Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Five-Alarm Life: Residual Damage

 by Aabye-Gayle D. Francis-Favilla

Corduroy, the teddy bear Aabye had since birth, survived the fire.
 The days immediately following the fire were full of challenges. First we had to answer the questions of our most basic needs: Where would we live? What would we wear? How would we eat? Thankfully, with the help of the Red Cross and our community of family and friends, we found our answers.

Those first few nights after the fire, we could have stayed at the Red Cross shelter, but instead we stayed in my brother-in-law’s small basement apartment. We had friends living upstairs, and they included us in their meals. (We ate extremely well those first few post-fire nights.) Staying with friends and family so nearby was extremely comforting. They helped us with practical things like lending us socks, shirts and sweaters. They also gave us the moral support we needed.

We might have stayed in this first temporary home longer, but one of the landlords complained about us being there, so we scrambled to find another place to stay after just two nights. Where would we go now?

The challenge in finding a place to stay was that we had no idea how long we’d be displaced from our apartment. We were given the option of breaking our lease, but we decided to wait for the reconstruction. We had our reasons for waiting: Our rent was affordable, and we loved our spacious apartment, helpful superintendent and vibrant neighborhood. Finding all of those things within our price range hadn’t been easy, and we didn’t want to give any of them up.

Two friends came to our rescue. They were living in a three-bedroom apartment in Union Square, and offered us the third bedroom for a month (rent free!). They would have let us stay there longer, but they are frequent generous hosts, using the bedroom to house out-of-town guests on a regular basis. I’d always wanted to live in Manhattan. And having a month to live with friends (rent free!) while we searched for long-term temporary housing lifted a great weight of worry off of our shoulders.We accepted their generous offer happily.

Then came the hard part: A day or two later, it was time to assess the damage to our home. As we approached our building for the first time since the fire, we had no idea what to expect. From the street we could see that the roof over our portion of the building was riddled with holes or completely missing. The lobby was a lagoon; water dripped from the ceiling and ran down the walls. The air was heavy with smoke, and everything was tinted gray or black. There was no heat and there was no electricity.

We cautiously walked the five flights of stairs to our apartment, and our super let us in. My husband and I stood in the threshold, awestruck. It was a sad scene to behold. The apartment that had been full of warmth and twinkling Christmas lights just a few days earlier was now cold and dark. All the windows were either open or missing; and they were our only source of light. We started to make our way around the apartment—trying (in vain) to avoid getting dripped on by the water still coming through our ceiling.

Fortunately, the fire had not reached our apartment, but the water damage was extensive—bad enough that everything would have to be completely gutted and rebuilt. Fire hoses had been trained on our apartment (and those above it) for hours during the blaze—thousands upon thousands of gallons of water at high pressure had drenched everything. Firefighters had needed to break through parts of our walls and ceilings. Everywhere we looked there were holes.

It was so disheartening to see what our home had become. Just days before we’d been lounging on our coach, but now that couch was soaked, moldy and covered in rubble. Our laptops sat in a puddle on the coffee table. Unopened Christmas presents lay soggy under the tree. But we still knew we were lucky. We would be able to save things like pots, pans, silverware and dishes—anything that could get wet (really, really wet). But our neighbors in apartments where the fire had raged wouldn’t be able to salvage anything.

We packed up our soggy, sooty clothes and began a massive dry-cleaning and laundry campaign. (In about two weeks we were wearing our own clothes again.) Everything I touched was heavy, laden with icy cold water, and my fingers grew raw. The smaller things that we could carry, and expected to need in the short term, we took with us (like metropolitan nomads) every time we moved. Friends and family members offered up their basements and closet space to some our stuff. But the bulk of it we left to the professionals. We hired a company that could come the very next day, pack everything up, and take it away to be stored. So while our hearts remained here in New York, most of our stuff ended up in Newark.

In the end we were rather fortunate, we primarily lost stuff that's relatively easy (literally and emotionally) to replace: furniture, appliances, shoes, clothing and accessories, fridge and pantry items, and books. We lost a lot, but most of the sentimental things I would have been broken-hearted to loose, survived: Corduroy (the teddy bear I’ve had since birth); the toy chest my parents bought and painted for me when I was three; the wood-mounted photo of my parents on their wedding day; photos that were taken before the digital age; my mother's wedding ring.

I am so grateful for everything that survived the fire. Things are just things in the face of having one’s health or life, but some things are so entrenched in fond memories, that losing them is like having an emotional amputation. I am grateful for every photograph (especially those of my late mother). I cherish every item from my childhood. I have renewed appreciation for the mementos from our wedding (like the poster our friends and family signed at the reception). All the things that we didn’t loose are even more special to me now; they’re mini miracles—survivors, like us.

In the next installment of “My Five-Alarm Life,” I’ll tell you about our five minutes of fame (one minute and twenty-nine seconds, to be exact).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

“More Than I Expected”

Brendan (left) and Eric Hodges

As trained volunteer firefighters, brothers Eric and Brendan Hodges were very familiar with putting out fires, but they had never been the victims of one.

Early one Saturday morning in November, Eric was working at his computer. Around 4 am, he started to smell smoke in their third floor apartment. His first instinct was to make sure nothing had fallen onto their radiator. But as he entered the living room, Eric saw flames coming from the bathroom; the window blinds were ablaze upon the floor. He turned on the shower to put out the fire, but then he noticed flames coming from the ceiling and wall.

Eric ran to his brother’s room to wake him up. While Eric grabbed his wallet and put some shoes on, Brendan also tried to put out the fire; but despite his best efforts, he couldn’t get it under control. Their apartment was quickly filling with smoke, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to see or breathe, so Eric and Brendan left. Eric called 911, and Brendan ran through the three-story building banging on his neighbors’ doors. Thankfully, everyone got out.

An attendant from the gas station next door saw the flames and came over to make sure everyone was okay. He noticed Brendan standing outside without a shirt or shoes, gave him the sweatshirt off his back, and invited the brothers to come in out of the cold. Soon the Fire Department showed up, and the Red Cross was right behind them.

As volunteer firefighters, Eric (in Florida) and Brendan (in Delaware) had witnessed and helped contain hundreds of fires, but none of that prepared them for being on the other side of the experience—having it be their home.

They had no idea that the Red Cross offered Disaster Relief services to victims of fire. They were surprised to learn that not only would the Red Cross provide them with a place to stay, but that volunteers would also drive them to the hotel. The Red Cross also helped them make arrangements for the long-term housing they’ll need until their apartment is restored.

