“They Saved our Life” A Georgetown Mother and Son Share Their Home Fire Story

by Cuthbert Langley

This originally appeared on the Red Cross Palmetto Post blog. Photo and video by the American Red Cross, SC Region. 

Janette Washington and her son were in church on Sunday when a message stuck with them. Not just a message of faith, but one of preparedness. Firefighters from the Georgetown County Fire Department spoke to the congregation about the importance of having working smoke alarms in their homes. The firefighters said they had free alarms to install from the Palmetto SC Region of the American Red Cross.

“I noticed there was just one in my house, so I decided we needed more,” Janette said.

Educating Georgetown residents about home fire safety is a goal of the Georgetown County Fire Department.

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“Anytime we can get to a community event and talk about fire safety and smoke detectors, we’re there,” said Chief Mack Reed.Educating Georgetown residents about home fire safety is a goal of the Georgetown County Fire Department.

A few days later, the firefighters installed several alarms and discussed with Janette ways to escape from her home should a fire break out. She remembered filing away that conversation, never thinking she’d need to use it.

However, in April, as she was falling back asleep after severe weather woke her up, she heard the screeching sound coming from one of the newly installed smoke alarms.

“When I looked down the hall, all I could was the fire coming from the ceiling,” she remembered.

The mother quickly jumped into action to save herself and her 28-year-old son.

“She calls me, and she bangs on the wall: Timothy, wake up! The house is on fire,” said Timothy.

Within just a few minutes, the mother and son said the smoke began choking them. In that moment, however, Janette remembered: two ways to escape from every room in the house. She remembered they could escape from the back door.

The mother and son are alive today, thanks to the smoke alarms and knowing what to do when a fire occurs.

“It was very scary, but I know for a fact, if it hadn’t been for those fire alarms, I was going back to sleep,” Janette said. “They saved our life. We would have been gone, honestly.”

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In the days following the fire, the Red Cross helped in another way. Volunteers helped the family by providing financial assistance for their immediate needs, replacing necessary medications that burned and providing referrals for other agencies that could help in their recovery.

“For me and my son, [the assistance] was a blessing because we didn’t have nothing at the time,” said the thankful mother.

Janette and Timothy are the 52nd and 53rd lives saved in South Carolina since the Red Cross’ home fire campaign launched in 2014. Together with its partners, the Red Cross has installed more than 57,000 free smoke alarms throughout the state over the last several years.

While much of her home is destroyed, what was not damaged was Janette’s sense of gratitude for the Georgetown County Fire Department, the Red Cross and the working smoke alarms.

“I’ve told a lot of people, if you don’t have one, don’t let a day go by because it’s true: they will save your life,” Janette said.

The Red Cross wants to thank all of the local fire departments, Fire Safe SC and Red Cross volunteers for helping save lives throughout South Carolina.

Making Lowell homes safer with Sound the Alarm

A devastating fire brought Dionisio Quadros to the Red Cross in 2007. His apartment, along with those of three other families, burned on a cool November night in the Highlands section of Lowell, Mass.

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“I remember being woken by the smoke alarms on the floor above me,” said Quadros. “I thought maybe someone had burned something in their kitchen, it didn’t cross my mind that it was an actual fire.”

When Quadros fully woke up he could hear more than one smoke alarm sounding in the three-story house. The upper portion of the 60-year old wooden structure was fully ablaze when Quadros made it safely to the sidewalk.

“I remember grabbing my keys and nothing else.”

Quardros and the three other families spent the next few hours with Red Cross volunteers at a near-by restaurant, the manager keeping the lights on late so that Red Cross case workers could assist those affected by the fire.

“I found a new apartment about 10 days later. Between the money from the Red Cross, friends and family, I was luckier than some in the house.”

Flash forward to May 5, 2018. The American Red Cross Sound the Alarm event drew more than 50 volunteers in Lowell to make homes safer. Volunteers were wrapping up a training session and rally at the Lowell Senior Center that morning before hitting the streets for STA appointments when Quardros walked into the recreation area at the center.

“Dionisio was noticed when he walked in, he wasn’t your average senior citizen with his leather vest and bandanna,” said Deb Duxbury, disaster program manager for the Northeast Massachusetts Chapter of the Red Cross. Duxbury said Red Cross volunteers asked him if he’d like a home safety check and for volunteers to test his smoke alarms. He gave his address and phone number to a group of volunteers and was added to the afternoon appointments.

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Volunteers replaced and installed seven smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in the three-unit home where Dionisio lives, making an apartment safer where three young children lived with their mother and grandmother.

Dionisio went on to say how glad he was to stumble onto the program that morning at the senior center on his morning coffee run.

“The Red Cross helped me in my hour of need many years ago. I’m glad they’re with me now. I feel safer with the carbon monoxide detector in the basement,” said Quardros.

Lowell volunteers went on to install 703 smoke and carbon monoxide alarms during the 12-day Sound the Alarm event in Massachusetts’ third largest city.

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Red Cross & NBC Boston Partner to Make Boston Homes Safer

by Jeff Hall, American Red Cross of Massachusetts

NBC Boston and the American Red Cross of Massachusetts have partnered to make Boston homes safer through the Home Fire Campaign.

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Over the next several months, Red Cross volunteers and members of the Boston Fire Department will install smoke detectors donated by NBC Boston in homes across city neighborhoods. The winter months especially pose a troublesome time for home fires as temperatures dip and people look for alternative heating methods in their homes.

“As temperatures dip, space heaters become one of the leading causes of home fires across the nation,” said Edward Blanchard, interim disaster program manager for the Red Cross in the Boston metropolitan area. “Heaters can overload an electrical outlet or one placed too close to curtains or drapes become an instant fire hazard,” said Blanchard.

NBC Boston received a donation of 500 combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors from First Alert, a manufacturer of home fire safety products, and contacted the Red Cross of Massachusetts to identify residents who could use the new safety equipment.

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“As part of our commitment to the community, NBC Boston, Telemundo Boston and necn couldn’t be more proud of our month-long fire safety campaign with the American Red Cross, First Alert and the Boston Fire Department. We hope through our messaging of the generous First Alert donations, and installations in homes across the city, we were able to make at least one home, safer.”-  Maggie Baxter, Vice President of Programming, NBC Boston, Telemundo Boston & necn.

“The partnership is a great fit for the Red Cross,” said Blanchard. “With the detectors donated by NBC Boston, our Home Fire Campaign can continue to identify families who need smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make their homes safer.”

Boston Fire Department officials stress that best way to keep your home or residence safe is to have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every floor and near every bedroom. An existing partnership with the Boston Fire Department has already allowed more than 1,000 smoke detectors to be installed across Boston.

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“Fires today are much more dangerous than they were 30 years ago. They reach flash over more quickly,” said Joseph Finn, Boston Fire Commissioner. “When people get an early warning from a smoke detector, they are out of the building before the fire reaches a deadly stage. That early warning is vital for survivability,” said Finn.

This continuing outreach is part of the ongoing Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, in which Red Cross volunteers and partners canvass high-risk neighborhoods to install free smoke alarms, replace batteries in existing alarms and help families create escape plans. Through another program called the Pillowcase Project, Red Cross volunteers are educating children in elementary schools on how to be ready for a home fire or other dangerous natural disasters. This work is made possible thanks to generous financial donations from national partners: Almost Family and Delta Air Lines. The Red Cross has also received funding from FEMA through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.

In early November, Red Cross volunteers installed the one millionth free smoke detector in the United States as part of the Home Fire Campaign.  To date, the campaign has saved the lives of 285 people who were alerted to smoke or carbon monoxide in their residence.

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A New Headquarters Unearths Treasures from the Past

A Living History of Red Cross Volunteerism

written by – Martine Costello, Red Cross Volunteer
imagery by – Sasha Goldberg, Red Cross Volunteer 

Decades of work by Red Cross volunteers came to life recently as the organization prepared to move its Massachusetts regional headquarters from Cambridge to Medford.

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Volunteers in the process of packing unearthed thousands of old photos, scrapbooks, personal letters, vintage uniforms and dozens of other memorabilia that have found their way to museums and archives all over the country.

The newly discovered boxes form a rich living history of the thousands of volunteers in the region who gave from the heart for projects spanning blood drives and disaster recovery missions to first aid training and fire scene rescues. In an age of 140-character tweets and 24-hour cable news, the trove of material that filled a wing of several rooms of the Red Cross offices was a nostalgic look-back of a simpler, though no less generous, time of giving.  Some of the items date back to the 19th century, spanning World Wars I and II, the Vietnam War, the Great Molasses Flood in Boston and many other key points of history.

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“Germans Licked West of the Rhine,” read one banner headline from a newspaper dated February 28, 1945.  There was a note from a Vietnam soldier dated Dec. 22, 1968, thanking the unidentified Red Cross volunteer who sent him a holiday care package.  “It is somewhat difficult for me to say what it means to know that there are people other than one’s own family who care for GIs,” he wrote in neat script.  A package from home, he said, is often the one thing that makes a difference in a man’s will to live during times of war.

There was an article from the Red Cross News, dated July 1918, about a successful program to knit 90,000 pairs of socks for American soldiers fighting in Europe during World War I. “More knitters needed,” it said. There was a scrapbook from Hurricane Camille in 1969. Annual reports, bound in red leather with gold trim, dating from 1905-1974. Wartime ration books, carefully folded American flags, monogrammed silver tea services. There were pins and patches and dozens of uniforms in heavy wool and brass buttons, each with its own distinctive hat. There were books about the Geneva Convention, first aid training and disaster response. There was a needlepoint sampler, hand-stitched, dated 1918.

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The black and white photos, spanning more than 100 years, were perhaps the most vivid reminder of a bygone era. They were in cardboard boxes and leather-bound albums, taped into worn scrapbooks and framed under glass. There were men in fedoras and nurses in starched white uniforms; blood drive publicity photos; volunteers wearing boutonnieres receiving awards for their service; second graders collecting Red Cross subscriptions, dated Jan. 2, 1941.  There was a smiling Clara Barton, the Civil War nurse who founded the Red Cross in 1881, seated in a rocker.  Some of the larger photos were stacked on tables and leaned up against the walls: a framed panoramic photo of a banquet from the American Red Cross’s 21st National Convention in Philadelphia, June 18-21, 1946.

“Every time you opened a box something new and fascinating would pop out,” said Sasha Goldberg, the Red Cross volunteer who carefully cataloged and photographed all of the items. “There are so many fascinating stories and we were able to find homes for everything so all of it could be properly displayed.”

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Goldberg’s work took most of the summer leading up to the Red Cross’ move in late September.

Many of the items featuring Barton made their way to the Clara Barton Birthplace Museum in North Oxford.  These included plates and cups with the Red Cross logo; three stained glass Red Cross panels; a pamphlet outlining services to the armed forces and veterans from 1881-1981; a report of New York and New England hurricanes and floods from 1938; assorted magazines and books from 1916-1939.

Goldberg put together a special box of memorabilia from V-J Day, Aug. 15, 1945, when the Japanese surrendered in World War II.  Most of these items came from a longtime volunteer of the American Motor Corps, a group of intrepid women who transported wounded troops and supplies. The Motor Corps women, dressed in their trademark knee-high boots, have been an institution during both of the world wars as well as during the 1918 flu pandemic.  In World War II alone, approximately 45,000 women of the Motor Corps logged more than 61 million miles, often using their own vehicles.1  Local Motor Corps women also helped out during the Molasses Flood of January 1919 in Boston’s North End, when a storage tank burst. Twenty-one people were killed and 150 injured as 2.3 million gallons of molasses streamed down the streets.

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There was also dozens of old books about swimming, first aid and water safety, some dating back to the 19th century, which made their way to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale.  The Framingham History Center took home treasure, as did several Red Cross regional offices, the Tewksbury Public Health Museum and historical societies in Natick, Quincy and Weymouth.

Sara Goldberg (no relation to Sasha), an archivist with Historic Newton, collected several binders of photos, newspaper clippings and typewritten material about the Newton chapter of the Red Cross. Of particular note, she discovered details about the Junior Auxiliary, founded by Newton students in December 1917, which sewed clothing and bandages for soldiers in World War I. Other volunteers sewed rag doll toys for French children in need. “It helps us to understand Newton’s role in the larger events the Red Cross was involved in,” Goldberg said of the recovered treasure.

