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.

Out on a date and saving lives

By Paul Wadowick, American Red Cross volunteer

December 14, 2020- Richard and Margaret LaDu have been dating throughout their sixty-four years of marriage. Now, they date to donate their own life’s blood to save lives.

Richard began donating blood while in the Army Reserves during the Korean Conflict Era. Margaret started early during her thirty years career as an elementary school teacher. When asked why they donate, this simple response was spoken: “To help others”.

“When we value another person over ourselves, we share life,” added Richard.

Richard and Margaret LaDu

The traditional slump in blood donations, which occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, comes as the blood supply already faces challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic. Required medical treatments and emergencies don’t pause for the holidays or a widespread coronavirus outbreak. Blood, platelet and plasma donors are urged to give now to help avoid delays in lifesaving medical care for patients.

Do you need a last minute gift ideas for that person who has everything? Donate blood in honor of a loved one and inform them that their present is the gift of life. Then together you can follow your blood’s journey on the Red Cross Blood Donor App and see the lives you helped.

Download the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enable the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device to make an appointment and for more information about any of the drives listed here.

May we keep in mind that ‘the giving of ourselves to others’ occurs every day throughout the year.

Stuff happens…but the Red Cross still responds

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer 

December 11, 2020- Despite coronavirus, despite masks, despite quarantines, despite lockdowns, despite political controversy, despite all these things; one thing remained constant for the American Red Cross through most of 2020; the need to help others – which has always been the overall humanitarian effort for employees and volunteers based here in Northern Ohio.  

Disasters don’t take time off for COVID-19, so while the Red Cross has had to change methods, we still need to complete our mission.  Reviewing the numbers, it appears we have done just that.

Luckily, Northern Ohio was spared from the huge disasters that plagued the West Coast and the Gulf Coast. However, due to the size of the disasters and the fact that they lasted so long, more than 100 Northern Ohio (NOH) volunteers left the comfort of their homes and headed west to battle the wildfires, while others provided shelter and comfort to those affected by hurricanes Laura, Sally, Beta and Zeta; all the while keeping everyone safe from COVID-19. They were among almost 2,800 volunteers who served in the region in FY 2020. 

Here at home, Disaster Action Team members responded to nearly 1,200 local events – most of them home and apartment fires. More than a million dollars of financial aid was made immediately available to those who were experiencing possibly the worst days of their lives.

To help Ohioans save lives, a big part of Red Cross activities is teaching children and adults through community preparedness education.  In 2020, more than 10,500 people took part community wide. Age-appropriate disaster preparedness classes were offered to 4,441 3rd, 4th, and 5th-grade students.  

Being proactive, nearly 61,500 individuals completed potentially lifesaving classes from babysitting to lifeguarding, as well as CPR, first aid and the use of an AED.  

Our Service to the Armed Forces group completed 5,500 case services for military families and delivered “Get to Know Us” briefings to nearly 5,400 military members and their families before deploying from Northern Ohio. 

And if those numbers weren’t enough to impress, how about our Biomedical Services group which collected more than 168,700 units of blood in FY 2020 during hundreds of blood drives, using the best COVID protocols available.  

And from those donations, we’ve been able to create 506,000 life-supporting blood products to help patients in 80 hospitals across Northern Ohio.  In addition, we’ve recently been able to collect and distribute 40,000 convalescent plasma products. 

Nationally, the need is greater than ever, as shown on the graph above, and by some totals of our national response below. 

All these accomplishments are possible through the generous donation of time from our volunteers and the financial contributions of our generous donors.  If you’d like to be a part of this great humanitarian effort, consider volunteering or making a contribution before year end. 

Be the Lifeline Patients Need This Holiday Season – Give Blood!

Read on for a list of blood drives in Northern Ohio

By Christy Peters, Regional External Communications Manager, American Red Cross

December 9, 2020- Without volunteer blood donors, patients would not have the lifesaving treatments they need. The American Red Cross is urging the community to donate blood and be the lifeline patients need this holiday season.

The traditional slump in blood donations between Thanksgiving and New Year’s comes as the blood supply already faces challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic. Required medical treatments and emergencies don’t pause for the holidays or a widespread coronavirus outbreak. Blood, platelet and plasma donors are urged to give now to help avoid delays in lifesaving medical care for patients.

All who come to give Dec. 18-Jan. 4 will receive a Red Cross long-sleeved T-shirt, while supplies last. Join us at one of several holiday blood drives happening in northern Ohio and give the gift of life this holiday season

May 29, 2020. Rockville, Maryland. Whole blood donor Gloria Thornton. Photo by Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross

All who come to give Dec. 18-Jan. 4 will receive a Red Cross long-sleeved T-shirt, while supplies last. Join us at one of several holiday blood drives happening in northern Ohio and give the gift of life this holiday season:

Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020

Holiday Bazaar Blood Drive

Cleveland Marriott Downtown at Key Center

1360 W. Mall Dr., Cleveland, 44114

8 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 18, 2020

Holiday Blood Drive

Market Square at Crocker Park

239 Market St., Westlake, 44145

10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Monday & Tuesday, Dec. 21 & 22, 2020

Holiday Blood Drive

Sheraton Suites Akron/Cuyahoga Falls

1989 Front St., Cuyahoga Falls, 44221

Monday: 1 p.m.-7 p.m.

Tuesday: 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020

WNWO Holiday Blood Drive

Hilton Garden Inn Perrysburg

6165 Levis Commons, Perrysburg, 43551

7 a.m.-6 p.m.

Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020

Mahoning Valley Holiday Blood Drives

Stambaugh Auditorium, 1000 5th Ave., Youngstown

Packard Music Hall, 1703 Mahoning Ave., Warren

9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2020

Give From the Heart Blood Drive

Cleveland Marriott East

26300 Harvard Road, Warrensville Heights, 44122

7 a.m.-7 p.m.

The Red Cross is testing blood donations for COVID-19 antibodies. As part of this effort, plasma from standard blood donations that test positive for COVID-19 antibodies may now help current coronavirus patients in need of convalescent plasma transfusions. Donors are required to wear a face covering or mask while at blood drives, in alignment with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public guidance. We are grateful to our philanthropic partners, including The Thomases Family Endowment of the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, for supporting our COVID-19 antibody testing program.

Download the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enable the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device to make an appointment and for more information about any of the drives listed here.

Candles can cause colossal catastrophes: Tips to ensure a safe holiday glow

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

December 7, 2020- “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

This phrase has been attributed to many people, from Confucius to Eleanor Roosevelt; but neither of them ever manned a Northern Ohio Disaster Action Team and saw the consequences of a candle left burning unattended.

Pulling up to what used to be a beautiful home in Chardon and seeing a giant hole gaping through the roof, was testament to the destructive power of lighting one little candle. In addition, one person was temporarily hospitalized and the family’s pet was lost to the fire. Not the way they anticipated starting the holiday season.

The holiday glow is something everyone loves. Here are nine tips to safely enjoy the holidays:

  1. If you want candles, make them the battery-operated kind.
  2. If you use outdoor lights, make sure the cords aren’t frayed or broken.
  3. When using decorations outside, make sure the cords are rated for outdoor use.
  4. If you get an artificial tree, make sure it has a fire-resistant label attached.
  5. If you get a live tree, make sure it’s fresh and keep it watered. If needles fall off, select another.
  6. If the stockings are hung above the fireplace, don’t light it. Find somewhere else to hang them.
  7. Check for safety labels on other decorations –- some are lead based and some artificial snow is toxic to breathe.
  8. If you climb a ladder to decorate, make sure it’s placed on secure ground and don’t climb higher than recommended.
  9. Check your home’s smoke alarms one more time before the holidays. Replace batteries if needed or replace the alarm if it’s more than 10 years old.

Okay, now you’re less likely to have a problem. How about sharing these tips with your parents or elder relatives? They are more likely to have old ornaments and lights that should have been replaced years ago. They’ll be grateful that you took an interest in their safety.

For even more safety preparation ideas, download and check out the free Red Cross Emergency app, for either iOS or Android, available from app stores. Then, light that one little battery-operated candle and have a happy holiday season!

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Festival of Trees spreads holiday cheer and the Red Cross mission

Annual event goes virtual

By Eric Alves, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

December 4, 2020- Some of our holiday traditions will look a little different this year due to COVID-19, and the desire to keep everyone safe. It was no different for the annual American Red Cross of Heartland, Stark and Muskingum Lakes Festival of Trees.

While still featuring the decorated holiday trees, beautiful wreaths and other auction items, this premier Northern Ohio holiday event went virtual in 2020.

The event helps neighbors who experience a disaster like a home fire. The money raised by this event helps the Red Cross in our community provide financial assistance that will give these families a warm, safe place to sleep, food, and any other immediate assistance needed.

The 2020 Festival of Trees honorary chair was Sean Ulik. Sean, a native of Canton, has spent the last seven years in service on the Red Cross board and has chaired the event for the last two years

Beginning at noon on Thanksgiving Day, bidders were able to help finish their holiday list through an online auction.

The Festival of Trees ended on December 1, which was also Giving Tuesday, with a virtual Facebook Live event, which even had a special guest appearance by Cousin Eddie from the holiday classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!

This year, the event auction raised nearly $15,000, along with an additional $2,000 in generous donations.

On Giving Tuesday, the Red Cross across the country raised $2.1 million, which is an increase of 46% from last year.

In addition to the auction, every year there is great anticipation as to which of our generous designers, who donated the trees and wreaths, will be named award winners.

This year’s winners are:

  • Best Use of Theme Designer- Tree Root Santa
  • Most Christmassy Designer- Tree Root Santa
  • Most Whimsical Designer- Magical Disney Tree
  • Best Wreath Designer- Dashing Through the Snow
  • People’s Choice Designer- Champagne Wishes
  • Honorary Chair Choice Designer- O-H-I-Ho ho ho

Thank you to everyone who helped make the 2020 Festival of Trees a success. If your bid did not win or you are looking for another way to help the Red Cross, you can show your support by volunteering, donating blood and platelets and making a donation.

In case you missed the virtual wrap-up event, or just want to enjoy the fun again, you can watch it below:

December’s Be Red Cross Ready presentations focus on winter, holiday, pet, and COVID-19 safety

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer.

December 1, 2020- As I write this, our first winter storm of the season taps at the window as the wind begins to wail. Appropriately, this post concerns this month’s Be Red Cross Ready presentations. These free, one-hour, online presentations are available to everyone. They offer tips and advice on how to prevent and respond to disasters.

The American Red Cross helps everyone prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters year-round. Additionally, winter and the holiday season pose unique challenges, and we continue to face a global pandemic. The expertise offered in these presentations is designed to help.

The first presentation of the month, General Preparedness & Home Fire Safety, is offered today at 3:00 p.m. The General Preparedness portion helps families prepare for emergencies of all kinds, while the Fire Safety portion focuses on how home fires happen and steps to help avoid them. 

Many of us across Northern Ohio will face the first significant snowfall of the season this week. It is quite timely, then, that the 2nd is the date of the General Preparedness & Winter Safety session. General Preparedness will focus on preparing for all types of emergencies, while Winter Safety helps us deal with winter storms and avoid being victims. This would be an excellent, timely session to join as the snow flies. A similar session, General Preparedness & Winter Storm Safety will take place on the 10th.

To help ensure pets are safe this winter, the Red Cross offers three Winter Pet Safety presentations in December. These sessions remind dog and cat owners of potential hazards and suggest precautions that will help keep pets safe. The presentation also provides emergency care tips to take until veterinary assistance is available. Signs of a healthy pet is also discussed, so owners are better prepared to recognize health problems early.

Home Safety is critically important throughout the year, and the Holiday Season presents additional risks and concerns. To better help participants and their families stay safe, four presentations on Holiday Home Safety are offered this month. These sessions focus on avoiding mishaps during the season and offer advice on general preparedness.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

While December is a time of gatherings and celebrations, the COVID-19 pandemic is surging, and we must all focus on reducing its spread. Three Holiday Gatherings & COVID presentations are offered this month. These sessions focus on how the coronavirus is still very much around us and what actions can be taken during holiday gatherings to keep our families safe.

To join any of these presentations, please register by clicking the date and time of the topic in which you are interested. The password is Prepare20. All times are Eastern Standard.

Additional safety tips and resources are available at redcross.org and the free Red Cross mobile apps.

Thanksgiving weekend disasters drive dozens from their homes

Red Cross workers kept busy during the holiday weekend

By Eric Alves, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

November 30, 2020- In between second helpings and Thanksgiving leftovers, disaster workers from the Northern Ohio Region were active this holiday weekend assisting residents following several local disasters.

During the long holiday weekend, the Red Cross of Northern Ohio provided comfort and support, both virtually and socially distant, to 70 individuals who experienced a home fire, and provided more than $14,000 in financial assistance to aid those affected with immediate needs, such as food, lodging and clothing.

In addition to the weekend disasters, the Red Cross continued to assist 80 residents, and provided shelter at two hotels for more than 60 of the residents, following an apartment fire last Monday at the Oblate Residences apartment complex in west Toledo

Red Cross disaster workers helping to provide meals to residents affected by the Oblate Residences fire

The residents were unable to be home for Thanksgiving due to the fire damaging the apartment building’s electrical system, and it could be several days before repairs are completed.

Partners like Mobile Meals of Toledo helped the Red Cross provide meals to the displaced residents.

Hotel rooms are being used, instead of more traditional congregate shelter space, to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  In addition, Red Cross workers are wearing face coverings and sanitizing their hands frequently, as well as adhering to social distancing guidelines.

For the fiscal year to date, the Red Cross of Northern Ohio has assisted 1,157 adults, 643 children and has provided more than $369,000 in immediate financial assistance.

As the largest humanitarian organization in the world, the Red Cross has the ability to use your donation to reach more people in need, more quickly. Your donation to the Red Cross helps provide food, shelter, relief supplies, emotional support, recovery planning and other assistance during disasters.

To help the Red Cross provide hope and comfort to individuals following a disaster, please visit redcross.org/donate to provide a financial donation. Any amount donated truly helps with their recovery.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Northern Ohio Region!

By Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

November 26, 2020- Friends and family of the American Red Cross of Northern Ohio!! 

As challenging as this year has been, and is, for all of us, I feel strongly we still have so much for which to be grateful—not the least of which is your American Red Cross—and YOU ARE the American Red Cross!!

Thank you for everything you do to support our lifesaving mission. Please take less than a minute and watch the video below because if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be priceless!! 

Cynthia, Tiffany and Halle join me in wishing you and yours a blessed and wonderfully Happy Thanksgiving!! 

Best wishes- Mike Parks

Disaster volunteers thankful to be able to answer the call for help with support of friends, family

By Mark Cline, American Red Cross disaster volunteer, Disaster Action Team Leader, Regional DAT Team Leader, DAT Duty Officer,  and National Shelter System Regional Lead 

November 25, 2020- This being the season of Thanksgiving, I would like to express my thanks not only to the volunteers I work with in the American Red Cross Disaster Cycle Services but to their families and friends, too. Volunteers do what we do because we’re driven to help people in need affected by disasters. But what I think many people don’t understand is that our volunteers couldn’t do the work they do without the support of their families and friends.

Mark Cline

There have been many times volunteers are called upon at family functions like birthday parties, anniversaries, holiday celebrations and even that long-needed quiet evening at home. My family has gotten used to me parking my car out on the street for easy access at family events. Then the phone rings and it’s a disaster call. Whether a home fire, flood, windstorm or some other disaster, the look on our volunteer’s face tells the story, they have to leave to help somebody experiencing a disaster. But they can only leave with the support of their families and friends. Knowing that when they get back, their family and friends will be waiting for them and giving them the support, our volunteers need to be able to respond to the next call.

I hope the families of our volunteers know that their family members who are out working a disaster scene realize that without their family’s support, the work they are doing would be so much harder. Our volunteers know that when somebody is affected by disaster, they need to respond. They don’t look outside to see if it’s warm or cold, dry or wet, daylight or nighttime, they know somebody needs the help that we can give them.  

To my family and friends, thank you for your support! Being an American Red Cross Disaster Cycle Services volunteer, I’ve seen and experienced a lot—hopefully things you’ll never have to experience. And with the help of my volunteer partners, we’ll be able to continue to help people in need during a disaster.

Mark Cline with fellow volunteer Bill Conley

If you want to help those in your community affected by a local disaster, visit redcross.org/volunteer to apply today.

I’m sending out Happy Thanksgiving wishes to all!

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer