Mid-Winter Dangers

winter home fire

Mid-December evenings can mean extremely cold temperatures. It is definitely not the time to be out in the elements, especially with a one-year old child. Unfortunately, this was the case for a young family; their dreams were going up in flames, while the temperature was falling to 30 below zero.

The home was their first, and they were remodeling it, putting everything – both money and sweat equity — they had into it. Like many Midwest families, they use a wood-burning stove to keep their home warm. The father was at work, while the mother was home with their son.  The fire began on the lower level of the two-story home and smoke quickly consumed the upper level.

Luckily, the mother heard the smoke alarm, ran to her infant son, called for the dog and escaped safely – barefoot, and with just the cloths on their backs. The fire grew so large that four separate fire companies responded.  Even with their most valiant efforts, the firefighters were unable to save the home. The family lost everything – all their remodeling efforts, all the Christmas presents, already bought and wrapped. The ruin was later bulldozed.

The American Red Cross Disaster Action Team, including Sharon Rohrer, arrived shortly after the firefighters. They had two missions: support the young family through this devastating situation, and provide hot coffee, water and nourishment to the firefighters and first responders. Neighbors opened their doors to keep everyone warm, and the Red Cross was welcomed throughout the neighborhood.

For the family specifically, the Red Cross ensured they took the first step to recovery. This included giving them someone to talk to, help in figuring out what comes next, the community resources that were available to them, and immediate funds to jumpstart their recovery. A client assistance card was provided so they could purchase winter clothing, shoes, and even food.

As for Sharon Rohrer, it turns out this RN has been responding to disasters since Hurricane Andrew (1992) as a Red Cross volunteer! She was also on the Condolence Team for the OSO Mudslides.  Having seen her share of destruction and despair, she is acutely aware of how each emergency affects a family. She stated, “I gained back more than I have given just knowing how my own family was helped.” That’s right; this was the home of her grandson, significant other & great-grandson.  “Recalling the situation in its entirety, our physical and emotional support for all involved plus our presence may have been appreciated more than anything.”

The support of the American Red Cross is only possible due to the dedicated staff and volunteers, community partners and donors alike. For more information on how you can help, please visit redcross.org.

When Letting Go Saves A Life

By Barbara Behling, Wisconsin Red Cross Chief Communications Officer

Baby Adrianna and Mom

Three day weekends for many include family, fellowship, food and fun. For the Garcia family, Labor Day turned into a day of panic, horror and help from the American Red Cross.

In the early morning hours, Felipe Garcia was woken by the faint sound of the hallway smoke alarms, and he smelled smoke. He rose from his bed, went to hallway door, opened it and immediately shut-it. “It was filled with black-smoke so thick I didn’t want to take my family out there,” he stated. He turned, yelled for his two teenage boys to wake-up, and for his wife to get herself and 5-month old Arianna up.

Even though they lived on the second floor of the Middleton, Wisconsin apartment building, he knew they would have to escape out the window. “We did what we had to do. So I lowered the first boy out the window as far as I could reach and then let him go. He hit the ground hard. We repeated this for the second teenager. When I turned to my wife for the baby, we knew it was imminent I would have to drop her too. With the boys on the ground, they caught her softly,” he recalls.

Standing outside their burning building, they watched as the fire department fought to save the building, and assessed their injuries. One of the boys’ ankle, and the others’ wrist, was throbbing and the baby wouldn’t stop coughing, so all went to the Emergency Room for immediate help. X-rays for the boys proved nothing was broken.

Upon returning to the apartment complex, the Garcia family was met by American Red Cross disaster responders. Even with English being their second language, it did not take long to translate the fear and pain in each of their stories. Our bi-lingual responder assured them the Red Cross would be there for them as they asked, “What do we do next?”

The fire investigation was going to take all day, and depending on power and water, residents were likely not be able to return for up to a week, or longer, due to the damage. With the weekend temperatures reaching 92 degrees, and humidity nearing the same level, it was miserable for anyone to be outside for long periods of time. Therefore, the Red Cross opened a shelter in the nearby Middleton High School. This air conditioned building had bathrooms, cool air and places to gather. Not only that, but the residents were greeted with coffee, juice, water and hot breakfasts, plus some donuts too! From the time they arrived, the sense of relief was evident on their faces.

As people started to relax, the Red Cross’ mental health and health services responders went table-to-table to casually strike up conversations, check on everyone’s emotional state, and to ensure no injuries were overlooked.  To a casual observer, the shelter almost looked like a regular family reunion: people were chatting, kids were playing and food and beverages were provided throughout the day. Best of all, little Arianna was smiling, giggling and acting like a 5-month old. As this was happening, the Red Cross team back at the fire site was working with the apartment management and fire and local officials to determine what emergency housing needs would be needed.

As for the Garcia family, they were able to fill clothesbaskets with clothing, medications, a few toys and items they would need. Family and friends stepped in to offer shelter while their apartment underwent cleaning and repairs. In addition, the Red Cross provided financial assistance for food and miscellaneous needs. The Red Cross also provided personal hygiene items and helped them navigate the recovery process.

The support of the American Red Cross is only possible due to the dedicated staff and volunteers, community partners and donors alike. For more information on how you can help, please visit redcross.org.

Stepping into a Client’s Shoes

By Viv Chappell, Red Cross Grants Specialist

MKE Simulation_3 Photo Layout On September 23, 2015, I stepped into the shoes of an American Red Cross disaster client. Fortunately for me, it was part of an emergency training drill, rather than a real event. I took part as an actor in a simulated aviation crisis—the General Mitchell International Airport 2015 Full Scale Exercise. Every three years, the airport and community partners put the Airport Emergency Plan into action, simulating a response to help prepare for the real thing.

In this scenario, a commercial airline—Dairy Air—experienced an emergency when a plane with 120 souls aboard landed short of the airport runway. The impact resulted in several small fires, major damage to aircraft, mass casualties and much scattered debris. In an aviation disaster response such as this, numerous stakeholders are involved, from the airline, to first responders, to the Red Cross. During this exercise, the Red Cross mobilized Health Services and Disaster Mental Health responders to assist with triage, as well as Government Liaisons, Public Affairs, Staffing personnel, and Family Assistant Specialists (FAS).

MKE Simulation_Actor AssignmentFAS volunteers work with specific families affected by an aviation disaster. They assist in the flow of information to and from families and friends of the people on the flight. FAS workers also provide support by listening to the concerns of the crash victim’s loved ones, obtaining or contacting resources, as well as providing logistical support for their needs.

My assignment was that of distraught and angry friend of Mary Jo Noyse, a passenger on the plane that went down. The other loved ones and I were guided to the Family and Friends Center, and each assigned a Red Cross Family Assistant Specialist. My assigned volunteer, Taira Grubb, sat down with me and assured me that she would do everything she could to help me get through the situation. She listened to my fears and angry demands with a soothing calmness. She confirmed that my friend Mary Jo was on the flight manifest, and took down identifying information about her. She helped me contact my friend’s family to notify them of the crash. She brought me water and a snack as we awaited news. As we talked, I thought of a real friend of mine, and imagined what it would feel like if she had really been in a plane crash. When I welled up with emotion, Taira comforted me and patted me on the back, a tear in her eye brought on by sincere compassion.

MKE Simulation_Disaster Vols w VestsI looked around the room filled with Red Crossers in their familiar disaster relief vests, providing comfort to a dozen more people. I hope we never have to activate this response for a real situation. But if we do, I know from first-hand experience that the Red Cross will be there to provide care and support to people in their darkest hour.

To find out more about the Red Cross disaster relief, please visit the Wisconsin Red Cross Disaster Services page.

Western Wildfires Do Affect Us

Red Cross workers witness the devastating affect of wildfires

Red Cross workers witness the devastating affect of wildfires

The United States as a whole is in the midst of one of the worst, and most expensive, wildfire seasons on record. To-date this year, more than 8.5 million acres have burned. In addition to the wildfires currently devastating California, Red Cross disaster workers are assisting with relief efforts for an additional 26 large-scale active wildfires that are currently burning across Idaho, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

So far this wildfire season, Red Cross teams across multiple states have operated 52 shelters that saw over 2,400 overnight stays, served nearly 41,000 meals and snacks and distributed nearly 5,000 relief supplies to assist those impacted by raging wildfires. The Red Cross is also working with partners to provide care for evacuated pets and animals.

When disasters hit, the impact is felt far and wide – property is damaged, people are displaced, and lives are upended. But one of the greatest impacts of a disaster is often unseen: the effect on people’s emotional health and mental well-being. Trained Red Cross caseworkers are providing much needed mental health services for individuals and families impacted by these disasters, helping people deal with the intensity of the disaster and connect with additional resources within their community. And as fires continue to burn, Red Cross disaster workers are also looking ahead to coordinate recovery efforts for both individuals and families impacted and displaced by these devastating fires. The Red Cross will continue to work within communities to provide the needed resources to help people respond and recover from wildfires – even after the smoke clears.

Disaster Preparedness

People in the path wildfires, hurricanes and other severe weather should download the Red Cross Emergency App for real time access to weather alerts, preparedness information, safety tips and shelter locations. The Emergency App provides expert advice on what to do during floods, tornadoes, wildfires and other disasters. The app also provides lifesaving information on emergency first aid for various situations such as what to do for heart attacks, heat-related emergencies and includes water safety tips. Pre-loaded content ensures that guidance from Red Cross experts is available anytime, anywhere – even without mobile connectivity. The Emergency App is available for free in app stores for smartphones and tablets and can also be found by searching for American Red Cross or by going to redcross.org/apps.

