When the Red Cross got the call from the New Bedford Fire Department to respond to a fire involving 144 units, the eight Red Cross volunteers heading to the scene prepared for the worst. The Red Cross of Massachusetts sends volunteer emergency response teams to almost 700 house fires a year; while most are single family house fires or apartment fires involving up to 50 people, the teams rarely see a disaster of this magnitude.
Mark McLoughlin, Red Cross Volunteer from Fall River, and his wife Rhonda, arrived on the scene around 11pm. Mark described what was going on, “When I got on scene the residents of the building had been evacuated to the parking lot across the street. We handed out dozens of blankets, snacks and water as the night was a bit chilly and the people were understandably in shock.”
“At this point, all we could do was wait for the Fire Department to determine the condition of the apartments in the building. A ‘non-livable’ unit means the resident must find alternate accommodations. And with 144 units in play, we were floating the possibility of opening a shelter. We just didn’t know how many people were going to be allowed back into their homes – if at all.”
While waiting, Red Cross volunteers worked through the early hours of the morning making sure people had what they needed. An elderly gentleman needed to sit so he rested in the Red Cross emergency vehicle. Several mothers needed diapers for their children. Others just needed reassurance. The Salvation Army showed up to to provide additional food and hot drinks.
After a few hours, it was determined that only ten of the 144 units were unlivable. Families who had been out in the parking lot all night were able to return to their homes. Families of the remaining ten apartments needed help so the Red Cross volunteer trained in providing individual casework set to work to provide assistance so that they would have emergency lodging, food and whatever basic needs (such as clothing or medication) they might need. Red Cross volunteers also coordinated with the New Bedford Police to provide transportation to the affected families to their respective hotels.
Mark and Rhonda McLoughlan got back home about 4am. The next morning, Rhonda was back at work providing additional casework assistance to families that needed.
Said Mark, “Rhonda and I were both aware that there was a tremendous amount of people in need at this fire. To be able to help, to make sure everyone had what they need – this is why both Rhonda and I joined the Red Cross.”
Special thanks to all of the volunteers who helped: Shawn Curran, Andrew Enos, Rhonda McLoughlin, Mark McLoughlin, Christopher McNeil, Anthony Lessa, Rachel Keen, Paul Hoy and Ellen Sullivan.
The American Red Cross is working to reduce the incidence of harm by residential fire by 25% by providing home fire education to adults and children and by installing free smoke detectors in homes across the Commonwealth. For more information, to get yours free or to join us in our fight to #endhomefires, visit us here.