Eric and Brendan lost everything in the fire, including 50 pounds of dry-cleaning fresh from the cleaners. In fact, Brendan, who ran out shirtless and shoeless, had just moved into the apartment two months earlier. Given the magnitude of their loss, Eric and Brendan are grateful to the Red Cross for providing them with funds to buy food and clothes—not to mention a pair of shoes for Brendan.

The Red Cross is “Amazing … really awesome … more than I expected,” say the easy-going brothers. In response to the help and guidance they received from the Red Cross, Eric and Brendan said simply, “Thank you, thank you.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Five-Alarm Life: We Didn’t Start the Fire

by Aabye-Gayle D. Francis-Favilla

This is what became of the apartment directly above ours.
 Isn’t it amazing how a flame that starts off small enough to fit on the wick of a candle, can become large enough to destroy a house? I distinctly remember standing in the snow with my husband watching the fire grow—first consuming this apartment, then the next, and ultimately the roof. I remember closing my eyes for long intervals of time and willing it all to not be real anymore. I suppose that’s shock. Even as I witnessed it, I just couldn’t believe this fire was destroying our home.

I remember being keenly aware of the people watching from their apartment windows in the building across the street from ours. I didn’t know who they were, but I envied them. I was jealous of every passerby who could shake their head saying, “Oh, what a terrible shame,” and then walk home to normalcy. And those teenagers gawking and uttering their thoughtless jokes as if this destruction had no victims…I wanted to scream at them. Instead, I held my tongue and continued to watch.

Part of me was silently praying (pleading) for this fire to be put out—cheering the firefighters on—hoping for their victory over a fire whose severity was being compounded by the high winds and the recent snowstorm. Another part of me was wondering how much worse it could get—how much more of our home would burn. Because even though putting out a fire is hard enough, these firefighters had to work in the aftermath of a storm that had brought New York City to its knees. Fire hydrants were frozen or simply broken, roads were impassible because they hadn’t been plowed and drivers had abandoned their cars in the middle of them. And apparently the person living in the apartment where the fire started had left the building without warning anyone. So on top of everything, the fire had gotten a big head start.

As I stood there watching helplessly, I knew I should be grateful that my husband and I had escaped with our lives—completely uninjured. In fact, no one in our building lost his or her life in that fire; no one suffered more than a few minor injuries. I didn’t fully understand the significance of that until later when a fireman told me about a fire that had broken out elsewhere the same week as ours. That fire had been smaller and less severe, but it had claimed the life of a young girl. So for a five-alarm fire to burn in a building with 66 apartments, and for everyone (young, old, and handicapped) to make it out safely, was something of a miracle.

We were grateful to be safe and alive, but then other thoughts and feelings started to surface. Questions, worries, and concerns began to bubble up in our minds. Had anything survived? We had left all of our earthly possessions behind. I began to tally and mourn all the irreplaceable things I might never see again—priceless because of their sentimental weight. What were we supposed to do now? Our home was effectively gone. A soggy, singed shell remained, but it could take months—possibly even a year—before it would be inhabitable again. One question, however, pressed its way to the forefront of our minds: How could this possibly have happened?

Our answer to that final question came a few days later when our building’s management company hosted a tenants’ meeting. In attendance were representatives from various city agencies, the fire department, and the Red Cross. My husband and I went for information. We wanted to know how the fire had started and when we might be able to return to our home. Sadly, most of the other tenants were there to blame and complain. And before too long, the meeting devolved into a verbal assault—various tenants throwing their angry accusations, threats, and demands like stones.

Sadly, there were no easy answers for any of us. First of all, the fire had been an accident. There was no one to punish. It wasn’t the result of negligence on the building’s part, or an electrician’s fault-ridden job. It wasn’t the work of an arsonist. No one that could be held accountable had screwed up. An older tenant had left her space heater too close to her bed; the sheets and mattress ignited, and the fire spread to the nearby curtains and beyond (or perhaps the curtains caught first and then the fire spread to the bed—I forget which now).

Secondly, even though the residents in the north wing of the building were able to return home just days after the fire, they wouldn’t be comfortable at first. The gas had to be shut off indefinitely, so the building’s management company gave tenants hot plates to cook on. The elevator was out of commission—effectively making our building a six-story walk-up. While this meant unwanted exercise for some, it was a prohibitive obstacle for those tenants with mobility limitations. Adding to the discomfort, every apartment had some level of water damage and was subject to smoky air and mold growth.

But the news was even worse for those of us in the most damaged apartments—those closest to the nexus of the fire. While the rest of the building’s residents would be moved back in on a rolling basis as their apartments were dried out, patched up, and brought up to code, our apartments would need to be gutted and completely rebuilt before we could return. And before any of that could happen, the roof over our part of the building (which the fire had devoured) would have to be rebuilt. No one could even venture a ballpark estimate as to how long all of that would take. Without even a worst-case scenario to hold on to, I felt some of my hope dissipate.

So what options did we have if we couldn’t go home? When we met with Marjorie, our Red Cross caseworker, she answered that question and our many (many, many) others. Talking to her was like talking to a friend who knows the ropes. She immediately reduced our burden. Rather than having to navigate though a confusing sea of paperwork and options, we were given clear and actionable steps tailored to our specific situation and resources. Marjorie guided us through every process and saved us the countless hours of time we would have otherwise spent trying to figure things out on our own. And while I won’t speak for my husband’s mental state, I was in no shape to do much thinking on my own. My brain was overloaded—full of sadness and worry—still tallying our loss. Plus, I had insomnia; I was emotionally depleted and physically exhausted.

But whereas I was frazzled and mentally distraught, our caseworker was patient, compassionate and knowledgeable. The guidance she gave us was timesaving and invaluable, but I also appreciated the stuff. My hands were full of papers I had to fill out, but I didn’t have anything to put them in—I hadn’t grabbed a bag when we evacuated. Marjorie put all the paperwork from the Red Cross in a folder, and that folder became our makeshift filing “cabinet.” Every piece of paper we acquired due to the fire went inside it. She also gave me a bag. When I asked her for one, I was expecting a simple plastic grocery bag, or at most a nice paper one, but she brought me a durable canvas tote with a zipper closure. That bag meant a lot to me. Now that I had something to carry my things in, I felt a lot less desperate—I felt less like a crazy vagabond. That bag was one of the first signs that our lives were moving out of chaos and towards order.

By the time my husband and I left Red Cross headquarters, we’d managed to muster up more than a modicum of hope. I now had a bag, a toothbrush and tissues (which I needed because I was also getting a cold). We left the Red Cross with more than we’d gone in with—in terms of stuff as well as direction. It felt good to have a plan—to know what we should do next. The fire was still a devastating loss, but we weren’t as disoriented now. We didn’t have a home, but we did have hope.

Where did we end up living? Were we able to salvage anything from our apartment? All that (and more) to come in the next installment of “My Five-Alarm Life.”

Friday, December 2, 2011

My Five-Alarm Life: An Introduction

By Aabye-Gayle Francis-Favilla
Back in December of 2010, my husband and I were displaced from our home due to a fire. There have been many ups and downs and sharp left turns since that fateful day when we stood shivering in the cold watching helplessly as a five-alarm fire destroyed our home (and the homes of our neighbors).

The months since then have been a frenzy of mixed emotions, and have tested the farthest reaches of our patience and ability to hope. We have been challenged, and we have been blessed; we have been happy and depressed. We have literally and figuratively been tried by fire and burnt out, but we have also been inspired and refreshed. We have survived the flames, and are now trying to thrive in their wake.

Since the fire, the path of our lives has been dramatically altered. Life has gone on, but we have had to start over. This blog series will explore how the fire has changed us—what we’ve lost, gained and learned. Here I will tell you our story—the good, the sad, and the funny. Here you will be able to go on our journey with us. Welcome to “My Five-Alarm Life.”

It was two days after Christmas. My husband and I were having a normal evening at home. Our computers were open, the television was on, and we were debating what to make for dinner. We were already in our pajamas. All of a sudden, we heard screaming. At first I thought someone was having an argument in our hallway, but then I started to hear what was actually being screamed, “Fire! Get out!”

Even then I wasn’t particularly alarmed. I just assumed it was an over-reaction and calmly walked to the door of my apartment to see how serious it was. As I looked up, I saw a seemingly insignificant amount of smoke coming down the stairwell. After years of false alarms and fire drills, I assumed the least serious scenario: someone had burnt popcorn or toast or something.

My husband, however, saw something completely different. He had run to the windows of our apartment and looked out. He could see, reflected in the windows of the building across the street, that flames were spilling out of an apartment one floor up. Understanding the severity of the situation, my husband rushed to get our shoes and coats so we could leave. I however, not having seen the flames with my own eyes, and still in “this can’t be that serious mode,” took the time to change out of my pajamas and into jeans.

The odd thing is that while part of my brain was convinced this was all a minor event, another part of my brain suspected or knew this was serious. My “this is Not Serious” or “NS” brain figured, given the cold temperature and snow outside, I should get dressed for standing outside for an hour. I thought to myself, “This is like that time in college when someone left a hairbrush on their radiator. There’s a lot of smoke, but no fire. As soon as the firemen get here, they’ll check it out and let us back in.”

But then there was the “VS” or the “this could be Very Serious” part of my brain that quickly understood I might lose everything I left behind. That is the part of my brain that made me move quickly—getting my foot stuck in one of the pre-distressed holes of my jeans as I hurriedly forced my legs in. That is also the part of my brain that told me to put on my wedding band and engagement ring.

I was literally in one of those cheesy hypothetical questions, “Your house is on fire, what do you save?” With my husband screaming at me that we had to get out and NOW, I started to become panic-rushed. I went to get my coat, my cell phone, and my house keys. As though I was just leaving to run an errand, I turned off all the lights and locked the door to our apartment. Oddly enough, I neglected to take my wallet or car keys.

Soon my husband and I were standing across the street from our building, watching as bright orange flames raged out of an apartment one floor above and one unit over from ours. Even then, I had hope. I now understood that this wasn’t just overcooked popcorn, but I also thought that our apartment would be fine as long as the fire stayed where it was. And why wouldn’t it stay where it was? Weren’t firefighters—even now—on their way?

Yes, they were on their way, but the massive, city-crippling snowstorm from the day before meant they had to repeatedly stop to dig out and tow abandoned cars blocking their route. Frozen hydrants on our block meant firefighters had to link hoses to hydrants three or four blocks away. And the winds were raging upwards of fifty miles per hour. It was a bad day for a building to catch on fire.

Now that I saw a real fire was underway, and how many obstacles were keeping the firefighters from getting it under control, I kicked myself for leaving so much behind, for not putting on better shoes, for not taking any form of identification or my only set of car keys. I thought about the teddy bear I’d had since I was born and the Christmas presents we’d just brought home. I thought about our wedding pictures and the photos of my mother who had passed away several years before. I even thought about the pomegranate I’d been looking forward to having for dessert.

The firefighters worked tirelessly, but whenever it seemed the flames were coming under control, another burst of fire would erupt and rage again. It sounded like a thousand furnaces all going at once. Soon we could see that the fire had spread to the apartment directly above ours and that a large section of our building’s roof had ignited. We watched with lead-filled stomachs as the firemen used our apartment to get into the building from the fire escape.

After about three hours of standing, shivering and watching, I began to suspect that hypothermia or frostbite was imminent. My husband had already headed towards his brother’s house to get warm. I walked to a nearby Laundromat and tried to regain the feeling in my fingers and toes.

This is when I started to lose some of my hope. I was doing the math. This fire had been burning for upwards of four hours and was now classified as a five-alarm blaze. It wasn’t worth it to stand around waiting. There would be no home to return to that night. Tearfully, I started walking the mile and a half to my brother-in-law’s home where my husband was waiting for me. Once I got there, we tried to figure out what to do next. We were smoky and shell-shocked. We had nothing but our cell phones and the clothes on our backs. We were overwhelmed.

When we went to our building the following morning, a Red Cross volunteer was there. He told us that we could receive guidance and financial assistance for immediate necessities if we visited Red Cross Headquarters. So that’s what we did.

What started the fire? How did the Red Cross help us? All that (and more) to come in the next installment of “My Five-Alarm Life.”

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Life in Disaster: Couch Commerce Can Ease Holiday Shopping Stress!

With Thanksgiving behind us and the holidays not too far into the future I start to feel the pressure. From the beginning of last week we have been bombarded with "incentives" to get to the stores ASAP, or else the deals would pass us by.

According to this morning's online news sites Black Friday sales this year have broken records, with 226 million shoppers spending an average of $398.62 versus last year's 212 million shoppers who spent $365.34. Retail sales went up 6.6 percent. Apparently we don't even want to wait until the brick and mortars open up at midnight after Thanksgiving day anymore - with Turkey day online sales up almost 40 percent.

My best friend, Margaret, and I used to be two of those shoppers who woke up Friday morning--the shops opened up at 6:00 am back then--braving the chaos. We would take turns waiting on line as the other shopped for the latest toys on our kids' list to Santa. We made sure every wish their little hearts desired was fulfilled--only to watch them throw the toys aside a month later, to play with the packaging they came in.

Now that Black Friday is behind us, full steam ahead we barrel through to Cyber Monday. Here's where I breathe a sigh of relief. With just a few clicks on my keypad, I can put a dent in my Christmas shopping list.

Today, not only are major retailers offering huge deals, but so is the Red Cross at redcrossstore.org. They are offering free shipping today only as well as discounts on some best-selling items. I bought a Red Cross track jacket at 50 percent off with free shipping. That is a pretty good deal! Not only can I check off one person off my gift list, I can do so feeling good about where my money is going.

The Red Cross Holiday gift catalog is the place to shop for gifts that mean something. As you browse the catalog you not only see how you can help, but you also become informed of exactly what the Red Cross does. The global scope of their service is inspiring.

One line of gifts centers around those currently serving in the armed forces. You can send a military comfort kit to a wounded service member. The kit provides them with a robe, shower shoes, a phone card to call home and an MP3 music gift card. Another way to give back to our brave service members is by buying a Hygiene Kit for homeless vets. A staggering one third of homeless adults are veterans. This kit provides them a toothbrush, shaver, washcloth and other hygiene essentials.

For $75.00 you can buy a bicycle to help a Red Cross volunteer across the globe reach remote villages. You can help provide support for first responders, as they battle against disaster. You can provide food and shelter for victims of disaster worldwide, or right here in your own neighborhood.

However you want to help -- the choice is personal, but the benefit will be universal.

My Life in Disaster is a series of blog posts by Maha Awad, who is volunteering with the Red Cross and finding out first-hand what it means to be prepared for life’s many disasters.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

“Dad, you saved my life.”

I have been a Red Cross employee for about sixteen years, serving primarily as a community affairs agent for the Atlanta Chapter. From 1994 until 2003 I was a Red Cross Community CPR instructor, teaching others how to manage choking, breathing and cardiac emergencies. In short, I wasn’t one of those people who needed to be convinced that CPR training was effective; I lived it for a good part of my Red Cross life.

Fast forward to August 2011 when my family—yours truly, wife Donna, 18-year-old daughter Ashley and 14-year-old son Chris—were dining in a southwest Atlanta steakhouse. This particular outing was no different than any other. We were eating our meals and engaged in light conversation when it happened. My son Chris grabbed his throat, stood up and started to gasp. The look in his eyes could best be described as a death glare: eyes wide open, fixed and looking straight ahead as if he were gazing at the Grim Reaper, black cloak, boney fingers, sickle and all. At that moment time stopped, and other restaurant patrons faded into the background.

Chris continued to grab his throat and everyone, and I mean everyone, in the restaurant looked on, but oddly, no one moved to help. I then remember whizzing past my wife—she says that I knocked her out of the way—picking Chris up and applying abdominal thrusts for conscious choking victims. After two or three thrusts, the steak came out, Chris started to cough and I came back down to earth. Everyone looked on nervously but happy that they’d just witnessed a life-saving event. Chris thanked me, hugged me, kissed me and said, “Dad, you saved my life.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that "Choking on food causes the death of approximately one child every five days in the United States. Hot dogs accounted for 17 percent of food-related asphyxiations among children younger than 10 years of age. . . ." (The Washington Post, February 22, 2010). I thank my lucky stars that Chris didn’t become part of that number.

So the moral of my story is that everyone should make time to learn CPR. The life you save may be the life of someone near and dear. I love my family more than life itself and I’m glad that I knew what to do.

Ruben Brown is the media relations specialist for the Atlanta Red Cross

Monday, November 7, 2011

My Life in Disaster: The New York City Marathon 2011

Six member of Team Red Cross on Staten Island before the race.
 The ING New York City Marathon took place yesterday on a perfect autumn day. I was lucky enough to witness first-hand the enthusiasm of these athletes. I volunteered to take pictures for the Red Cross and woke up at five in the morning. My husband was kind enough to drop me off a block before Fort Wadsworth, in Staten Island, at six in the morning. It was my second time as an eyewitness to this momentous event.

Years ago as part of Lambda Chi sorority, at St. John’s University, I volunteered to hand out hot drinks and bagels to the runners. It was cold and dark that November morning, and my sorority sisters and I were recovering from Halloween parties from the night before. So maybe we weren’t as enthusiastic as we should have been. Well that was our loss! Despite waking up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday, and searching for the Red Cross team of runners, among the over 40,000 participants for about an hour and half, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

It was a record-breaking race. The winner of the men’s category Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai broke the previous record by more than two minutes, finishing at 2 hrs 5 min and 6 sec. The women’s favorite and lead runner of the female contenders, Mary Keitany, could not hold on and lost her lead in the last mile of the race to Ethopian natives Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba, who came in first and second in the women’s category.

Runners from all over the United States and one hundred and ten countries came to participate in this iconic marathon. Of the 43,741 starters, 43,475 runners finished, including the oldest runners of the race Yolande Marois, 84 and Peter Harangozo, 88, who came in at 7:41:04 and 7:53:02 respectively.

I was privileged to meet and interview some of the runners on Team Red Cross. Raising money for the Red Cross were 45 runners from seven states and four countries.

Michael Curtin
 One of those runners is Michael Curtin of Brewster, N.Y. Michael’s story is so compelling and his enthusiasm so contagious that you find yourself drawn to him, as well as inspired to maybe one day run/walk the race yourself.

Michael is a veteran of the Armed Forces, and his first encounter with the American Red Cross took place in 1994. Michael was about to be deployed to Somalia when his mother called with the devastating news that his father had unexpectedly died. Stunned, Michael wanted desperately to get home for his father’s funeral. He was in Fort Bragg, N.C about to leave for Somalia when two Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) workers arrived and escorted him back to base.

They helped him pack, drove him to the airport and handed him a roundtrip ticket home to Brewster. After the funeral, Red Cross SAF representatives met Michael at the airport and drove him back to base. What the SAF division of the Red Cross did for Michael and his family is forever etched in his heart. This is his third time running the NYC Marathon for the American Red Cross. "I will run the marathon for the Red Cross till they day I die,” Michael says. “They had my back.”

Simon Curtis
 Another runner raising money for the Red Cross is Simon Curtis who came all the way from Auckland, New Zealand. Simon says "If you want to run for a charity, this is the one." Simon was impressed with the response that the Red Cross had in New Zealand after the devastating earthquake that shook Christchurch, NZ, earlier this year. It’s Simon’s first time running; he’s been training for three months. Good on you Simon!

Marina Kanes
 Brendan Quinn and Marina Kanes were also running for the American Red Cross. Brendan is from across the river in Hoboken, N.J., and just wanted to raise money for a worthy cause. Marina, who lives in Manhattan, is raising money because her life was also touched by the Red Cross. In 2002 there was a fire in her building. Marina says the first people to knock on her door to see if she needed any assistance or a place to stay were the Red Cross. Luckily she had friends and family to turn to. But she remembers being "impressed" with the Red Cross response and has been looking for a way to repay the Red Cross ever since.

Rob Sell came all the way from Fort Worth, Texas. His brother inspired him to run the race for the Red Cross and so he did.

As an eyewitness to the Marathon you become caught up in the enthusiasm of these athletes. As you get to know their stories, you are not only impressed, but you find yourself rooting for them. I’m waiting to find out how they finished, and what their experiences were as they completed that 26.2 mile leg of their journey.

Rob Sell

My Life in Disaster is a series of blog posts by Maha Awad, who is volunteering with the Red Cross and finding out first-hand what it means to be prepared for life’s many disasters.

Monday, October 31, 2011

My Life in Disaster: I'm dreaming of a White ... HALLOWEEN?

It's Halloween, a day that thousands of kids look forward to all year long. It’s also the day after a weekend of record-breaking snow fall—in October.

Imagine the look on kids’ faces when mom wakes them up and says it's a Snow Day. Imagine the jubilation, the joy, the bouncing on beds, the squeals of delight as they ponder their luck.

Once the holidays have passed, a Snow Day is the only beacon of hope that gets kids through the winter doldrums. And to have a Snow Day to fall on the second-best day ever—Halloween—is like winning the lottery.

Now imagine the look on their faces as mom breaks the news: "Halloween will have to wait."

“WHAT?! NO!!”

Yes. And you can't blame this on your mother. On Mother Nature—yes. On Mom—no!

"But why?!”—a refrain heard across the Northeast.

Well, this weekend’s snowstorm downed trees and power lines, and caused major havoc. Thousands of people don't have power, so many streets will be dark. Trees have fallen and have yet to be cleared, so navigating in the dark will be hazardous. Most importantly, downed power lines will be a DANGER.

What is a mom to do? Well for one thing, heed the warnings. If your community has asked that Halloween activities be postponed, then postpone them. It's for your own safety and your children's.

You can go out in the yard and build a Snow-Jack-O-Lantern. You can stay in and tell ghost stories. And when the coast is clear—follow these Red Cross tips in order to have a safe Halloween—even if it is a few days late!

My Life in Disaster is a series of blog posts by Maha Awad, who is volunteering with the Red Cross and finding out first-hand what it means to be prepared for life’s many disasters.

Friday, October 28, 2011

CPR at Sea

The following story was submitted by James Kelly, a deckhand on tugboat when a medical emergency unexpectedly struck.
No matter how careful or well trained one may be, it is impossible to fully prepare for the unexpected; however, it is imperative that we all try. Recently I was working as one of two deckhands on a tugboat contracted to move oil barges along the East Coast when tragedy struck.

We were pushing a barge from New York to Virginia and were far offshore when the captain unsuccessfully tried contacting the bargeman on watch. He sent the other deckhand to find the attendant, who was unconscious in the barge's maintenance room. The deckhand reported back over the radio that the bargeman had been left with a scarcely perceptible breath and heartbeat due to the exhaust of a gas-powered generator. We were all stunned and knew not to move without the captain's orders.

The captain radioed the emergency to the Coast Guard. He put the mate in charge of the boat, then he and the engineer climbed onto the barge, hoping to resuscitate the unconscious bargeman.

Meanwhile the other deckhand and I were responsible for ensuring that each crewmember had what he needed during this emergency so that nobody would have to stop what they were doing for a second. This included providing supplies and relaying messages. Deckhands, being the least experienced onboard, generally carry out only what they are told to do and wait for orders, which we did as best we could, trying to put aside our uneasiness.

The U.S. Coast Guard requires all licensed seamen to be CPR certified. As a deckhand I am required to learn only basic CPR. With those who are more experienced always nearby, deckhands seldom put CPR into practice.

The captain and engineer took turns doing sets of chest compressions and intermittently breathing air into the man’s lungs before the coast guard arrived, but nothing more could be done.

Though we are taught to be aware that such accidents do occur, we were all deeply affected. However, I feel it was very important that we were properly trained. Each of us knew what our role was and how to carry it out level headedly. Because of our Red Cross training we were able to walk away from that experience with the feeling that we had done everything that was within our power.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

They can’t all be home, but we can bring a touch of home to them

By Sam Kille

 “Reveille, reveille, reveille. All hands heave out and trice up. Give the ship a good sweep down, forward and aft. Now reveille.”

That was the rude awakening I’d endure for six months while deployed as a Marine aboard the USS Newport, in the Mediterranean Sea, from 1991-92. But one morning I didn’t mind, as it was Christmas and we were docked in Barcelona, Spain.

Despite being an ocean and a continent away from home—I couldn’t wait for liberty call. Christmas in Spain, how cool was that going to be!

Or so I thought. My platoon-mates and I walked the famed Las Ramblas. Normally packed with tourists and locals alike, the mile long hub of vendors and street performers was eerily empty. And imagine our surprise to find all of the pubs closed—at home, there always seemed to be at least one place open for business!

But alas, different country, different culture and with nothing to do, we returned to the cold comfort of our ship and the realization that you just can’t beat being home for the holidays.

I missed a lot of holidays and family events while in the Marine Corps. Even stateside, there were the times that I was stuck on guard duty; joking about what I’d do if Santa tried to get past me.

Despite the camaraderie of my fellow Marines, and our best efforts to maintain morale, it could be downright depressing at times. Yet there were two words that almost always snapped us out of any funk: “Mail call!”

It’s hard to describe what it means to get a letter from home—and quite often, at least for me, it didn’t matter who the letter was from. Somehow, mail was a validation that what I was doing was important and recognized. This was especially true when receiving letters addressed “Any Service Member,” often from kids.

Sadly the events of September 11th, and the anthrax scare that followed, put a halt to unsolicited mail for security concerns. So when I found myself at sea on the USS Portland in 2002, any mail was restricted to family and friends. I was in Public Affairs at this point, so I constantly had to explain the policy and head off all the false emails about sending cards to places like Walter Reed Army Hospital, knowing that they would just be discarded.

Fast forward to 2007, my boots and utilities traded in for a Red Cross vest. The holidays were approaching and my chapter was getting calls from organizations and schools looking to send cards to the troops. I hated rehashing the policy but then it happened—an announcement was made about Holiday Mail for Heroes!

Now in its fifth year, Holiday Mail for Heroes is a joint effort between the American Red Cross and Pitney Bowes to enable all Americans to send greeting cards during the holiday season to members of our U.S. Armed Forces, veterans and their families—many of whom will be far away from home and serving in harm’s way.

The cards are initially sent to Pitney Bowes which has the means to screen them for hazardous materials. The Red Cross then mobilizes hundreds of volunteers to sort and box cards for delivery.

Knowing firsthand what it means to be far from home, I hope all of you can join in this effort. Please visit www.redcross.org/holidaymail to read the guidelines, and then mail your cards by Dec. 9th to:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
PO Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Additional ways to become involved with the campaign include connecting with fellow card senders through Facebook at www.facebook.com/redcross and Twitter at www.twitter.com/redcross using the hashtag #holidaymail.

Now, I’m betting the words “reveille, reveille, reveille” are just as unwelcomed in the military ranks as ever and there is nothing we can do about that; however, through Holiday Mail for Heroes, let’s heave to and make mail call better than ever!

Sam Kille is the Regional Director of Communications for the American Red Cross in Greater New York. He served in the Marine Corps from 1990 to 2003.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Burning Down the House

By Anita Salzberg

Are you out of your minds? You’re going to burn the house down! (Or, at the very least, the movie set.)

Long before I joined the Red Cross, this was my typical reaction to any scene in a movie or a TV show that featured a bubble bath, three dozen candles and a romantic liaison amid said bubble bath.

Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham? Yes, that was a hot scene (pun intended).

But as I watched, I couldn’t quite tear my mind away from the practicalities of how they were going to get into the tub and have a wild and crazy time without knocking over a half dozen or so candles and causing a fire. Yes, bathrooms are full of tile and porcelain. Still, towels, curtains and walls are plenty flammable.

And think about it—there were probably six guys with fire extinguishers standing on that movie set, just outside the frame, in case the wrong kind of sparks started to go flying.

Since this is Fire Safety Week, that’s my point. Many people think candles are exactly the right thing to reach for during a power outage (to say nothing of an amorous assignation). Turns out, they’re exactly the wrong thing.

Red Cross urges everyone to use only flashlights for emergency lighting, and to never use candles due to extreme risk of fire during a power outage. If Red Cross had thought of it, it would probably say the same about a romantic tryst in a tub.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Life in Disaster: Get Out and Stay Out! Then call 9-1-1

We are all extremely busy, and multitasking has become second nature. I can't remember the last time I cooked dinner without actually doing something else; talking on the phone, or opening bills, or checking email, and yes, that did include leaving the kitchen for a minute or two.

According to the Red Cross, unattended cooking is the cause of 90% of all kitchen fires, and cooking fires are the number one cause of home fires.

October is National Fire Prevention Month, and as if to emphasize the need for fire safety and prevention, the American Red Cross in Greater New York Region has already responded to close to 20 fires in the last week.

 A total of 93% of disasters responded to by the Red Cross are fire related. The Red Cross offers a fire prevention and safety checklist which is a must read. Print it out and give to a neighbor who doesn't have access to a computer. Translate it for them if you need to. You could help save a life.

Monday, October 3, 2011

My Life in Disaster: Support Breast Cancer Awareness – Give Blood!

It's already October. I love the change of seasons. I love the crisp, fall air in New York, and even the fall fashions. But October is bittersweet for me. It's the month when my family and I remember loved ones passed. I remember my father and my mother-in-law. We commemorate his death and her birthday in October. Both of them were ailing; my father with heart disease, my mother-in-law with breast cancer. Both of them suffered for many years, and both of them needed blood transfusions at one point in their treatment.

As a teenager and young adult I used to donate blood all the time. In college, when it came time to donate, I did, twice a year. As a newly employed college graduate, I donated, and even as a new mom I did. I don't know what happened, but I haven't donated blood in a very long time. It's not something I admit to enthusiastically. I even walked by a blood donation truck the other day, and guilt tugged at me, but I still didn't donate.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. More than 200,000 women will be diagnosed with the disease this year, as well as close to 2,000 men, according to the American Cancer Society. The nature of cancer treatments, which can include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, may lead to the need for blood transfusions.

So I have committed myself to donating blood in October. The Red Cross allows you to make an appointment online. I can't think of a better way of honoring the memory of my loved ones than by helping to save a life.

My Life in Disaster is a series of blog posts by Maha Awad, who is volunteering with the Red Cross and finding out first-hand what it means to be prepared for life’s many disasters.

Friday, September 30, 2011

My Life in Disaster: Transitions

I am a mother of three, two girls and one boy. My girls are both in college, and my son is a sophomore in high school. Like many moms who chose to stay at home with their kids, I found myself left in their dust, as they charged out of the house as fast as they possibly could, thinking “What next?” My daughters wouldn't even consider colleges within a 75-mile radius of home.

Was living at home that bad? The answer comes to me in my younger daughter's phone calls home. We talk now more than ever. She and I look forward to parents’ weekend. My older daughter is home again; three years away was enough for her. She now attends school in New York. The distance made my kids closer. They actually miss each other and talk more than they did when they were living under one roof.

While I was and am so happy for them as they forge ahead, when the girls left I felt abandoned. Now what was I supposed to do? Yes, my son is home, but he is a very independent young man, who doesn't need his mom that much anymore. That's a good thing, I know.

I decided to apply to the Red Cross to become a volunteer. It's the best decision I could have made. While I was raising my kids, I became interested in writing and photography. As a volunteer for the Communications Department at the New York City chapter, I am able to use those skills, and even improve them.

Coming into the office feels like old times. It's good to have a reason not to walk around in sweats all day, It's good to get out of the house, and we all need a change of scenery. But more than that, I love putting my skills to good use. It's very satisfying to know that I am helping to make a difference. Giving my time to the Red Cross allows me give back. Now when I see the Red Cross responding to disasters, I'm not only impressed, I'm know that I am part of the team.

There are so many volunteer opportunities at the Red Cross, and each one fits a different personality or skill set. Opportunities range from responding to disasters to instructing people in emergency preparedness or lifesaving skills to helping someone locate a relative separated from family members by armed conflict or natural disaster. No matter what your personality or skill you will find a match, and you will feel the satisfaction that only helping others brings.

My Life in Disaster is a series of blog posts by Maha Awad, who is volunteering with the Red Cross and finding out first-hand what it means to be prepared for life’s many disasters.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

2 Vacates and a Fire

By Andrea Garner

When I started my internship in the Communications Department at the Red Cross in June, I was not quite sure what to expect. On my very first day, I was introduced to the blog that I am posting on now, a blog that highlight’s how the Red Cross changes people’s lives. As I read through each story, I felt a sense of pride knowing that I would be working with an organization that helps people in so many different ways. As I continued to read, I came across a story written by the previous intern who shared her experiences shadowing a Red Cross responder. The next day, I was told that I’d be doing the same thing.

