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.

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.

Northern Ohio Red Cross Disaster Response Teams assisted over 500 people this Holiday Season

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross Volunteer

In Northern Ohio and nationwide, the American Red Cross was exceptionally active this holiday season, as it was for the entire year.

Between November 22, when this year-to-date post was published, and January 2, 2022, Northern Ohio Disaster Action Teams (DAT) responded to 181 incidents, assisting 542 people.

 34 of these incidents, assisting 100, were over the Christmas weekend.
 Another 34 incidents, assisting 110, were during Thanksgiving week.
 Nine incidents occurred over the New Year holiday weekend, with 41 people assisted.

Canton Shelter

Responses included:
 Fatal fires in Toledo, Cleveland, and Akron.
 A home explosion in Toledo, and large multi-family fires in Maple Heights and Toledo.
 A parking garage collapse in Lakewood, which led to the evacuation of a large
apartment building. The Red Cross provided meals and snacks to residents and first responders following the collapse.
 A shelter opening in Canton, where for two days, the Red Cross helped provide meals and a place to stay to families who were temporarily displaced.
 Eight Northern Red Cross staff members and volunteers deployed to Kentucky following deadly tornadoes.
 Installation of 50 free smoke alarms.

To illustrate DAT’s effectiveness, Tom Revolinsky, Disaster Program Manager for the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio said, “Dave Huey (volunteer) and I went on a multi-family late night fire where one family’s apartment was destroyed and another was heavily damaged, and an 11-year-old girl had critical injuries. When Dave and I spoke with family members, the appreciation and relief in their voices that the Red Cross was there to help brought back into focus the importance of our mission.

Tom also spoke of the importance of fire safety and ongoing efforts.

Maple Heights fire 12/21

“Responding to fatal fires is the most difficult thing we do,” Tom said. “To help prevent these tragedies, the Red Cross installs free smoke alarms. During installation, families are educated on fire prevention and assisted in developing an escape plan. In early December we installed 50 smoke alarms, making 16 homes safer, in the Aetna Road area of Cleveland where a fatal fire occurred in early November. On January 8th, we are installing smoke alarms with the Cleveland Fire Department in the W. 54th street area of Cleveland where twins tragically perished in a fire in early December. Smoke alarms save lives.”

Jani Memorich, a volunteer Disaster Action Team (DAT) leader, spoke very highly of fellow DAT members and their dedication.

“Awesome work done by awesome people,” Jani said. “We are truly blessed in Northern Ohio to have such a dedicated team working with DAT. As a DAT responder and someone who has deployed to other states for disasters, I get to tell the Red Cross story from my perspective as a volunteer. This brings awareness to people who may never have needed the services of the Red Cross and only vaguely understand all we do.”

Jani also expressed hope that more will volunteer, saying, “Hopefully through our own volunteerism we can inspire others to take up the mantel. There is so much work to be done and so few who actually do it. That is my hope for 2022, that more people give of themselves, to help mend others.”

If you are able, please consider volunteering with the Red Cross, either as a DAT member or in another capacity. Information can be found here.

Volunteers respond to multiple local disasters; mobilize to assist in national relief efforts after horrific weekend tornadoes

It was another busy weekend for American Red Cross Northern Ohio disaster volunteers. Disaster action team members assisted families in nine counties who were affected by home fires, storms and a building collapse. The Red Cross helped 56 individuals, providing $11,433 in immediate assistance. Tragically, two young children died in one home fire. The Red Cross continues to provide home fire safety information to residents and install smoke alarms for those who need them. To request a smoke alarm, visit this site

December 12, 2021. Bowling Green, Kentucky. Sharon Wilson speaks to Red Cross volunteer Amy Miller and explains what happened to her last Saturday morning. Photo by Marko Kokic/American Red Cross

In addition to responding to local disasters, the Red Cross is deeply saddened by the loss of life and incredible devastation brought by the horrific tornadoes that touched down this weekend across multiple states in the center of the country. Over the weekend, Red Cross personnel and volunteers were busy mobilizing to help assist on large relief efforts in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri to provide safe shelter, comfort and support in the face of one of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in years. Northern Ohio volunteers will be leaving in the coming days along with two emergency response vehicles from the Region, each with a two-person crew.

If you are a current volunteer with the Red Cross, please consider deploying to assist in the relief efforts around the Midwest and southern tornadoes. With such widespread damage, we know families will need support for weeks to come and the Red Cross will be there for as long as we are needed. To be considered for deployment, please update your availability in Volunteer Connection and someone will contact you. The Red Cross also needs additional volunteers who are willing to be trained and to deploy to future disasters.  A two-week commitment is typically required. Visit our website or call 216-431-3328 to apply.

In addition to disaster relief, the Red Cross has also provided approximately 200 additional blood products to hospitals in response to these devastating tornadoes. We remain in contact with our hospital partners throughout the affected areas and stand ready to provide additional blood products as needed. We anticipate Red Cross blood drives in affected communities may be canceled or experience lower donor turnout in the coming days, straining supply levels. We depend on the community to donate blood so we are able to provide it to those in need each day. If you are eligible to give, please schedule an appointment in the coming weeks. If you have questions about your eligibility to give, learn more here or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

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.

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.

Stay warm safely this winter

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

We all have used them at one time or another. Just that added little bit of heat can make a nice difference on a really cold day. But did you know that space heaters account for four out of every five home heating fire deaths?

With the forecast calling for overnight temperatures dipping into the 40’s this week – and into the 30’s next week in Northern Ohio, you may be tempted to break out your space heaters.  And there are some things to keep in mind.

Any time you are using a portable electric heater, it’s important to remember to keep them at least three feet – from EVERYTHING. Look around and anything that’s liable to burn should be well away from those hot elements. Bed linens, blankets, socks, children’s clothes, draperies, newspapers and magazines, cardboard boxes, paper bags . . . they are all able to ignite easily if they contact the heating elements of a space heater.

Also, remember that space heater cords are designed to safety transmit the electricity needed to operate the device itself, but often, household extension cords are not. Many cords have wires that are a smaller gauge than required to transfer all the electrical current required by the space heater. That can cause inexpensive extension cords to literally melt and start a fire just from continued use.

To view a video with tips from the National Fire Protection Association, CLICK HERE.

The ‘three-foot’ rule

Space heaters aren’t the only things that benefit from the three-foot rule. The same goes for fireplaces, wood stoves, candles and your furnace. It’s best to teach young children that it’s a “Kid Free Zone” around anything flammable and that they are not allowed to be any closer than that.

And while half of home heating fires happen in the months of December, January and February, it’s also a good rule all year long. With windows open in the summertime, a breeze could easily blow draperies or loose paper into a burning candle if set too close. We need to be vigilant all year long.

Sweep and service

Other heating appliances also need your attention each year. Your furnace should be routinely serviced each year before heating season. Heating coils should be cleaned professionally. And don’t forget to change filters in your furnace every couple of months at least. With routine cleaning and new filters, your furnace will not only last longer, but you’ll feel warmer and have cleaner air to breathe.

Lastly, don’t forget that fireplace. Chimneys can get coated with creosote, and with as little as 1/8 to 1/4 inch of creosote on the walls of your chimney, when temperatures reach 451 degrees, creosote can catch fire.  A chimney fire has the potential to burn down an entire house, so check your chimneys if you haven’t had them cleaned recently.

Alarms save lives

On top of your home safety checklist should be to make sure that you have installed working smoke and CO2 alarms throughout your home. You need to check regularly that the batteries are fresh and that any alarm manufactured before 2011 is replaced. Even if the batteries are new, the actual detection mechanisms in smoke alarms cease to function after 10 years. Replace them immediately.

If you need alarms and can’t afford them or can’t install them, call the American Red Cross to be put on our complimentary free alarm installation list. Visit this site to learn more or to get on the list.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer