Thursday, December 28, 2017

Year End Review: Unprecedented Year of Delivering Hope: Responding to Local Disasters

by Stan Frank

During a year marked by unprecedented emergencies, American Red Cross volunteers from NYC, Long Island and the Lower Hudson Valley have answered the call to help around the country and right here in the Greater New York Region.

The statistics are impressive -- delivering emergency relief to approximately 8000 residents following more than 2200 disasters; installing over 27,000 smoke alarms; training over 7800 children in vital disaster preparedness skills. But numbers alone do not tell the story of all the Red Cross does to deliver hope and help in our communities.

Over the next few blogs, I will share stories from the field about the lives our Red Cross staff and volunteers have touched across the region in each line of service: Disaster Response, Home Fire Preparedness, Services to the Armed Forces, International Services, and Preparedness.

Responding to Disasters Big and Small

The American Red Cross Greater New York Region serves more than 13 million people in New York City, on Long Island, in the Lower Hudson Valley counties of Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, Orange, and Sullivan, as well as the community of Greenwich, Conn. After an emergency, Red Cross teams deliver hope and relief, including shelter, food, clothing and emotional support. On average, this happens 5 – 25 times a day in the Greater New York region. In 2017, teams responded to more than 2200 emergencies and disasters including home fires, building evacuations, floods and more, providing assistance to over approximately 8000 local residents in need.

Four Alarm Fire in Yonkers, New York

John Cascone, Senior Disaster Program Manager for the Metro New York North Chapter since 2001, described one of the major disasters in the chapter in 2017. On November 6, 2017, at about 5 a.m., a massive 4-alarm fire broke out in a densely populated residential community on Oak Street in Yonkers. The fire completely destroyed a 3-story apartment building and jumped to two adjacent wood-frame houses, causing major damage to one and minor damage to the other.

Quickly, more than 25 Red Cross volunteers mobilized and arrived on the scene. They set up a Reception Center -- a warm and safe place for families -- at the nearby Nodine Hill Community Center. Here, the volunteers were able to interview the 23 families displaced by this fire. Red Cross volunteers have a variety of skill sets, including speaking various languages, and 7 bilingual team members helped to translate for many families.

Many people arrived at the Center with only the clothes they were sleeping in. Red Cross volunteers quickly set up a shelter and provided blankets, clothing, food, and mental and emotional health support, as well as financial assistance to the residents.

Summing up the response Cascone said, “I was very proud of our response to this devastating fire. Our training and organization kicked in as soon as we were alerted and we were on-site helping victims almost immediately. Our volunteers, the Mayor’s Office, the OEM (Office of Emergency Management) and local social service agencies all worked together to help ease the pain of the 23 families who were displaced. That’s what the Red Cross is all about.”

Five Alarm Fire in Elmhurst, Queens

I also spoke with Uikki O’Bryant, Senior Disaster Program Manager for New York City, who recalled the events of a devastating spring time fire in Queens.

Photo Credit: Viv Moy
At about 6:30 p.m. on April 11, 2017, a 5-alarm fire broke out on the top floor of a large 6-story brick apartment building on 94th Street in the Elmhurst section of Queens. The ferocious fire spread quickly through the wooden roof frame before 200 firefighters from all over the city arrived at the scene. The fire completely destroyed the top floors of the building and displaced 67 families (144 adults and 31 children) and their many pets.

Red Cross teams responded quickly and worked with NYC Emergency Management to establish a reception center and temporary shelter at P.S. 13Q, just across the street from the fire building. Here volunteers provided food, beverages, health assistance, and, most importantly, emotional support. Many of the residents arrived with only the clothes on their backs. Some carried their children and pets - including dogs, cats, and turtles -- in their arms.
Photo Credit: R.Rigos

"The fire was so large that it was truly a regional response with volunteers, community organizations and governmental agencies from all over the city and across our region pitching in to help," said O'Bryant. We are grateful to count among our partners New York City’s Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), the New York City Office of Emergency Management (NYCEM), and Tzu Chi, one of our most active community partners. We also collaborated with Animal Care Centers (ACC), which helped find temporary homes for displaced pets.

Within days, a multi-agency resource center was established and Red Cross case workers joined with City agencies and other nonprofits to provide additional assistance and help these families start to take their next steps. Kevin Rojas, a resident of the building for 33 years, shared his story in this video.

Thank you to all of our volunteers and partners who help the Red Cross to deliver hope and help down the street, across the country, and around the world.


Help people affected by disasters like hurricanes, floods and countless other crises by making a donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small across the United States. Please consider making a donation today. Visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends goes to its programs and services, which includes providing food, shelter, relief supplies, emotional support and other assistance, as well as supporting the vehicles, warehouses, technology and people that make help possible.


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