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.

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.

Red Cross, HOLA Ohio, and Painesville Fire Department partner for fire safety 

October 2021 Home Fire Campaign kicks off in Painesville and Perry Twp.

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer 

A team comprised of Spanish-language interpreters from HOLA Ohio joined members of the Painesville Fire Department and staff and volunteers from the American Red Cross Northern Ohio region  on Saturday, October 9, to provide fire safety education and install 62 smoke alarms in 25 homes in Painesville and Perry, Ohio.  

This is part of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire Prevention Week, and Hispanic Heritage Month

The Home Fire Campaign launched nationwide in October 2014 and has roots in Northern Ohio. In 1992, businessperson/philanthropist Sam Miller and other civic leaders partnered with the Red Cross and Cleveland Fire Department to find ways to reduce fire fatalities. 

The efforts have been effective. In the past seven years, the campaign has saved 1,048 lives, installed more than 2.2 million smoke alarms, made 948,535 homes safer, and reached 1,698,165 youth. Yet the efforts must continue. According to FEMA, Ohio has had 97 fire fatalities reported in the media so far this year, and on average, seven people die and 36 are injured in the US each day as a result of home fires.  

Tom Revolinsky, Disaster Program Manager of the Red Cross’s Northern Ohio Region said, “As part of Hispanic Heritage Month and Fire Prevention Week, the Red Cross, HOLA, and the Painesville Fire Department have five bilingual teams installing smoke alarms in 25 homes throughout the Painesville/ Perry Area. Fire safety education is the most important part of the installation event, as awareness helps prevent fires. Having bilingual volunteers ensure the message is properly communicated is key to making homes safer.”  

Tom added, “Smoke alarms are the second line of defense in a fire when prevention measures fail. Education, smoke alarms, and an escape plan are all components.” 

Veronica Isabel Dahlberg, Executive Director, HOLA Ohio, said, “We are so grateful for the opportunity to partner with the Painesville Fire Department, the Red Cross, and the volunteers for such an important cause that not only brings our community together, but will also save lives.” 

Chief Thomas C. Hummel Jr. said, “The Painesville City Fire Department is very happy that we are able to partner with the Red Cross and HOLA to provide smoke detectors in our community. We not only installed smoke detectors, we provided valuable fire safety education and offered answers to questions, thanks in a large part to our HOLA volunteers, who assisted with translation. We look forward to continuing this partnership. Any resident who needs a smoke detector installed can contact our office at 440-392-5848 or 5849 during normal business hours to schedule an installation time with our fire department.” 

Participants follow COVID-19 safety protocols. Smoke alarm installations are by appointment and participating Red Cross personnel must be vaccinated, wear masks, practice social distancing, and limit time in homes, among other precautions. Partner organization participants must also adhere to Red Cross guidelines. 

For more information on the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, fire safety tips, or to request a smoke alarm, please visit this site. A Spanish-language version is available here

Visit our photo album for more pictures from the smoke alarm installation event.

Take action this World Humanitarian Day

By Samantha Pudelski, Red Cross volunteer

August 19 is World Humanitarian Day, when we recognize those around the world who help people affected by global crises. In 2021, a record 235 million people required humanitarian assistance according to USAID. Life-threatening crises around the world such as hunger, poverty and conflict are intensifying due to forces such as climate change.

Northeast Ohio native Jenelle Eli, American Red Cross joins Ines and her neighbors in Morelos, Mexico in receiving humanitarian aid from the Red Cross in the wake of a 7.1 earthquake in 2018.

Organizations around the world, including the American Red Cross, International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and Red Crescent Societies, provide humanitarian aid to help communities affected by intense storms, hurricanes and devastating wildfires that have increased in frequency, especially in the last few years. They also are working to provide climate-smart disaster risk reduction—helping communities reduce their risks, increase their resilience and prepare for emergencies that may happen in their region.

Annually, on average, natural hazards cause 67,000 deaths, affect 199 million people and drive 126 million individuals into poverty according to the IFRC. Climate change is causing the number of disasters to increase drastically—doubling the average number of disasters in the last 40 years.

April 7, 2020. Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas. The American Red Cross helped expand the Bahamas Red Cross home meal delivery program to include more people put at risk to food insecurity due to the COVID-19 outbreak causing government implemented lockdowns and 24-hour curfews.

You may be asking yourself, how can I help here in Ohio? There are a few things you can do:

  • Learn more about the effects of climate change and the work organizations like the Red Cross and IFRC are doing to help those who are impacted by disasters. Share what you learn with family and friends.
  • Donate to the Red Cross to help provide aid to victims of disasters and education to communities on how to prepare for future events.
  • Volunteer with the Red Cross in your community and/or consider becoming a member of the Disaster Action Team.

Read more about World Humanitarian Day here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

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.

Water safety saves lives: How to stay safe this summer

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kickoff to summer. People head to local pools and beaches to splash and swim. Before hitting the water, be sure you’re water smart.

By Sam Pudelski, American Red Cross volunteer

Water safety goes beyond just the local swimming pool or lake—it includes rivers, backyard pools, kiddie pools, hot tubs, the ocean and even buckets. It only takes a moment for someone to drown—the time it takes to reply to a text, check the grill or apply sunscreen.

The Red Cross believes by working together to improve swimming skills, water smarts and helping others, countless lives can be saved. Make sure you, your family and loved ones:

  • Learn basic water skills so they can at least enter the water, get a breath, stay afloat, change position, swim a distance then get out of the water safely.
  • Employ layers of protection including barriers to prevent access to water, life jackets, and close supervision of children and weaker swimmers to prevent drowning.

Know what to do in a water emergency—including how to help someone in trouble in the water safely, call for emergency help and CPR.

Photo by Michael Del Polito/American Red Cross © Stock photo taken for the American Red Cross

A history of teaching lifesaving water skills

For over 100 years, the American Red Cross has been teaching people how to swim and training lifeguards through their swimming and water safety programs. The Red Cross was part of the initial effort to train people in the early 1900s when the number of people drowning was on the verge of becoming a national crisis. Many people did not know how to swim and did not have the tools or knowledge we have today about water safety. The effort was led by Wilbert E. Longfellow, a young newspaper reporter, who partnered with the Red Cross to launch a nationwide movement that resulted in a reduction of drowning deaths and allowed more people to enjoy the water safely. Since the program launch in 1914, the Red Cross has taught millions swimming and lifesaving skills.

Photo by Michael Del Polito/American Red Cross © Stock photo taken for the American Red Cross

Lifeguard training

The Red Cross also teaches lifeguard classes for certification and recertification. Courses include lifeguarding, aquatic instructor training, safety training and more.

“The most important thing that we teach in American Red Cross lifeguard classes is not the rescue skills when responding to an emergency, but the ability to recognize potential emergencies before they occur and enabling the lifeguards to prevent them,” said Phillip Hearne, aquatics director at the Hillcrest Family YMCA, where he teaches Red Cross lifeguarding classes. “The most important job of a lifeguard is prevention.”

Watch this video testimonial from Red Cross-trained lifeguards who are employed by the YMCA.

Lifeguard classes enable pools and lakes across Northern Ohio to be safer for their patrons by training the lifeguards that station these areas. They teach lifeguards vital preparation, how to respond to emergencies in a quick manner, as well as how to prevent drownings and injuries.

Whether you are looking for a summer job or are looking for a water safety/swimming class, the Red Cross trains individuals right here in Northern Ohio. Visit redcross.org for more information and to find an upcoming class. And don’t forget to stay safe this summer!


Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Celebrating World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day May 8

By: Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

May 8th is World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, in which the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) collectively thanks its 13 million volunteers worldwide—about 2,000 of which are in Northern Ohio—for their dedication, bravery, kindness, and selflessness.

This day also coincides with Sound the Alarm, as American Red Cross volunteers and staff are helping area residents develop fire safety plans through doorstep visits. Please read this article for more information.

May 8th is the birthday of Henry Dunant, who was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1828, founded the IFRC, and received the first Nobel Peace Prize. After witnessing one of the bloodiest battles of the 19th century, Solferino, and assisting in its aftermath, Dunant wrote A Memory of Solferino, published in 1862. After detailing the horrors of the battle and describing efforts to care for the wounded, Dunant offered a plan that the world’s nations form relief societies and appeal to everyone to volunteer. The following year the Geneva Society for Public Welfare appointed Dunant and four others to examine putting the plan into action. This began the foundation of the Red Cross. More on Henry Dunant is here

It would take more than a century, two world wars, and the 1918 flu pandemic before a Red Cross day would be created, however. During that time, the need and effectiveness of Red Cross societies became even clearer. Following World War II, the Board of Governors of the League of Red Cross Societies requested the study of an International Red Cross Day. It was approved two year later, and May 8, 1948 became the first commemoration of what we now know as World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. Further details are here.

In 2021, the Red Cross’s mission and services are as needed as ever, and the resilience, dedication, flexibility, and selflessness of its volunteers and staff has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the past year has been especially active. In the US, 2020 had the greatest number of billion-dollar disasters in a single year. Here in Northern Ohio, the Red Cross has continued to respond to disasters—including more than three home fires every 24 hours, on average—collect and distribute much needed blood, teach life-saving skills, assist members of the armed services and their families, and help educate the community on home fire safety, virtually and with doorstep visits during tomorrow’s Day of Action.

We recently profiled a few extraordinary volunteers during Volunteer Week. As a Red Cross volunteer, I have been privileged to see such caring and dedication firsthand and have been honored to work alongside some of the kindest, most effective, and remarkable people I have met. Please see here if you would like to join us.

On this World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, we celebrate those who put the Red Cross’s mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering into action, each day.

Spring ahead with smoke alarm checks and escape plan

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

Daylight Saving Time begins this Sunday, and we all know what that means: Turn the clocks ahead one hour and check every smoke alarm in the house.

That first activity isn’t necessarily fun. Who wants to lose an hour of sleep?

But the second – checking your smoke alarms – is vital! It’s a key part of keeping your family safe from one of the most common disasters, a home fire. In fact, in a typical year, the death toll from home fires is higher than the toll from all natural disasters combined.

Most of us don’t realize we have just two minutes to escape a home fire. That’s why the American Red Cross is preparing families to act quickly through our annual Home Fire Campaign.

If you think home fires only happen to “somebody else,” think again.

“In just one year, the Red Cross was called to help nearly 4,300 people who were driven from their homes by fires in northern Ohio,” said Tim O’Toole, who heads up disaster response for the Red Cross in over 31 northern Ohio counties. And that doesn’t count those who didn’t need Red Cross assistance. 

You can help keep your family safe by taking two simple steps:

  • Think through and practice a two-minute home escape plan with your family. (Don’t forget your pets!)
  • Test your smoke alarms every month. (No, it’s not enough to test them a couple of times a year.)

To create a worthwhile home fire escape plan, include at least two ways to get out of every room (doors, windows) and then practice it until every member of your family, old and young, can do it in two minutes or less. Teach children what a smoke alarm sounds like and what to do in an emergency. (Don’t hide! And don’t assume it’s a false alarm.)

Working smoke alarms can cut the risk of dying in a home fire by half.

In addition to testing all alarms monthly, change the batteries once a year (if your models use batteries). Check the date on the alarms; if they’re more than 10 years old, they need to be replaced as the sensors get less sensitive over time.

In 2014, the Red Cross began its Home Fire Campaign to join with fire departments and other safety-minded organizations across the country to cut fire-related deaths and injuries by 25%.

Since then, we’ve installed more than 2.1 million free smoke alarms, reached more than 1.6 million children with preparedness programs and made nearly 900,000 households safer with safety education. Most importantly, we’ve documented more than 800 lives saved.

Please do your part, for your family and your community: Make a plan, check your smoke alarms. Visit soundthealarm.org for more information or to get involved.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Olmsted Township resident escapes home fire after hearing smoke alarm

Alarm was installed by the Red Cross in 2016

By Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

December 16, 2020- Smoke alarms save lives. Just ask Gail Renfro.

The former resident of Olmsted Township was in her living room on the night of October 24, 2020 when she heard a smoke alarm sound. It was coming from her bedroom. When she opened the bedroom door, she saw fire and knew there was no time to waste; she had to get out.

Gail Renfro, center, is flanked by Tim O’Toole, Regional Disaster Officer, and Ellen Braun, Red Cross volunteer.  They installed the smoke alarm in Renfro’s home in 2016

“I turned around and walked out the front door, with the clothes I had on, socks on my feet, and cell phone in hand,” Gail said in a recent interview.

The smoke alarm had been installed four years earlier by Tim O’Toole, Regional Disaster Officer for the American Red Cross of Northern Ohio, during a day-long installation event in the Columbia Park development. Mrs. Renfro was recently reunited virtually with Tim and Ellen Braun, a Red Cross volunteer who accompanied Tim the day the alarm was installed, and who shared with the residents fire safety information, including how to create an escape plan.

That information – and those alarms – have proven to be lifesavers. Not only was Ms. Renfro alerted to the fire that destroyed her home, but one of her neighbors was alerted in a similar way more than a year earlier. Barbara Kovolenko escaped safely from a fire in her home, after hearing the smoke alarm in her home. It was also installed that same day – November 19, 2016.

Barbara Kovolenko with Olmsted Township Fire Chief Patrick Kelly

“Both of these fires show the importance of having a working smoke alarm,” said Olmsted Township Fire Chief Patrick Kelly. “The alarm went off and alerted (the residents) with enough time to be able to exit. That’s what they’re designed to do.”

Chief Kelly credits his department’s partnership with the Red Cross for helping keep residents in his community safe. And while the in-home visits to install smoke alarms are on hold due to the pandemic, lives are still being saved as a result of the alarms that were installed before the program was paused.  

Ellen Braun

Gail Renfro and Barbara Kovolenko are now among more than 800 people whose lives were saved as a result of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign.

“Our home visits have accomplished so much, including the installation of more than 2 million smoke alarms since the inception of the Home Fire Campaign in 2014,” said Tim O’Toole, regional disaster officer for the Red Cross of Northern Ohio. “Once deemed safe to proceed, the Red Cross will resume all Home Fire Campaign programs.”

Tim O’Toole

The need for home fire safety doesn’t end during a pandemic. We urge everyone to take steps to keep their household safe by installing and maintaining smoke alarms, talking with loved ones about fire safety and creating and practicing a home fire escape plan.

And we’re grateful Gail and Barbara did just that.

Visit redcross.org/homefires for free resources.

Watch the reunion of Gail Renfro, Tim O’Toole, Ellen Braun and Chief Kelly here.

Listen to the audio of the reunion on our podcast here.