Tuesday, September 7, 2010

One Fire, Two Dramatic Red Cross Stories

Niketut Koriastuti (left), Cliff Haryanto (right) and Baby Matthew (bottom)
(Photo: Mary Beth Aberlin)
It began around 5:30 a.m., in the garage of a difficult-to-reach three-story building abutting the Long Island Expressway in the Middle Village neighborhood of Queens.

Niketut Koriastuti thought she’d been dreaming when she heard loud noises next door. Realizing that something was terribly wrong, she woke her husband, Cliff Haryanto, who opened the door of their second-floor apartment onto a hallway filled with billowing smoke. The apartment had no fires escape, fire alarms or extinguishers, and with no other way out, the couple decided to evacuate through a window. Cliff hung down from the window’s edge and yelled for his wife to pass him two-year-old Matthew. Clinging to the ledge by one arm, Cliff cradled Matthew in the other until he was able to safely drop him down to a neighbor waiting below. Then Cliff jumped, injuring both arms.

Niketut reports feeling panicked, “I forgot my glasses. There was no time. I couldn’t see anything—it was dark and there was so much smoke.” Cliff told her to jump to him so he could break her fall. But in the dark she missed him and sprained her ankle.

The family was taken for treatment to North Shore Hospital. It was there that two Red Cross responders came to offer them assistance. The responders took the family back to the fire scene to retrieve documents and then to a hotel where Red Cross had arranged temporary housing for them. Cliff and Niketut had never dealt with the Red Cross and were surprised to see them at the hospital.“We got very, very much help from the Red Cross,” says Niketut.

Kartika and Evan Langston (Photo: Mary Beth Aberlin)
Evan Langston and his wife, Kartika, lived one floor above Cliff and Niketut. Evan woke up because he smelled smoke. “I sat up in bed and I was, like ‘Babe, get up! There’s a fire.’” He opened the apartment door, saw smoke and slammed the door shut. “It all happened so fast,” says Evan. “I ran around the apartment and tripped and cut my foot. When I came back my wife was trying to jump out the window. Her feet were out the window and she was sitting there ready to jump. I yelled, ‘Tika, what are you doing? You can’t jump.’ We live on the third floor; she could get really hurt.

“So I grabbed her around her stomach and I pulled her back in.” Evan ripped a blanket off the bed and threw it in the shower to wet it. He put the wet blanket over their heads and they slowly descended the pitch-black, smoke-filled stairway to the building’s entrance. Seconds later, the stairwell burst into flames.

Evan’s stepfather had told the couple that the Red Cross could help them, and a social worker at the hospital to which they were taken called the Chapter for assistance. After finding them in the hospital, Red Cross workers took the couple back to the destroyed building to pick up essential documents, arranged for temporary housing for them, and gave them an emergency stipend to buy food and clothing. They also arranged for medication and a replacement machine to treat Evan’s asthma—his had melted in the fire.

This was not the first time Evan’s family had been involved with the Red Cross. His brother, Jonathan, an artist in Portland, Oregon, and a friend used first aid skills learned at the Red Cross to help a man who was seriously injured while mountain biking in the woods in Oregon. They were honored for helping to save the man’s life at a Red Cross “Breakfast of Champions” held in March 2009.

For their parts, Evan and Kartika are grateful for the assistance they received. Evan says, “Thank you, Red Cross, for all your help. You really saved us.” To which Kartika adds, “Without the Red Cross we would have had no place to go.”

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