Heartbreaking disaster, extraordinary response

The following account of a Red Cross response to a fatal home fire was written by Tom Revolinsky, disaster program manager for the American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio.

Tom Revolinsky

The fire occurred on January 24, 2021 on West 47th Place in Cleveland. The fire affected the house next door as well.   The Red Cross provided assistance to both families affected by the fire. 

Here is news coverage from Fox 8 showing three law enforcement officers rescuing the client and his mother from the fire.  

A mother and her adult son were admitted to the MetroHealth Burn Unit.  Dave Huey (Red Cross volunteer) did a remarkable job being in contact with the nurses at the burn unit as the son underwent multiple surgeries and was not in suitable condition to be interviewed. 

We did the initial intake on February 12th.   During that time, his mother died because of the injuries during the fire.    

At the son’s request we contacted Busch Funeral Home and with the help of the MetroHealth Social Worker all the necessary paperwork was completed.   We also worked with a social worker from Holy Family to deliver the financial assistance and pay for the funeral.    The son is extremely grateful that the Red Cross lifted this burden from him (his words). 

During the intake process we determined that the son lost his glasses during the fire.    We were able to locate a Walmart where he had recently gotten a new pair of glasses and ordered the same replacement glasses, paid for by the Red Cross at no cost.  (Senior Regional Disaster Program Manager) Renee Palagyi’s son in-law, who works at MetroHealth, was able to pick up the glasses and deliver them to the son (note:  because of Covid it is difficult to get into hospitals).   He has been released from the hospital in currently in rehab.   He is extremely grateful that he can now watch TV and read as he tries to recover and resume a normal life.     

He is a remarkable man as he was always had a positive outlook. We had some great conversations each time we spoke. 

He is extremely grateful to the Red Cross and wants to visit the Chapter office and meet everyone once he is able.   I would like to thank the following team members for their assistance in this case:   Regional Disaster Officer Tim O’Toole, Senior Regional Disaster Program Manager Renee Palagyi, Regional Recovery Manager Barb Thomas,  Disaster Program Specialist Jessi Graber, and disaster action team members (volunteers) Deb Ziss and Dave Huey. 

Former stay-at-home mom now leaves home to help others

A volunteer profile will post here each day during National Volunteer Week

By Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

April 10, 2019 – Barb Thomas has left her home in Canton to help with disaster relief operations four times since joining the American Red Cross as a volunteer in 2016.

Barb Thomas III

Barb Thomas, on assignment in during the Hurricane Florence relief operation in North Carolina in 2018

“The kids are grown now, and I have the time,” Barb said, shortly after returning from her latest deployment in Mississippi, where she served as staff services supervisor for Red Cross workers assigned to help flood victims.

“We were responsible for the ‘good hello and good goodbye’ for the volunteers and staff who participated in the deployment, and for keeping track of all the members on deployment,” she said.

barb thomas

En route to Mississippi, 2019

Barb has deployed to southern Ohio, where flooding occurred last winter. She also left last fall to help with the relief effort following Hurricane Florence in North Carolina. A year before that, she responded to Hurricane Irma in Georgia.

The bulk of Barb’s volunteer work occurs closer to home, where she helps administer all facets of disaster cycle services. “I have assisted in a presentation to get people signed up for smoke alarms and have installed smoke alarms in homes,” which covers preparedness.  Response-wise, “I have been to numerous home fires, supported the fire department by providing canteening services, and worked in a shelter,” she said. “And I assisted in recovery with casework.”

But the time she has spent in other parts of the country to help those affected by disaster has made an impression on the former Human Resources professional.

“I have met some incredible people who have an amazing dedication to volunteering with the Red Cross,” she said. “They are client-focused and willing to pitch in wherever and whenever necessary.”

“Barb Thomas is a breath of fresh air, adding positive energy to our chapter,” said Kim Kroh, executive director of the Stark and Muskingum Lakes Chapter. “She is a true leader who is valued greatly by the staff and by other volunteers.”

When asked what she would say to encourage others to volunteer for the Red Cross, Barb said, “If you are interested in positively impacting individuals and your community, the Red Cross is an excellent organization. I have had direct contact with the public and individuals in need.”

She added, “It feels good to be part of an organization that supports the community on such a personal level.”

Barb Thomas IV

Red Cross workers headed to Georgia in response to Hurricane Irma in 2017.  From left: John Muni, Barb Thomas, Tim Reichel, Craig Hitchcock, and Mark Behlke

To become a Red Cross volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer or call 216-431-3328.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer