A lesson from childhood “Sounded the Alarm” for this Red Cross volunteer

By Sue Wilson, American Red Cross volunteer

American Red Cross volunteers come from many backgrounds, professions, and demographics and show up ready to work with different motivations. Whether it is the desire to make a difference, a way to network and socialize, or to stay active in retirement, a day in the field helping the Red Cross fulfill its mission with one of its many programs is a day well spent.

Elizabeth Sullivan (right), Red Cross Volunteer

Elizabeth Sullivan got involved this past May after a colleague suggested they partner with the Sound the Alarm campaign as part of their Yale Alumni Service activities. Sound the Alarm is part of the Red Cross home fire campaign, established in 2014 to help prevent fire-related fatalities. A similar program began in Cleveland in 1992, when the Red Cross partnered with the Cleveland Division of Fire to reduce fire fatalities by installing smoke alarms in homes and teaching fire safety.

Elizabeth, the director of opinion for cleveland.com, and previous editor of the editorial pages of The Plain Dealer, along with her team and others, installed 175 smoke alarms in 60 homes in Cleveland ‘s Old Brooklyn neighborhood on May 14. For her, the project took on a deeper meaning.

“My father survived a house fire as a child because his older sister came into the room at night with a wet towel, and they put it over their mouths and they crawled along the floor to safely escape,” said Elizabeth.

That experience prompted her father to do annual fire drills with their family when Elizabeth was a child. “We were taught basic fire safety tips, like touch the door before you open it to make sure it’s not hot and to go out the window.”  While she and her siblings had fun climbing out on the roof, the importance of those drills stuck with her.

Red Cross volunteers, Elizabeth Sullivan (far right)

Covid paused this important program over the last two years, but this spring, Red Cross staff members and volunteers like Elizabeth installed 2,374 smoke alarms throughout Northern Ohio, making 929 homes safer.

Home fires claim lives every day, but having working smoke alarms can cut the risk of death by half. The good news? You don’t have to wait until the next Sound the Alarm campaign, the Red Cross installs smoke alarms throughout the year.

If you or someone you know may need a smoke alarm, click here to request a home safety visit and smoke alarm installation. And if Elizabeth’s story encouraged you to want to volunteer, find more information here.

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

929 Northern Ohio homes made safer through Sound the Alarm

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

Volunteers at the Sound the Alarm event in Garfield Heights – 5/13/22

Over the last few weeks, Red Cross volunteers and staff installed 2,374 smoke alarms throughout Northern Ohio, making 929 homes safer. Focus areas for this year’s initiative—the 30th anniversary of a program started in Cleveland—were Cleveland’s Collinwood and Old Brooklyn neighborhoods, Garfield Heights, Akron, Lorain, Wooster Township, Chippewa Township, Napoleon, Ohio, Fostoria, Ohio, and Monroe, Michigan (part of the Red Cross’s Northern Ohio Region.)

“This was my first time participating in a Sound the Alarm installation event, and it was a fantastic experience,” said Christy Peters, regional communications manager. “The residents we spoke with were so thankful for our help, and I left knowing the work we did could mean the difference between life and death for a family, should a home fire occur.”

The 30th anniversary of a partnership with the Cleveland Division of Fire was celebrated on 5/12/22

As I wrote earlier, Sound the Alarm and the Home Fire Campaign grew out of “Operation Save-A-Life,” an initiative begun in Cleveland in 1992, when businessperson and philanthropist Sam Miller joined with other civic leaders, the Cleveland Fire Department, and the Red Cross to reduce fire fatalities through installing smoke alarms and teaching fire safety. It has been remarkably successful, helping keep annual fire fatalities in Cleveland below the 1992 level. The Home Fire Campaign, which includes Sound the Alarm, became a national Red Cross program in 2014.

While Sound the Alarm occurs each May, the Red Cross helps make homes safer year-round. Since July 1, 2021—the beginning of the Red Cross’s fiscal year—5,495 smoke alarms have been installed in Northern Ohio, and 2,102 homes have been made safer.

Fire safety initiatives such as this are vitally important, as we may have just two minutes to escape a home fire. Having working smoke alarms can cut the risk of death in such an event by half.