I went my first one of these “ride-alongs” two weeks into my stay and observed our Chapter’s response to two vacates. (A “vacate” is when the city deems an apartment or a building unsafe for habitation and orders the tenants to leave.) But as my time in NYC was coming to an end, I had yet to see what the Red Cross does the most, respond to a fire. I was especially eager to see a fire response, since a large part of my job involved writing stories about these incidents for the Greater NY Red Cross website. Several attempts later and only two days before the end of my internship, that time had finally come. 

As I arrived at the scene of the fire in the Bronx with the responder I was with, the very first thing I noticed was there was no fire truck and everything seemed calm. As we made our way into the building, there was no sign of a fire. Since we knew it only affected one apartment, we continued to make our way to the 7th floor. As we stepped out of the elevator, the smell of smoke filled the air, the first proof to me that there had definitely been a fire. As we turned the corner to the apartment door where the fire occurred, visible ash was outside of the door. We knocked on the door, there was no answer, but we did notice an extra lock on the door. The lock had been put there so no one could enter the apartment. As the responder prepared the Red Cross letter to leave on the door, a janitor informed us that there was no one home during the fire. Once again, we could only hope that the residents would use the Red Cross number on the notice and call us if they needed anything.

As I think about the residents of the apartment that was affected by the fire. I think about all of the emotions they may go though when they arrive home, when they see the lock on their door and learn that there has been a fire in the place they call home. I can only imagine the heartbreak they will feel. My only hope is that they will feel a glimmer of hope when they see our sign posted on their door and know that the Red Cross is waiting to help them. I hope they reach out to us and I hope they find the strength within themselves to share their story. A story that may in return, change someone else’s life.

Monday, September 19, 2011

My Life in Disaster: Contagion!

Last week I went to see the movie “Contagion,” directed by Steven Soderburgh. It’s a thriller about an airborne virus which causes a pandemic, killing almost everyone who comes into contact with it. In the movie, Kate Winslet, who plays a doctor investigating the virus for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), mentions that we touch our hands to our face two or three thousand times per day. Yes, thousand!

After watching Soderburgh’s quiet, cool focus on how often we are exposed/expose others just by passing a credit card to a cashier, or eating from a bowl of peanuts at a bar, I can’t help but be just a bit compulsive about whose germs I have been or am about to be exposed to myself.

Immediately after seeing the film I’ll just say that I was a different person. I became suspicious of every cough, sneeze or throat clearing within earshot and way too aware of how often people touch their faces, then touch things, which we then touch. I understood why people in Japan walk around with face masks.

Now that some time has passed I’m not as panicked as I was right after seeing the movie. I’m less inclined to reach for the sani-gel every time I shake hands with someone. I also remind myself that we have been through recent pandemic scares such as SARS and Anthrax and of course the ever-changing influenza virus.

While movies like “Contagion” are entertaining, they can also make us want to hide in our rooms and not come into contact with any living creature; but we’ve got Facebook and texting for that. What we should do is listen to our mothers. The old adage “Wash your hands before you eat” isn’t for naught.

We can also be a bit prepared. Why not have a face mask for each person in the family? Redcrossstore.org carries a Germ Guard Personal Protection Pack with N95 Mask, which sounds very official, but is really a mask, gloves and hand sanitizer.

I still think we should rethink shaking hands as a form of greeting people. Wikipedia states that handshaking is thought to have originated either as a means of displaying an open palm sans weapon, or as a way of displacing an opponent’s weapon. And since most of us are not gun toters, maybe hugs are a good alternative.

My Life in Disaster is a series of blog posts by Maha Awad, who is volunteering with the Red Cross and finding out first-hand what it means to be prepared for life’s many disasters.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Morning After …Ten Years Later

It’s September 12, 2011. Yesterday’s 9/11 memorials are still on my mind as I ride the 8:15 Staten Island ferry, which is standing room only this morning. I wonder if this is due to the heightened security in the terminals.

I decide to stand outside on the rear deck and enjoy the warm and unusually sunny morning. Since Hurricane Irene, it seems that we’ve had rain almost every day.

I spot a coast guard escort in the wake of the ferry. The sight triggers memories of ten years past. I’m back on the boat, only this time it’s September 14, 2001. Ten years earlier I felt the need to see what was left of the trade towers for myself.

I don’t know what possessed me; maybe it was the fact that my husband’s plane was midair as the attacks occurred and his airplane was diverted to Canada. All of those passengers arriving from Korea, along with my husband, had to find their own way back to New York, from Vancouver. It took him one week to get back home, and I could not sit and wait any longer; I had to do something.

I left my kids with my mother and rode the ferry. I walked to where the Towers had stood and stared in disbelief. It was a war zone. I couldn’t believe that these two towers, where I had worked in the late eighties and early nineties for cargo steamship lines, were the piles of rubble I was staring at now.

That ferry also had a coast guard escort that day, but that sky was dark with ashes. I shake the memory from my mind. After all, yesterday’s 9/11 memorials had a common thread of “it’s time to move forward.”

Granted, it’s hard to move ahead when the threat of terror is looming like a vulture over its prey. But what 9/11/2001 taught me is that I should be prepared.

Ten years ago my kids were in school. I was at work at the College of Staten Island, listening to the radio—in disbelief—as the events unfolded. I remember not knowing what to do. Some people stayed at work. I rushed to my kids’ school a twenty-minute drive away and picked them up. Fortunately we were able to keep up with the news on television.

What I realize today, after Hurricane Irene, is that you must have electricity to watch the news. When Irene swept through Staten Island on August 27, our power went down. The only way we could hear the news during Irene would have been to sit in the car with the motor running.

Luckily my husband found his battery-operated short wave radio so we were able to follow 1010 WINS. The radio and a few candles were the extent of our preparedness. (I now know the Red Cross advises against lighting candles during a power outage due to the extreme risk of fire.)

Since September is National Emergency Preparedness Month, I’ve decided to rethink my strategy. I’m going to “Get a kit, make a plan, and be informed.” After surfing redcrossstore.org I’ve got decisions to make—like which kit to buy for my family and my friends. I know they’ll make great Christmas gifts.

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Yorkers Turn to Red Cross—Again

By Jeff Taylor, American Red Cross

FONDA, N.Y., Sept. 8, 2011—Brenda Ell and her three foster children know the Fonda-Fultonville Central School in Fonda, N.Y., better than they’d care to. For the second time in a week, the family has sought refuge in the American Red Cross shelter located at the school.

"The American Red Cross and all the volunteers have given us a safe place to go for comfort when our whole world has been turned upside down," said Ell, whose Fultonville home was damaged by a mudslide.
Besides being in a safe place, that comfort has included warm meals, a cot to sleep on and—with help from the school superintendent—the auditorium was turned into a children's movie theater.

The impact of Hurricane Irene, and the latest flooding from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, is leaving behind a mammoth foot print across New York. Shelters that had been closed, as well as several new locations, had to be opened during the past 24 hours.

The Ell family actually has a second home nearly 125 miles from Fultonville. Yet they were unable to evacuate there as it unfortunately it sits on the river bank in Binghamton—where forecast record flooding is causing massive evacuations.

To keep up with the ongoing response operation in New York, or to see where shelters are located, visit www.redcross.org

Those who want to help can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. This gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters. Visit www.redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS; you can also text the word “REDCROSS” to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to local American Red Cross chapters or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Red Cross Brings First Hot Meals into Isolated Communities

ALBANY, N.Y., Sept. 4, 2011-Saturday, with an escort from the Middleburgh Fire Department, an American Red Cross mobile feeding truck arrived in the tiny hamlet of Breakabeen, N.Y. Located about fifty miles southwest of Albany, it had been isolated due to flooding caused by Hurricane Irene.

Driven by the husband and wife team of Tom and Cheryl Fleet, volunteers from Mercer, Pa., the food truck settled in outside the Breakabeen General Store on Main Street. As they set up the meals, representatives of the honorary Breakabeen Hose Company went through the hamlet in an ambulance announcing the arrival of the Red Cross.

It wasn't long before residents flocked to the Red Cross for a hot meal. With the fire department's assistance, residents were handed hot meals of chicken, tater tots, green beans and peaches-for many residents, it was the first hot meal they had since the storm."

I'm amazed at the resiliency of the residents," said Cheryl, taking a break during the dinner service. "Everyone has such good humor in spite of what is surrounding them."

According to the Fleets, they would not have been able to reach the community without the support of the local fire departments who had been supporting the town initially.

When Hurricane Irene struck, members of the Germantown and Rapids Fire Department were dispatched to the hamlet to assist in the recovery efforts.

Hot meals bring smiles to the faces of Breakabeen residents Addie Brown and Jane Swint. Breakabeen, a tiny hamlet in Upstate New York, was isolated for nearly a week because of flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. Meals delivered by the Red Cross Sept. 3 were the first hot meals many residents had since the storm. Photo: Carolyn Sherwin
  "We came here to support this community, when the Middleburgh Fire District asked for help, no questions asked, we deployed, "said Germantown Fire Chief Michael Lawson.

Chief Barry Kobrin of the Rapids Volunteer Fire Department added, "The community has been incredibly good to us since our arrival and everyone has been more than accommodating. The arrival of the Red Cross with this meal is the icing on the cake."

Over 400 dinners were served in Breakabeen. The American Red Cross, through a partnership with the Southern Baptist Convention, has two kitchens setup in the state of New York. Tens of thousands of meals are being prepared each day to be loaded onto vehicles.
Additionally, the Red Cross is delivering meals-ready to-eat (MREs), water and cleanup kits across the state from Long Island, to Binghamton and north of Albany; and volunteers are doing outreach to help provide information and counseling for those affected.
The Red Cross has disaster relief operations active in more than a dozen states, and costs are growing by the hour as the Red Cross helps those in need. Current estimates for Red Cross relief for Hurricane Irene are from $10 million to $15 million.

Breakabeen resident Brent Ast receives a hot meal from Red Cross volunteer Cheryl Fleet, of Mercer, Pa. Breakabeen, a tiny hamlet in Upstate New York, was isolated for nearly a week because of flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. Meals delivered by the Red Cross Sept. 3 were the first hot meals many residents had since the storm. Photo: Carolyn Sherwin, American Red Cross

Those who want to help can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. This gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters. Visit www.redcross.org <http://www.redcross.org/>  or call 1-800-RED-CROSS; you can also text the word "REDCROSS" to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to local American Red Cross chapters or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.

By Carolyn Sherwin, American Red Cross Volunteer

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

“I can’t say enough good things about the Red Cross…”

Photo: Stephen Johnson
When Lillian R. from Staten Island and her eight-year-old son returned home from an appointment one summer day, they saw two Red Cross vans and about 15 fire trucks in front of her building, where a fire was still smoldering. Lillian said, “When I saw the fire, I felt overwhelmed; I’d only been living there since November. I’m a single parent, and it was frightening.” Two of Lillian’s three sons, her 8 and 17-year-olds, still live at home; her 18-year-old lives on his own.

As scared as she was, Lillian was relieved to see Red Cross relief workers at the scene because she knew they would provide help right away. This was not Lillian’s first fire. “When my oldest boys were 6 and 7, I was living in Manhattan and had a fire,” she said. “The Red Cross helped me for a few days, put me in a hotel, assisted me with carfare and food. It’s a comfort when you see them.”

Lillian’s building in Staten Island was seriously damaged and it’s unclear if her apartment will be repaired before her lease is up later in the year. Fortunately, she and her two sons are staying with a friend for now, and Lillian is confident that the Red Cross will help her going forward. Her Red Cross caseworker has referred her to a NYC agency that will help her secure long-term housing for herself and her family.

“I can’t say enough good things about the Red Cross and the work they do,” Lillian said. “They are a blessing for families coming out of fires with nowhere to go. They are so kind and caring and they provide you with as much assistance as possible. They really go the extra mile for you.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

3-alarm SoHo fire survivor shares his frightening experience via comment

Photo: Richardo Nelson
Jorge Suarez, a resident who lived on the top floor of the building the was engulfed in a 3-alarm fire last Friday, posted this comment on the Gothamist about what it was like to survive that fire and how the Red Cross was able to provide him with some comfort:
I lived there until last night (I'm the guy in the blue Barcelona shirt in picture number 8). Not a single fire alarm was working. The folks who found out first were the ones who were awake because their power went out and they investigated by checking the hallways - which turned out to be full of smoke. I was asleep on the top floor and woke up for reasons as yet unknown to me. I had the time to grab my keys, phone and wallet and went outside into the staircase, where the smoke was so thick I couldn't see my feet. I called out for help and a firefighter grabbed me and put my arm on the railing by the stairs. He told me to hang on to the railing and make my way down quickly. I'm still spitting up blood from the irritation in my throat, a result of breathing in that much smoke. The Red Cross has been very helpful - they donated me a pair of shoes and got me put up in a hotel for the next three nights. I have spent the last few hours buying clothes and necessities because according to the fire department and Red Cross, I most likely no longer have any physical possessions left to salvage in my apartment. Turns out as a fire climbs upward, when it hits the top floor it runs out of vertical room to grow and moves in all directions horizontally. Thus the sixth floor erupted into flames and those of us on the sixth have most likely lost absolutely everything. 
Source: Gothamist