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Lily Mysona, local history librarian at the Malden Public Library, took home five boxes of material, including one dedicated to Malden chapter memorabilia, one on the Motor Corps, black and white photos and a dozen old uniforms that could date back to the 1920s and 1930s.

Both Goldberg and Mysona are still poring through the material, weeks later.

“I love history,” Mysona said. “Sometimes it’s the stories about the individuals who draw you in. You see how people lived their lives, and what they gave back.”

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  1. “Volunteer for Red Cross Motor Corps”. Virtual Museum of Public Service School of Public Affairs and Administration Rutgers University-Newark. Retrieved 23 December 2015.

Links to photographs of historical items:

Photographs from a display at the Volunteer Appreciation Day in Cambridge: https://www.flickr.com/gp/60784495@N07/1xmPso

General Items:   https://www.flickr.com/gp/44966885@N00/zv7800

Selections from Malden’s items:  https://flic.kr/s/aHsm29HEwU

Selections from Newton’s collection: https://flic.kr/s/aHsm6L93qN

When disasters inspire volunteerism

by Susan Gilbert, American Red Cross of Massachusetts volunteer

Before joining the American Red Cross,rco_blog_img_contee Lisa Contee had never been a volunteer. Volunteerism was brought forward in her mind when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010.

Lisa had what she calls her “Haiti baby” that January, watching on television as members of the Red Cross assisted those most in need in what was one of the worst disasters in in recent history.

Lisa subsequently went to the Red Cross, got her CPR certification and attended a free disaster services class. The introductory class showed potential volunteers how the missions of the Red Cross help people here in Massachusetts during both small and large disasters.

Lisa was hooked. The work the Red Cross does locally was eye opening and exactly what she was interested in doing – lending that helping hand. Immediately after the training, Lisa went to the Cambridge office determined to get a position at the American Red Cross of Massachusetts. Lisa recalls that she “wouldn’t leave until they were down and ready to have me.”

To start, Lisa joined a Disaster Action Team. These teams are made up of volunteers who go out, boots on the ground, and help the clients of disasters – fires, floods, storms – anything that leaves people displaced.

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In 2014 when the Home Fire Campaign was announced, Lisa was one of the first volunteers to receive training to help install free smoke alarms in people’s homes.  She was quickly promoted to supervisor, and today is the lead and mentor to other volunteers interested in both DAT and the Home Fire Campaign.

Aside from DAT and Home Fire Campaign work, Lisa trained and was certified to drive and operate relief operations from Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles. Commonly known as ERVs, these mobile disaster relief and food trucks serve those in need in the hardest hit areas.

Lisa was deployed to the New York City area to support relief operations during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. She enjoyed the hard work and long hours doing and said “it was the hardest physical work” she has ever done.

In March 2017, Lisa went to an early morning fire where a building had collapsed. The collapse displace more than 45 people. The fire started in one unit and spread to several other units, affecting the entire building with either fire or smoke damage. The Red Cross took care of 11 families and worked with the management company to find hotel space for the displaced residents.

Lisa says that moments like these are why she stays with the Red Cross. “People helping out people is all we need.”

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A teddy bear’s comfort on a cold night

by Jim Mosso, DAT Supervisor, Central Massachusetts

Just before 5 p.m. on a cold Monday night, the Red Cross received a call to respond to a house fire on Sheridan Street in Fitchburg. Steven Oskirko, Owen Mangan responded with me to the fire scene where we saw that the entire third floor of an apartment building was burned out. The two floors below were completely flooded from the hoses of the Fitchburg Fire Department. Firefighters had brought the fire under control before it severely damaged any surrounding buildings, and placed all 20 residents, wrapped in blankets, inside a warming bus just away from the building.fitch-pic-1

Our Disaster Action Team (DAT) did its evaluation of the scene and we planned out how to best help the four families affected by the fire. We opened the Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) and brought water and snacks to the families, trying to provide some comfort to them inside the bus, out of the cold night where overnight temperatures hovered around 16 degrees.

The look on all their faces was plain shock. While everyone was thankful for making it safely out of the building, a few residents were visibly upset. It’s a look DAT volunteers see across the United States.

While I was speaking with a few residents, a young girl came over to me with a questioning look. She looked up and asked if I was going to help her ‘big family?’ I told her, ‘Yes, we were going to help,’ and I would see that she and her family would have a place to sleep tonight. She smiled and went on to tell me she smelled something weird before she heard the smoke alarms, and alerted her father who was sleeping in the next room. Her family lived on the third floor, the floor completely destroyed in the fire. As other caseworkers assisted her family, I went and found one of the small stuffed teddy bears we carry in the ERV. With a smile she gladly accepted the bear and told me thank you.

Luckily, the building’s smoke alarms sounded the alert and all the residents were able to make it out of the building safely with their pets. As it is in so many cases, they were only able to make it out with what they were wearing.

fitch-pic-2A resident said to me last night, ‘I never thought this would happen to me.’ So many fires everyday around Massachusetts and we still don’t believe it will impact us, we never think that the home affected will be ours.

I can’t say thanks enough to the Fitchburg Fire Department. They do a wonderful job taking care of those affected until the Red Cross arrives.

While recovery is difficult and personal items can be replaced, the building smoke alarms worked wonderfully. Hands down, those smoke alarms saved lives that night.

The Giving is Easy

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Black Friday is ended. Cyber Monday came and went, although online shopping isn’t going anywhere. And #Giving Tuesday hashtags are overwhelming our Facebook news feeds, email inboxes and snail mail.

It’s that time of year again, when organizations tap in to our even better natures and ask us to dig a little deeper into our personal gift funds. And while even the best of us can roll our eyes at the hundredth email we receive asking for a holiday donation, the truth is that organizations like the Red Cross ask because this time of year is when the giving happens. It’s fundraising High Season, folks. People really are more generous this time of year.

The holiday season can also bring anxiety to the generous at heart struggling to make ends meet, and certainly for those of our clients who have recently lost everything in a historic flood, a house fire or tornado.

We’d therefore like to offer some options for giving back that either don’t break the bank or don’t even need the bank.

No Cost Ways to Give

  1. Give Blood. The need never ends, no matter what time of year it is. And blood and platelets have a shelf life, meaning the need is constant. By giving blood and just an hour of your time, you can save up to three lives.
  2. Volunteer. The life’s blood of the American Red Cross is its volunteers. We do set the bar pretty high for our volunteer staff, but the rewards are immeasurable. Think about joining one of our fire response teams, helping local veterans, handing out groceries at our Boston or New Bedford food pantry or being an ambassador for one of our many initiatives. You could even wind up writing our blog! (To get started, click here).
  3. Shop Normally. You’re buying gifts anyway, so why not get them on Amazon? Sign on to AmazonSmile and designate the American Red Cross as your preferred charity, and then begin your virtual shopping trips at amazon.com. You’ll find the same selection and prices as on http://www.amazon.com, but when you check out, AmazonSmile will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of each eligible item to the Red Cross. Yay.

The Gifts that Keeps on Giving

For the person who has everything, why not buy a symbolic gift in his or her name? Starting on Giving Tuesday (November 29), eBay customers can buy Gifts That Give Back to help those in need – from warm blankets for families displaced by floods to a night’s stay in a shelter for wildfire evacuees – these gifts provide hope and comfort when all is lost. Customers will receive a digital certificate with their purchase to email or print as a gift for someone special, and eBay is waiving all fees to ensure that 100% of the purchase price will support the American Red Cross. Available through December 24th, these gifts are perfect for all of your last minute holiday shopping needs!

And While We Have You…

From #GivingTuesday through the month of December, when you donate to the Red Cross through the PayPal Giving Fund, PayPal will add 1 percent to every donation made. And, PayPal passes on 100 percent of every donation made to the Red Cross.

And finally, whether you’re in the market for a car for yourself or looking to make someone else’s holiday merry and bright with super extravagant gift, Mazda and its Dealers invite you to Drive for Good this season. When you lease or purchase a new Mazda vehicle during the Mazda Drive for Good Event November 21 – January 3, Mazda will offer you the chance to direct a $150 donation to the Red Cross among other charities. And, when you test-drive a Mazda vehicle November 21 through January 3, Mazda employees will pledge an hour of volunteer time to worthy causes, including the Red Cross.

No matter what your paycheck or your ability to spare free time, this year, as in every year, we invite you to #GiveWithMeaning. It’s easier than ever.