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

Red Cross disaster response teams active in early April

One-hundred residents of Northern Ohio received Red Cross assistance during the past week, April 4-10, as volunteers responded to two-dozen home fires.

Five of the fires affected multiple-family homes.

Cleveland Fire

“Our volunteer disaster responders have been very busy, and we are grateful that they answer the call, no matter when or where it happens,” said Tim O’Toole, Regional Disaster Officer. “They are true humanitarians. We could not respond to the needs of people in crisis without our volunteers.”

Immediate financial assistance totaling more than $22,700 was given to the affected residents. The money can be used for a hotel room, to replace clothing or other lost items, for meals or for whatever each resident prioritizes as a need.

In addition, Red Cross volunteer caseworkers reach out to the affected families to connect residents with additional community resources, as they try to move forward with their lives following the loss of their homes and possessions.

And if needed, Red Cross health and mental health volunteers are available to provide assistance as well.

The Red Cross never requires payment for the services provided to people who have experienced a disaster like a home fire. Such assistance is made possible through the generous donations of supporters. To help the next family that is forced by fire to flee their home, visit redcross.org/donate. You can also text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation, or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) to make a donation on the phone.

Red Cross issues call for volunteers

Help needed as winter increases the risk of home fires
Support also needed for Red Cross Blood Program

Winter weather has arrived and with it an increase in the number of home fires. The American Red Cross of Northern Ohio is recruiting new volunteers to help respond to these local emergencies by supporting people in their time of greatest need.

Nationally, the Red Cross has already responded to more than1,900 home fires since 2022 began, providing assistance to more than 6,500 people. In the Northern Ohio Region, trained Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) members have responded to 60 home fires so far this year, helping 215 people impacted by a fire in their home.

LOCAL RESPONSE HELP NEEDED DAT volunteers help families with their immediate needs after a fire in their home and offer support during a very difficult time. As a DAT team member, you will provide emotional support, access to financial assistance and information to help families begin to recover. DAT team members respond to emergencies to provide immediate compassion and care. Training will be provided.

Home Fire Response

“Our Red Cross volunteers support their community and neighbors in need each and every day by responding to local emergencies,” said Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio. “We need more help so no one faces this heartbreaking situation alone.”

Ruth Davidson Gordon – Red Cross Volunteer Blood Donor Ambassador

BLOOD SERVICES VOLUNTEERS ALSO NEEDED The Red Cross also needs volunteers to support blood collections as the country faces an ongoing critical need for blood products and platelets. Blood donor ambassadors play an important role by greeting, registering, answering questions and providing information to blood donors throughout the donation process. Blood transportation specialists provide a critical link between blood donors and blood recipients by delivering blood to hospitals in our communities.

Blood Transportation Specialist

COVID-19 AND STAYING SAFE The need for volunteers is constant and continues to evolve as the Red Cross navigates the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The safety of everyone is our top priority and our guidelines reflect the latest CDC safety recommendations. COVID-19 vaccination is required for in-person volunteer roles beginning February 15, 2022. When considering volunteer opportunities, review the CDC guidance for people who are at higher risk for severe illness, consult your health care provider and follow local guidance.

Please consider joining the Red Cross as a volunteer today and bring help and hope to people in need. Vaccination verification required for in-person roles. Find out more at redcross.org/volunteertoday.

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.

Northern Ohio volunteers respond to disasters at home and across the country

Busy weekend highlights need for additional volunteers

Over the weekend, disaster action team members from the American Red Cross Northern Ohio Region responded to local events and traveled across the country to assist those affected by national disasters. Locally, nine incidents occurred, affecting more than two dozen individuals. The Red Cross provided more than $7,000 in immediate assistance.

Fire damaged home in East Cleveland – Photo credit: David Huey, American Red Cross volunteer

As of today, 12 Red Cross workers from Northern Ohio have been deployed to a variety of national disaster responses, with a majority in California for the ongoing wildfire response. As tropical depressions like Grace and Henri are expected to continue in the coming weeks and wildfires continue to burn, the need for more volunteers is urgent.

Brigit Jackson is a nurse from Wooster who deployed to Portola, California to assist those affected by the Dixie Fire. She’s a nurse serving as a disaster health volunteer. In a message this morning, Brigit notes the winds have shifted southwest and more evacuations are expected.