Volunteer Dick Kincaid tests an alarm he installed in a home in Wooster Township on 5/22/22

Since 2014, the Home Fire campaign has documented saving 21 lives in Northern Ohio, 1,275 nationally. Thanks to this month’s efforts, families in 929 homes throughout our region are now better protected.

For more information on the Home Fire Campaign, including tips on making your home safer, please visit this website.

Photos from this year’s Sound the Alarm and other local events can be viewed here.

Thirty years of lifesaving preparedness: Northern Ohio initiative helps Sound the Alarm

By Tim Poe, Red Cross Volunteer

Former Cleveland Mayor Mike White and then CEO of the Greater Cleveland Chapter, Steve D. Bullock

Part of a lifesaving campaign with its roots in Cleveland, 2022’s Sound the Alarm has begun. Over the next few weeks, the American Red Cross, fire departments and other partners will be visiting neighborhoods, with a goal of installing 50,000 smoke alarms, teaching fire safety and helping families develop two-minute escape plans. The smoke alarm installation portion, paused during the pandemic, returns this year.

The idea began in 1992 when 28 Cleveland residents, half of them children, died in home fires. Businessman and philanthropist Sam Miller chose to act. He joined with other civic leaders, the Red Cross and the Cleveland Fire Department to create “Operation Save-A-Life,” installing smoke alarms throughout the city. Thanks to this and other safety initiatives, annual fire fatalities in Cleveland have remained below the 1992 level.

Other regions took note, and the Red Cross’ Home Fire Campaign became national in 2014. Sound the Alarm is part of the effort. Read this article for more on Operation Save-A-Life and Sam Miller, who passed in 2019.

The program has been an astounding success. Since becoming national, Sound the Alarm and the Home Fire Campaign have saved 1,275 lives in the U.S., 402 under the age of 18. That includes 21 in Northern Ohio; 70 statewide. John Gareis, regional manager, Disaster Preparedness, Northern Ohio Region, pointed out that there are countless additional lives saved that we do not even hear about.

It is critical that the campaign continues, as home fires claim seven lives per day, on average, and are the most frequent disaster in the U.S. And sadly, deaths continue, with 45 fire fatalities reported in Ohio so far this year.

Preparation and smoke alarms are effective. When a fire occurs, you have as little as two minutes to escape, so having a plan and a working alarm are critical.

John has been a key part of the campaign since its beginnings in Cleveland, helping it grow into the national effort it is today.

John said, “We are excited to return to in-person smoke-alarm installation this year, along with continuing to provide fire education. Home fires, like other disasters, can happen anywhere, anytime, and Sound the Alarm helps people be ready. So often we see the effects of those who had prepared and those who, unfortunately, did not. Understanding the basics of fire safety, having escape and communication plans, and knowing what to do does save lives. Helping people during disasters is at the heart of the Red Cross mission, and preparation is key.”

Additional volunteers are welcome.

“Sound the Alarm is a meaningful way to be a part of a larger movement while directly helping local families,” said Tim O’Toole, regional disaster officer in Northern Ohio. “In just one day, you could help save a neighbor’s life by installing smoke alarms—which can cut the risk of dying in a home fire by half.”

If you would like to volunteer, donate, request a smoke alarm or receive assistance preparing for a home fire, visit this site.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross volunteer

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

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.

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.

Dedicated volunteers spend Thanksgiving week assisting home fire victims

While many of us enjoyed time relaxing with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday, American Red Cross disaster volunteers were busy responding to multiple incidents across the Northern Ohio Region. During the week of Thanksgiving, November 22-28, the Red Cross of Northern Ohio responded to 34 home fires, affecting 110 adults and children. We distributed more than $22,000 in immediate assistance to help these families begin the recovery process.


Of the many responses that happened in the past week, three occurred on Thanksgiving Day. Dedicated volunteers in the Northern Ohio Region left their own families and celebrations to assist families facing one of the worst days imaginable. Without the continued commitment of volunteers who are available 24/7 to respond to disasters, the Red Cross could not meet the needs of the many communities we serve.

The Red Cross normally sees an increase in local disasters, especially home fires, during the holiday season and this year is no exception. Cooking accidents and home heating mistakes often lead to fires that leave families stranded during the winter months. The Red Cross encourages the community to celebrate safely in the coming weeks and to read up on our tips to cook and decorate safely.


It’s also important that families are prepared for a home fire that could happen at any time. In most cases, families have less than two minutes to escape a home fire, although many believe they have much longer. The Red Cross encourages you to protect your family by taking two simple steps.

  1. Practice your two-minute escape drill
  2. Test your smoke alarms monthly

In an effort to #EndHomeFires, the Red Cross continues to provide home fire safety information to residents and to install smoke alarms for those who need them. On Monday Nov. 29, volunteers visited 22 homes and installed 67 smoke alarms in Cleveland and East Cleveland. View our photo album here.

For more information on the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, fire safety tips, or to request a smoke alarm, please visit this site. The Red Cross also has an urgent need for volunteers to respond to local disasters and help in other ways as we carry out our lifesaving mission. Learn more about our volunteer positions and sign up today.

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.

Disaster volunteers respond to storm damage, flash flooding

Stormy summer weather prompted calls for assistance from the Northern Ohio Region of the American Red Cross during the weekend of August 13-15.

A family of five received assistance on Friday, after experiencing storm damage at their home in Toledo.

Flash floods in Elyria affected more than two dozen people, who received assistance totaling more than $4,400. The affected residents were able to use the funding to find safe shelter, buy food, clothing, and any other assistance they needed.

March 28, 2021. Ohatchee, Alabama. American Red Cross canvassing the area to provide assistance to all those affected by the devastating spring storms in and around Birmingham, Alabama. Photo by Jaka Vinsek/American Red Cross

Disaster assistance over the weekend was also provided to 10 adults and children who were forced from their homes by fire. Volunteers assisted fire-stricken residents in Cuyahoga, Summit, Portage, Ashtabula, and Monroe County, Michigan.

Andy Garcia – Photo credit: Meg Brinkman, Red Cross volunteer

In an effort to prevent fatal home fires, volunteers in Hancock County helped install smoke alarms and provided home fire safety information to residents in Findlay on Saturday. The effort was organized by Ben Garcia of Findlay, as his Eagle Scout project. Ben is a member of Troop #319 in Findlay. Teams of scouts and volunteers recruited by Ben were joined by local Red Cross volunteers to visit residents in Riverview Terrace and the surrounding neighborhood to install smoke alarms and teach residents about what to do in case a fire breaks out.  

22 homes were made safer, as Ben and the rest of the volunteers installed 49 smoke alarms.

Accompanying Ben were his father, Andy Garcia (pictured here), his mother and his brother.

If your home needs the protection of working smoke alarms, visit our Home Faire Campaign page to request a visit from trained Red Cross volunteers who can provide free smoke alarms, install them, and offer vital home fire safety information.

Another Northern Ohio life saved thanks to volunteers

Arlington, Ohio woman credits fire safety information for helping her escape in April

By Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross

Ramona Martin of Arlington in North Central Ohio safely escaped her home after fire broke out in the early morning hours of April 14, 2021. She was awakened after smoke alarms installed in 2018 by Red Cross volunteers Steve and Valerie Mahler of Findlay sounded.

Ramona Martin, left, with Red Cross volunteers Stephan and Valerie Mahler, standing in front of Ms. Martin’s fire-damaged home in Arlington, Ohio

The installation was part of the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, which was launched in October 2014.  Since then, more than 1,000 lives have been saved following the efforts of volunteers and partners.

“I never thought it would happen to me,” said Ms. Martin.  She credits the fire safety information she received from Steve and Valerie when they installed her smoke alarms for giving her the knowledge she needed to safely escape.  “You have to have an escape plan.” She said she had only about two minutes to get out.

“When we started installing smoke alarms, I contacted my neighbors, family members, people from church, everyone I know,” said Steve.

See additional photos here. Watch Steve interview Ramona here.

Residents can visit SoundtheAlarm.org/noh to request a virtual education session on home fire safety and to request smoke alarm installations.  While the Red Cross has postponed in-home visits due to COVID-19 concerns, we will contact residents to schedule an appointment when we resume our in-home visits or if we are able to offer in-home installations with local fire departments.