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

Cleveland State Intern, Mary Malone shares her Red Cross story

As a senior at Cleveland State University pursuing a bachelors of Social Work, I began an internship with the American Red Cross, in the Emergency Services department.

After a fire, the Red Cross assists the family in immediate and urgent needs. As a student intern I am learning how to participate in a social services agency setting by working directly with clients, other caseworkers, volunteers, and various other staff positions. I look to each person at the Red Cross as a “teacher” and someone from whom I can learn valuable lessons and techniques.

A typical day for me at the Red Cross includes following up with clients after they have experienced a disaster. The most prevalent of emergency situations that I have encountered, during my time, are single-family house fires. The caseworkers at the Red Cross and I ensure that the client’s direct needs are being met. If the Red Cross cannot provide it directly, there are countless referrals to other community organizations. I spend a lot of time on the phone talking with clients, sometimes it is a short call and sometimes the client wants to have someone to talk to and express their fears, worries, and sometimes even joys. I use my ability to communicate with others when they have just experienced a crisis, by validating their words and listening to what it is that they are saying. Other times I meet with clients when they need to come in to the Red Cross for a meeting with a caseworker. Being able to help people in such a dire time of need, knowing that I have many tools in my toolbox to assist them and let them know that they are not alone, is so rewarding.

As part of my internship, I have been able to go out and witness the scene of a disaster. I went to a house that had been burnt very badly and the emotions of clients as they were standing outside, were very raw. Having never been in a situation quite like this I was not sure how I would feel, or how I should act. I learned a lot by watching my Red Cross supervisor communicate with empathy, understanding, and patience. Even though her home was very badly damaged, the client was most concerned for her cat’s well-being. As we left various neighbors, family members and friends came to her and lavish her with hugs, and envelopes of money to help financially. Even in a situation that is inconceivably horrible, the strengths within this one client’s community gives me hope of a full recovery and resiliency.

After semesters of studying books and articles, participating in mock interventions, and writing papers in preparation for my future as a Social Work practitioner, my work with the Red Cross has reaffirmed my passion for social work.