Portola, California – Photo Credit: Brigit Jackson, American Red Cross Volunteer

“Just a little update! The smoke is dense today and it smells like burning wood/fire. Air quality is terrible. The Red Cross shelter in Quincy is probably being evacuated today as the fire is getting too close. We only have 3 nurses in this section of the disaster response operation. There are so many fires and not enough nurses. Most of the roads are closed, so travel is not easy.”

The Red Cross needs new volunteers to support disaster shelters. Volunteers will help with reception, registration, food distribution, dormitory, information collection and other vital tasks inside disaster shelters. And, like Brigit, the Red Cross also needs volunteers who can work in disaster shelters to address people’s health needs and provide hands-on care in alignment with their professional licensure (registered nurse and licensed practical nurse/licensed vocational nurse). Daily observation and health screening for COVID-19-like illness among shelter residents may also be required. If you are an RN, LPN, LVN, APRN, NP, EMT, paramedic, MD/DO or PA with a current and unencumbered license, this position could be right for you.

To learn more, please visit RedCross.org/volunteer.

Weekend disasters touch several families in Northern Ohio

Red Cross assistance provided to help with immediate needs

More than 50 adults and children received assistance from the American Red Cross in Northern Ohio over the weekend, as disaster action team members responded to nearly a dozen home fires in six counties.

Red Cross disaster responder Doug Barwell took this photo upon arriving at the scene of a fatal apartment building fire in Garfield Heights early Monday morning.

Tragically, one of the fires claimed the life of a three-year old child.

When fatalities occur, the Red Cross offers the assistance of an Integrated Care and Condolence Team.

“The Red Cross began using the Integrated Care Condolence Team approach in 2011, following tornadoes in Alabama, to assist families of missing, injured or deceased,” said Renee Palagyi, Senior Disaster Program Manager for the Northern Ohio Region. “The team consists of specially trained staff from multiple disciplines- casework, disaster mental health, disaster spiritual care and disaster health services.  It is designed to provide an array of resources as a follow-up after the event- at a later time, convenient to the family.”

The team generally consists of two members and can include all four disciplines as needed. It is designed to protect the families from multiple contacts by providing comprehensive services with limited staff.

The Red Cross is able to provide such service thanks to volunteers – psychologists, counsellors, nurses and other trained professionals who provide the help people need. Visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more about volunteer opportunities for licensed or certified health, mental health, and spiritual care professionals.

Combat the cold safely at home and in the kitchen

By Chris Chmura, American Red Cross volunteer

Luckily, our Northeast Ohio winters have been pretty mild over the past few years. Although, we are currently headed into some very cold weeks with local news reporting temperatures with daily highs of low 20s, teens and single digits at night. So now is a good time to review how you plan to keep your home warm during the remainder of the winter and to take note of some statistics and American Red Cross tips.

  • As many of us stay close to home, we are spending more time cooking. Be careful because the number one cause of U.S. home fires is cooking, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

It’s cold outside and many may be resorting to alternate sources of heat to keep your home warm. Be cautious since heating sources are the second leading cause of home fire deaths. We recently wrote about space heaters in our blog: https://nohredcross.org/tag/space-heaters/.

The American Red Cross offers these steps to help keep you and your loved ones safe:

HOME HEATING SAFETY

  •    Does your home have a fire extinguisher that is not expired, in an easily accessible and       well known l[1] ocation?
  • Have furnaces, chimneys, fireplaces, wood and coal stoves inspected, cleaned and maintained to get you safely through the rest of our Ohio winter.
  • If using a space heater, look for a model that shuts off automatically if the heater falls over. Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface in the home. Get into a daily routine of inspecting your heater’s cord, power source, and free of items that can catch fire.
  • Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves or fireplaces.
  • Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
  • Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
  • Cut down on heating costs. Insulate the home by installing storm windows or covering the inside of windows with plastic to keep cold air out.
  • Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
  • Be very alert of safely using temporary construction propane heaters to heat your home. Review your heater’s safety manual for key information on operation. The number one issue is carbon monoxide buildup.
  • Keep fire in your fireplace by using a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
  • Test batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Develop a fire escape plan and practice it with everyone who lives in the home. Don’t forget to include your pets in your plan!
  • The American Red Cross store has a wide variety of tools, guides and emergency kits to help you be prepared. Check out the items at https://www.redcross.org/store.

COOKING SAFETY

  • Keep an eye on what you fry! Never leave cooking food unattended. If you must leave the kitchen, even for a short period of time, turn off the stove. Keep a clean cooking area because oil can catch fire very easily. 
  • Move items that can burn away from the stove. This includes dishtowels, bags, boxes, paper and curtains. Also keep children and pets at least three feet away.
  • Avoid wearing loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking.
  • When frying food, turn the burner off if you see smoke or if the grease starts to boil. Carefully remove the pan from the burner.
  • Keep a pan lid or a cookie sheet nearby. Use it to cover the pan if it catches on fire. This will put out the fire. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled.
  • Turn pot handles to the back of the stove, so no one bumps them or pulls them over.
  • Use a timer to remind yourself that the stove or oven is on. Check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving home to ensure all stoves, ovens and small appliances are turned off.

The Red Cross responds to more than 60,000 disasters every year and most of these are home fires. In a typical year, home fires kill more people in the United States than all other natural disasters combined. Please take these two steps now to help keep your household safe: Check your smoke alarms every month and practice your home fire escape plan at least twice a year.

Visit redcross.org/fire for more information and download the free Red Cross Emergency app (search “American Red Cross” in app stores).

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer


Pushing one button could save a life – will you do it?

More than 65% of your friends won’t

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

October 5, 2020- It’s National Fire Prevention Week from October 4 – 10, and as a nation, we are woefully underprepared for an emergency. Home fires haven’t stopped since COVID-19 started, and American Red Cross volunteers still answer four fire calls per day on average in Northern Ohio.

A new 2020 national Red Cross survey shows most of us aren’t taking the steps to protect ourselves.

So, what are those things you aren’t doing?

  • Push the button to test your smoke alarms each month helps ensure that they’re working — which can cut the risk of dying in a home fire by half. Still, 65% of us don’t.
  • Practicing your escape plan twice a year also increases the odds of survival. But 70% of us don’t.
  • Escaping in less than two minutes can be the difference between survival and tragedy, according to fire experts. Yet more than half of us think we have more time.

It’s not that difficult, so how about today?

Here’s a quick to do list you might want to print out:

  1. Make sure you have smoke detectors on each level of your home, preferably inside and outside your bedrooms. If they are more than 10 years old, new batteries won’t help, they need to be replaced.
  2. Insure there are two escape paths from every room in your house. If there aren’t, seriously consider your alternatives.
  3. Have a meeting place for your family to rendezvous after a fire so everyone is accounted for.
  4. Practice emergency escape drills to make sure everyone can exit and meet outside in less than two minutes.
  5. Make sure young children recognize the sound of a fire alarm and, just as importantly, what you expect them to do if they hear one.

Many Northern Ohio fires could have been prevented

Being a disaster services responder, I hate to say it, but most of the calls I respond to in our region could have been prevented.

  • A kitchen fire that started while the cook went to watch TV.
  • A candle left in a room unattended, that the dog knocked over.
  • A child with a candle on their bedside table.
  • An electric fryer with a frayed cord.
  • A wheelchair patient smoking while on oxygen.
  • An electric heater placed too near a pile of clothes.
  • An electric heater left in the attic while away at work.

If any of those sound familiar – STOP IT!  Download the Red Cross Emergency app, tap Prepare, and then tap Home Fire.  You’ll find all sorts of helpful hints, which will benefit you and your family. Then help us prevent the tens of thousands of home fires we respond to annually by making a donation. Learn more about our fire prevention efforts and join the Home Fire Campaign.

Advice from Mansfield mother after smoke alarm saves her children’s lives

The Red Cross responds, aids in the aftermath of devastating loss

By Jim McIntyre, Regional Communications Manager, American Red Cross

January 8, 2020 – December 6, 2019, was a big day in Mansfield, Ohio. The town was anticipating the big game, the Mansfield High School Tygers taking on Trotwood-Madison in the Division III High School Football Championship game. It would be the first appearance in a state championship game for a team from Richland County.

Classes in the Mansfield schools were cancelled in preparation for the game later that evening.

On Springmill Street, five children were home playing. Their mom, Nancy Hines-Adkins, had an appointment to keep, so she left her 14-year-old in charge. Mom wasn’t gone long before the shrill siren of a smoke alarm alerted the children to a fire.

mfd4 (2)

Nancy Hines-Adkins, with children Samara and Sean standing behind her, and holding Brooklyn in her arms.

All five children escaped unharmed. One remembered mom’s instructions to run to the nearby fire station. But by the time firefighters were able to put water on the flames, everything inside the house was lost.

“The Red Cross has been very supportive,” said Nancy, two weeks after the fire occurred. “People call me from the Red Cross every single day to make sure me and my family are OK.”

The home on Springmill St. was gutted.

The family received immediate financial assistance, which was used to help them find lodging, food and clothing. Continuing care includes connecting the family to resources that can help them find another place to live.

Five days before Christmas, the children visited the Mansfield American Red Cross office on Smith Avenue to choose toys donated by employees of TravelCenters of America and the Red Cross.

Nancy knows that the help she received immediately after the fire was made possible only by the generous donations of the American public. “It’s very important for people who lose everything. In the blink of an eye everything is gone and they (the Red Cross) are there to help, so donate!”

She also has a vital message about smoke alarms: “They’re very important. Make sure you have them. It will save your life.”

Unfortunately for the Mansfield High Tygers, their quest for a state championship ended that night with an overtime loss. But Nancy is grateful that on that day, a smoke alarm alerted her children to the home fire, and that they escaped unharmed. They suffered a devastating loss of their home but no lives were lost.

Visit soundthealarm.org/neo to request smoke alarms for your home and to learn more about home fire safety. To make a donation to help families like Nancy’s, visit redcross.org/donate, or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

Visit our YouTube channel here to see a video featuring Nancy and her family.

Edited By Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

 

 

 

 

Sandusky man assisted by Red Cross during family tragedy to serve on local board

By Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

In January 2018 a family’s life was forever changed. An early morning fire broke out at a Norwalk, Ohio, home. Multiple fire departments responded and battled the blaze. Tragically, the fire took the lives of a husband and wife, their adult son, his certified therapy dog and their family dog.

The event devastated the family, which is still trying to heal. In a matter of minutes, they lost their parents, grandparents, brother and uncle. The case was difficult on the firefighters, too. It was the first multi-fatality fire in the community in nearly 100 years.

Rob Griggs of Sandusky is the oldest son and big brother of the family. A former Marine and self-described multitasker, he feels he can handle having a lot placed on his shoulders.

IMG_7080

Rob Griggs and his sister, Tricia Costanzo at the Sound the Alarm event in Sandusky in April

“My family often looks toward me for answers,” he said. “But I didn’t have them myself.”

“There was never a chance to say goodbye,” Rob said. “There is no closure, and there never will be. It’s been really, really hard for all of us.”

Rob, who is general sales manager at Kasper Buick GMC, is now working to prevent other families from having to experience this hardship—first as an American Red Cross volunteer and soon as a board member with the Lake Erie/Heartland Chapter.

 

On a Saturday in late April, Rob, his wife Cali, their 11-year-old son Zach and Rob’s sister Tricia Costanzo went door to door in Sandusky installing smoke alarms as volunteers during a Sound the Alarm event. That day, 129 smoke alarms were installed by two dozen volunteers—ultimately making 63 homes safer.

“My son loved it,” he said. “He was there knocking on all the doors. He and his sister lost two grandparents. It was their first loss . . . so it has been a process for them as well. He’s a good kid who wants to be part of helping.”

Rob stated that his family is now a “Red Cross family.” He explained that he and his wife Cali want “to give to any and every part of the Red Cross” and help in any way they can to bring more awareness to its needs.

IMG_7114

Rob’s wife Cali installs a smoke alarm in a home in Sandusky

“Rob informed me that he was incredibly touched by our Red Cross volunteers that night his family’s home caught fire,” said Lara Kiefer, executive director of the Red Cross Lake Erie/Heartland Chapter. “He never realized what the local Red Cross does in our communities every day and said he will forever be a Red Cross volunteer. I look forward to having Rob on our board and helping us advance our mission throughout the communities we serve.”

Rob’s advice:  Every six months, check your smoke alarms and replace them after 10 years. He will be vigilantly reaching out to friends and family and advocating on this issue as a family. He believes if he can help people be more secure or protect their homes, it will help him rest more easily at night.

“People don’t realize how important it is,” he explained. “It takes a few minutes of your life to check. It’s a few minutes you may never get back. . . . The time it took could have saved three lives.”

The Red Cross’ Sound the Alarm campaign is designed to reduce the number of home fire fatalities each year. To donate so that smoke alarms can be purchased and installed in local communities, visit redcross.org/donate or call 800-HELP NOW (800-435-7669).