cords to ensure they aren’t frayed or broken. Don’t string too many strands of lights together – no more than three per extension cord.
– Turn off all holiday lights – including window candles – when going to bed or leaving the house.
– Be sure outside decorations are labeled for outdoor use and fasten lights securely to your home or trees. If you’re using hooks or nails outside, make sure they’re insulated to avoid an
electrocution or fire hazard.
– If you’re buying an artificial tree, look for a fire-resistant label.  When putting it up, keep it away from fireplaces, radiators and other sources of heat. Never use electric lights on metallic trees.
– If you’re getting a live tree, make sure it’s fresh – and keep it watered. To test if the tree is fresh, bend the needles up and down to make sure needles aren’t falling off.
– Clear the mantel of stockings and other dangling decorations before lighting a fireplace.
– Check the labels on older decorations. Some older tinsel is lead-based. If using angel hair, wear gloves to avoid irritation. Avoid breathing in artificial snow.
– If you’re using a ladder to hang the mistletoe or place a tree-topper, be extra careful. Make sure to have good, stable placement and wear shoes that allow for good traction.

The Red Cross responds to more than 60,000 disasters a year – and the majority are home fires. Home fires claim seven lives a day in the U.S., but working smoke alarms can cut the risk of death by half. This is a good time to test your smoke alarms and practice your home fire escape plan until everyone can get out in less than two minutes: That’s how long you may have to leave a burning home before it’s too late.

If you’re looking for a gift for that someone “who has everything,” how about a new smoke
alarm, carbon monoxide detector, fire extinguisher or emergency escape ladder?

How about a donation in that person’s name to the American Red Cross, to support activities
that help prepare for, prevent and respond to disasters down the street, across the country and around the world? To make a donation, visit here.

Don’t forget to TURN and TEST this weekend

This Sunday marks the end of Daylight Saving Time for 2021, meaning we will “fall back” one hour. As you turn back your clocks this weekend, the American Red Cross asks everyone to also test their smoke alarms.

Home fires are the nation’s most frequent disaster and tragically take seven lives every day in this country. Individuals may have as little as two minutes to escape a burning home before it’s too late. An early warning from a working smoke alarm, plus a fire escape plan that has been practiced regularly, can save lives.

“It’s critical to take action now to be as safe as possible as the threat of home fires increases with the holidays and cooler weather,” said Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio. “In fiscal year 2021, Red Cross volunteers in our region responded to more than 1,100 home fires. The good news is that you can take a few simple steps this weekend to help protect your loved ones.”

Follow these simple tests to get your home ready:

  1. Test all existing smoke alarms, and make a plan to check them monthly.
  2. Check to make sure you have smoke alarms installed on every level of your home, including inside and outside of bedrooms and sleeping areas.
  3. Replace any smoke alarms that are 10 years old or older. Components such as sensors can become less sensitive over time. Follow your alarm’s manufacturer instructions.
  4. Practice your two-minute home fire escape plan. Make sure everyone in your household can get out in less than two minutes. Include at least two ways to get out of every room and select a meeting spot at a safe distance away from your home, such as your neighbor’s home or landmark like a specific tree in your front yard, where everyone can meet.

Red Cross Home Fire Campaign

Since October 2014, the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign with community partners has saved at least 1,048 lives by educating families about fire safety, helping them create escape plans and installing more than 2.2 million free smoke alarms in high-risk homes across the country. 

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.

No better time to make homes safer

By Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross

James Mays lives alone in a roomy house in Cleveland, and is extra cautious about preventing a home fire.  “I’m pretty spooked out about it,” he said on the morning before Halloween, as American Red Cross volunteers Brittany Tucker and Walter Reddick installed new smoke alarms in his home.

Red Cross volunteers Walter Reddick and Brittany Tucker install a smoke alarm

James said he’s experienced two fires in his life.  “You have to really be watchful,” he said.

James’ home was one of 22 made safer on October 30, 2021, as six Red Cross volunteers, three staff members and two Cleveland firefighters visited homes in Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood. All were observing safety measures to protect themselves, each other and the residents they visited by wearing face coverings and being socially distanced when possible.

Red Cross volunteer Brittany Tucker and Cleveland resident James Mays

“I saw it on TV,” said Carolyn Lee, referring to a message urging people to test their alarms when they turn back their clocks to end daylight saving time on November 7.  It prompted Carolyn, who has nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren to call the Cleveland Division of Fire, which works closely with the Red Cross to install alarms and share home fire safety information with residents who make an appointment.

Carolyn’s son Treyfus Lee was visiting when the Red Cross arrived.  The U.S. Army veteran grew up in the house and said the alarms hadn’t been changed in “quite a while.”  He was told smoke alarm sensors have a 10-year life span, and that all alarms should be tested monthly.

Treyfus Lee, left and his mother Carolyn Lee

It was a timely message, delivered a week before the time change, and a reminder to all residents: when you turn back your clocks, test your smoke alarms.

To make an appointment for a home fire safety visit and to have free smoke alarms installed in your home, visit our website.  Residents of Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula Counties can also call 216-361-5535.  Residents of Summit, Mahoning, Trumbull, Medina, Portage and Columbiana counties can call 330-535-2030.  In Stark, Wayne, Ashland, Carroll, Holmes, Harrison and Tuscarawas Counties, residents can call 330-453-0146. In Erie, Hancock, Huron, Lorain, Putnam, Seneca, and Wyandot Counties, residents can call 419-422-9322. In Lucas, Fulton, Henry, Ottawa, Sandusky, Wood, and Monroe County, Michigan, residents can call 419-329-2900.

Photos by Dave Eadelis, American Red Cross volunteer. For more photos, visit our Flickr album.

Stay warm safely this winter

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

We all have used them at one time or another. Just that added little bit of heat can make a nice difference on a really cold day. But did you know that space heaters account for four out of every five home heating fire deaths?

With the forecast calling for overnight temperatures dipping into the 40’s this week – and into the 30’s next week in Northern Ohio, you may be tempted to break out your space heaters.  And there are some things to keep in mind.

Any time you are using a portable electric heater, it’s important to remember to keep them at least three feet – from EVERYTHING. Look around and anything that’s liable to burn should be well away from those hot elements. Bed linens, blankets, socks, children’s clothes, draperies, newspapers and magazines, cardboard boxes, paper bags . . . they are all able to ignite easily if they contact the heating elements of a space heater.

Also, remember that space heater cords are designed to safety transmit the electricity needed to operate the device itself, but often, household extension cords are not. Many cords have wires that are a smaller gauge than required to transfer all the electrical current required by the space heater. That can cause inexpensive extension cords to literally melt and start a fire just from continued use.

To view a video with tips from the National Fire Protection Association, CLICK HERE.

The ‘three-foot’ rule

Space heaters aren’t the only things that benefit from the three-foot rule. The same goes for fireplaces, wood stoves, candles and your furnace. It’s best to teach young children that it’s a “Kid Free Zone” around anything flammable and that they are not allowed to be any closer than that.

And while half of home heating fires happen in the months of December, January and February, it’s also a good rule all year long. With windows open in the summertime, a breeze could easily blow draperies or loose paper into a burning candle if set too close. We need to be vigilant all year long.

Sweep and service

Other heating appliances also need your attention each year. Your furnace should be routinely serviced each year before heating season. Heating coils should be cleaned professionally. And don’t forget to change filters in your furnace every couple of months at least. With routine cleaning and new filters, your furnace will not only last longer, but you’ll feel warmer and have cleaner air to breathe.

Lastly, don’t forget that fireplace. Chimneys can get coated with creosote, and with as little as 1/8 to 1/4 inch of creosote on the walls of your chimney, when temperatures reach 451 degrees, creosote can catch fire.  A chimney fire has the potential to burn down an entire house, so check your chimneys if you haven’t had them cleaned recently.

Alarms save lives

On top of your home safety checklist should be to make sure that you have installed working smoke and CO2 alarms throughout your home. You need to check regularly that the batteries are fresh and that any alarm manufactured before 2011 is replaced. Even if the batteries are new, the actual detection mechanisms in smoke alarms cease to function after 10 years. Replace them immediately.

If you need alarms and can’t afford them or can’t install them, call the American Red Cross to be put on our complimentary free alarm installation list. Visit this site to learn more or to get on the list.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Red Cross offers home fire preparedness tips during National Fire Prevention Week

By Chris Chmura, American Red Cross volunteer

Next week is National Fire Prevention Week and the American Red Cross wants to ensure everyone is prepared should they experience a home fire. So far in 2021, Ohio has had 95 home fire fatalities vs. 67 in 2020. 

We lost four on-duty firefighters in 2021 and the year is not over. These heroes were willing to give up their lives to help save lives of fellow Ohioans.  

Could your family escape in 2 minutes in case of a home fire?

A survey conducted for the Red Cross, shows that people mistakenly believe they have more time than they really do to escape a burning home. Fire experts agree that people may have as little as two minutes to escape before it’s too late to get out. But most Americans (62%) mistakenly believe they have at least five minutes to escape, more than twice the amount they have. Nearly 18% mistakenly believe they have ten minutes or more to get out. 

The American Red Cross urges everyone prepare by practicing their home fire escape plan and testing their smoke alarms.

1. Practice a 2-Minute Fire Drill 

Use our worksheet to draw your home’s floor plan and plot your escape routes. 

  • Practice your 2-minute drill (from home to a safe meeting place) at least twice a year.
  • Everyone in your household should know two ways to escape from each room in your home. 
  • In a real fire, remember to get out, stay out and call 911. Never go back inside for people, pets or things. 

2. Test Your Smoke Alarms Monthly

Test your smoke alarms monthly by pressing the test button. 

  • You should hear three beeps, letting you know the alarm is working. 
  • Don’t hear the beeps? Then it’s time to change the batteries if your model requires them.
  • If your smoke alarm is 10 years old, it’s time to get a new alarm because the sensor becomes less sensitive over time. 

Teach kids about preparedness

Our age-appropriate preparedness materials include engaging activities and easy action steps that youth will find both fun and effective.

Volunteer to help those affected by home fires

Join your local Red Cross to help families prepare for, respond to, and recover from home fire. The need for volunteers continues amidst a busy disaster season. Disaster action team members from the Red Cross Northern Ohio Region responded to nine local events over the weekend, all of them home fires. Several individuals were affected, including 30 adults and 7 children. The Red Cross provided more than $10,400 in immediate assistance.

Make a donation

Your financial gift allows the Red Cross to provide food, comfort and aid to those who have lost their home to fire. It also helps us install free smoke alarms and educate families on fire safety.

Be prepared before disaster strikes

Be prepared for disasters and other emergencies with a well-stocked emergency kit for your home, workplace and automobile. Choose from a variety of survival kits and emergency preparedness supplies to help you plan ahead for tornadoes, flooding, fire and other disasters.

September is National Preparedness Month: Get ready now

Emergencies more frequent, larger due to climate change

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

During my time as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) member, I saw many levels of preparedness and their impact once a disaster happened, whether a fire, flood, tornado or other event. Families and communities who had prepared were much better able to respond and begin recovering than those who had not. The American Red Cross assists all in need but preparation makes a tremendous difference, especially as climate change causes more severe weather. The Red Cross Northern Ohio Region urges everyone to get ready.

While home fires remain the most frequent disaster in Northern Ohio, climate change is having an impact. Sustainable Cleveland’s Action Plan states, “… annual temperatures in the Midwest, including Northeast Ohio, have increased over the last several decades. Heat waves are becoming more frequent. Snow and ice are arriving later in the fall and are starting to melt earlier in the spring. Heavy downpours now occur twice as frequently as they did a century ago.”

For an additional perspective, I reached out to John Gareis, Regional Manager, Disaster Preparedness, Red Cross Northern Ohio Region. John said, “Disasters can happen anywhere, anytime. We urge people to prepare now and be ready if an emergency occurs in their home or in our local community.

“No one plans to be in a disaster,” John continued. “Unfortunately, so often we help families who have done nothing to prepare, and they rely on the Red Cross to help them get on their feet and begin piecing together their lives. Understanding the basics of being prepared, having a communication plan, and knowing what to do in an emergency does save lives. Helping people during disasters is at the heart of our mission, and climate change is a serious threat we are all facing. While we celebrate Emergency Preparedness awareness every September, being prepared should happen all year long. Help keep your loved ones safe — get Red Cross Ready today.”

HOW TO GET PREPARED

Help keep your family safe: 1) Get a Kit. 2) Make a Plan. 3) Be Informed.

  1. Build your emergency kit with a gallon of water per person, per day, non-perishable food, a flashlight, battery-powered radio, first aid kit, medications, supplies for infants or pets, a multi-purpose tool, personal hygiene items, copies of important papers, cell phone chargers, blankets, maps of the area and emergency contact information.
  2. Plan what to do in case you and your family are separated or evacuating. Coordinate your plan with your child’s school, your work and your community. Don’t forget your pets. If you need to evacuate, so does your pet. Know which pet-friendly hotels are in your area and where your pets can stay.
  3. Stay informed by knowing how local officials will contact you during a disaster and how to get important information.

Also consider your family’s needs and each person’s capabilities. Older adults and those with disabilities need a support network that can help in an emergency, especially during an evacuation or extended loss of power.

Speak with children about preparing for common emergencies, staying safe and what to expect before a disaster happens. The Red Cross has free programs and tools to help at redcross.org/youthprep.

Free Red Cross apps are also available.

Finally, help your community prepare and respond to disasters. You can do so by donating blood, learning lifesaving skills or volunteering with the Red Cross or other organization.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Excessive heat a reminder to enjoy the end of summer safely

Although fall is right around the corner, you’d never know it from the recent high temperatures we’ve been experiencing in northern Ohio. Many people don’t realize excessive heat causes more deaths than all other weather events. As many of us squeeze in our final summer activities in the coming weeks, remember to stay safe when temperatures rise.

June 27, 2021. Talent, Oregon. Red Cross volunteer Chuck Albin delivering water and snacks to a cooling center in Talent, Oregon. Photo by Patty Albin/American Red Cross

Hot cars can be deadly so never leave children or pets in your vehicle. The inside temperature of the car can quickly reach 120 degrees. Check on family, friends and neighbors who do not have air conditioning, who spend much of their time alone or who are more likely to be affected by the heat. If someone doesn’t have air conditioning, they should seek relief from the heat during the warmest part of the day in places such as schools, libraries, theaters and malls.

And, don’t forget your pets! Read our recent blog on how to protect your pets during extreme heat. Also, download the Red Cross Pet First Aid app so you’re prepared in a pet emergency.

Extreme heat can often lead to thunderstorms and power outages. If thunder roars, go indoors! Watch for darkening skies, lightning flashes or increasing wind. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be in danger from lightning. Postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are likely to occur. If a severe thunderstorm warning is issued, take shelter in a substantial building or in a vehicle with the windows closed. If you are in a building, keep away from windows. Get out of mobile homes as they can blow over in high winds and do not take a bath, shower or use plumbing.

Wishing everyone a safe and enjoyable end of summer!

Keep an eye on your pets in this heat

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

Here we are, still in the dog days of summer. If you’re not sweating out heat and humidity today, you’re likely to again before we slide into the cooler days of fall.

But what about our furry friends, our dogs and cats? Do they sweat the misery of hot, humid weather?

Actually, dogs and cats do sweat to cool off. And their fur acts as insulation.

But pets rely on us, “their people,” to behave like the “alpha animals” in their lives and protect them from the worst of summer.

“The American Red Cross focuses on the welfare of human beings, but we know how important pets are to people,” said Dr. Eve Schaming,  veterinarian at Sagamore Hills Animal Hospital in Summit County.  “That’s why we want to help folks prevent heat-related issues with their animals.”

Provide plenty of fresh water. To avoid pet heat exhaustion, make sure your pets have plenty of cool, fresh water and access to shade all day long.

Never leave your pet in the car. And no, cracking the window open or parking in the shade doesn’t count! The inside of a vehicle can reach 120 degrees in a matter of minutes, which puts an animal in real danger.

And watch the humidity. Just like humans, our pets sweat or pant to cool off, but high humidity slows that process down.

The Red Cross offers these steps to treat heat stroke in dogs:

  • Get your animal out of direct heat.
  • Check for signs of shock, which include: collapse, body temperature of more than 104, bloody diarrhea or vomit, stupor, seizures or coma, excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, salivation.
  • Take your dog’s temperature.
  • Spray your dog with cool water and then retake its temperature.
  • Put water-soaked towels on the dog’s head, neck, feet, chest and abdomen; turn on a fan an point it in the dog’s direction; rub isopropyl alcohol (70%) on the foot pads, but don’t use large quantities.
  • Take your dog to the nearest veterinarian. The effects of heat stroke may not show up right away.

Pay special attention to older animals and to dogs with shorter noses (like pugs, boxers and bulldogs). They’re at greater risk for heat stroke.

Protect your pet’s paws from hot surfaces. Walk your pet in the grass or the shade whenever possible. If the pavement is too hot for your bare feet, it’s too hot for your pet’s paws! If it needs to go outside on a hard surface to “do its business,” try wetting the surface with a hose or water bottle to help cool it off.

Don’t overdo outdoor exercise. Often, dogs don’t know when they need a break, so it’s up to us, “their people,” to stop for regular shaded breaks and offer water. Try to plan your walks, hikes or runs during the cooler times of day. (Better for you too!)

Whether it’s hot or not, check with your vet to see if your pets should be taking heartworm prevention medication. Heartworm disease, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, can be fatal to both dogs and cats.

The Humane Society of the United States says fleas and ticks are another summer threat. Only use flea and tick treatments recommended by your vet; some over-the-counter product can be toxic, even when used according to directions.

You can have first aid advice for everyday pet emergencies at your fingertips by downloading the Red Cross Pet First Aid App from smartphone app stores by searching for the American Red Cross or by going to redcross.org/apps.

Pet owners can also access the Red Cross Cat and Dog First Aid online course on a desktop or tablet at redcross.org/catdogfirstaid. The 35-minute course covers:

  • How to determine a pet’s normal vital signs so you can spot something that’s out of the ordinary;
  • Step-by-step instructions for what to do if a pet is choking, needs CPR, has a wound or is having a seizure; and
  • Information on preventative care, health and tips for a pet’s well-being.

My neighbor’s dog, Nap, thanks you. And so does my son’s cat, Spike.

Northern Ohio Region weekend disaster response report: July 17-18, 2021

Over the weekend, the American Red Cross was once again very active responding to calls across Northern Ohio and assisting residents who have suffered a local disaster.

IMG_5580

During the weekend of July 17-18, the Red Cross responded to 9 incidents across the region, including home fires and flooding. The disaster team assisted 15 adults and 11 children, and provided more than $5,5000 in immediate financial assistance.

While many of us hear “disaster” and think of large events like wildfires and hurricanes, local disasters are where much of our response happens. In fact, every 24 hours, on average, the Northern Ohio Red Cross responds to three home fires, as well as floods and severe storms. Red Cross volunteers are on call and ready to respond 24/7 when a disaster strikes. After emergency personnel, these individuals are often some of the first people to be on scene at a disaster. They assess the victims’ needs and ensure they have food, clothing, shelter and other services to help take the first steps to recovery.

The Red Cross is committed to helping our community prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies. We are able to make a difference in our local communities because of the generosity of our donors and support of our volunteers.

If you would like to provide a financial donation to assist the Red Cross’ efforts to support the residents of Northern Ohio, visit redcross.org/donate, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. If you cannot support the Red Cross monetarily but you are interested in making an impact in your local community, the Red Cross is always looking for volunteers. To volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more and sign up.

Emergency preparedness programs remain virtual

 A variety of virtual programs being offered online to help you better prepare for emergencies

Despite pandemic restrictions being lifted in so many areas of our daily lives, our efforts to be sure you can Be Red Cross Ready remain available to you free of charge, and from the comfort of your own home.

Be Red Cross Ready is a national, standardized, FREE preparedness education curriculum for adults taught by certified presenters. The program is designed to help people understand, prepare for and respond appropriately to disasters big and small.

“We offer people good reminders about being prepared and staying safe,” said John Gareis, Regional Preparedness Manager. “It’s common sense information that people may not think about, like not opening a door when there’s fire burning on the other side.”

John said attendance numbers vary. He said 175 employees of First Energy were in attendance during one of the emergency preparedness sessions.

All you need is a laptop or smart phone to access the online classroom. This month, topics being covered include General Preparedness and Tornado Safety, Summer Fire Safety Tips, Smoke Alarm Safety, and Summer Pet Safety.

Visit our calendar of events to view the days and times for each session, and visit our website for more information on each topic.