Wildfire Tips

With no end in sight to critical fire weather in the affected states, the Red Cross has safety steps people should follow if they live in an area where a wildfire is possible:

  • If a wildfire threatens, be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
  • Listen to local radio and television stations for updated emergency information.
  • Always back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape.
  • Confine pets to one room or spot so that you can find them if you need to evacuate quickly.
  • Arrange for temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area.
  • Keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to prevent outside smoke from getting in.
  • Use the recycle or re-circulate mode on the air conditioner in your home or car.
  • When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns and adds to indoor air pollution, such as candles, fireplaces and gas stoves.

Click here for additional safety information, including what do to before, during and after a wildfire.

  • To support wildfires and residential fires alike, please consider making a financial contribution at redcross.org/donate
  • To become a disaster responder like Gene Wallis and Vicki Gurriell, you can start your volunteer application at redcross.org/volunteer

Canada’s Wildfire Relief Efforts Supported by Hometown Gal

The Canadian and the American Red Cross joined forces to support 10,000 Saskatchewan wildfire evacuees, this Brenda’s story.

By Brenda Haney, American Red Cross Volunteer

On July 7, 2015 the Red Cross asked if I would represent the U.S. on an International Deployment to Canada. I agreed to go although I had only been home for a week from a deployment in Louisiana.

Diana O’Neill and I left Madison and flew to Edmonton, Alberta on July 8th. We made it through Customs and travelled five hours by bus to Cold Lake, Alberta. Once there we assisted with a shelter with approximately 600 people of several different native Canadian Bands.

Due to the large number of evacuations they were loaded on buses with only the clothes on their backs and bused six hours from Saskatchewan to Cold Lake, Alberta.  The City of Cold Lake opened up one of their buildings to accommodate the people coming in. There were many challenges dealing with this many people and the different cultures.

After two days Diana and I were promoted to shelter managers. We worked 12 hour shifts, both day and night. We were warmly welcomed by our counterparts with the Canadian Red Cross. We worked closely with the government officials to ensure a safe shelter operation.

There were several health issues that required the use of hotels and campgrounds as alternate shelters.

On the 11th day of our deployment we were given the “all clear” to start sending people home. In just two days we had everyone accounted for and on their way back home to Saskatchewan.

The tear down began and the massive task of tearing down cots began. We loaded all the cots in semis and hired a cleaning company to clean and sterilize everything.

It is time to take a break as this was my 5th deployment of 2015. Deployment number three was a driving trip to Texas. Diana and I drove over 4,000 miles roundtrip in the Emergency Relief Vehicle going from Madison to San Marcos, TX to assist with flooding.

I am thankful for the wonderful people I have met on these Red Cross deployments. I am happy that I have been able to help people in their time of need.

A collection of our 1st International Deployment memorabilia will be displayed at the Madison Red Cross Office.

To begin your American Red Cross adventure, please visit redcross.org/volunteer

Wisconsin Red Cross Helps in Texas, Oklahoma

Texas and Oklahoma are feeling the devastating effects of weeks of heavy rain, tornadoes and flooding and the American Red Cross is there, helping people in the Lone Star State get back on their feet.


American Red Cross Texas Storm 2015 Response. Click for a full sized image.

The storms have impacted about 35 percent of the state, destroying or damaging thousands of homes. The Red Cross is providing shelter, food, water, relief supplies, health services and emotional support to people in need.

Since early May, hundreds of Red Cross workers, including 33 from Wisconsin, have opened 37 shelters, served more than 34,000 meals and snacks and handed out more than 33,000 relief items and cleaning supplies in Texas. In addition, 40 emergency response vehicles, three from Wisconsin are distributing food and relief items in the affected communities and additional volunteers and vehicles are on alert if needed.

Let’s listen to a few of our volunteers, courtesy of our TV partners:

If you don’t have the time to volunteer, please consider a financial gift.

May Volunteer Spotlight: Nancy Johnson

Nancy JohnsonCongratulations to Nancy Johnson of Walworth County on being named one of the May 2015 Volunteers of the Month!

Intrigued by disaster response activities and supporting clients affected by disasters, Nancy joined the American Red Cross in early 2005. Nancy explains, “Being a military wife and mother, I have found that volunteering has always made life easier. I began by going into the Racine office once a week and helping wherever necessary. When Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast we began getting clients in Wisconsin, and I worked with getting clients settled in the area. When Rita came six weeks later, I knew I wanted to go and immediately made myself available. I was assigned to Lake Charles and worked with a team doing disaster assessment. The joy of working with clients in need, meeting and sheltering with volunteers from various places in the United States was very fulfilling.”

Since 2006, Nancy has continued to volunteer as a deployment officer. Her nominator, Melisa Myers, of Disaster Staff Services said, “Nancy has been a deployment officer for years now, since becoming one statewide region, deployment officers have been asked to take on other roles, including further developing our national deployment process. Nancy was asked if she would be able to help reach out and talk to returning volunteers from national responses. Nancy was able to help by contacting volunteers and having conversations with them about their experience, current roles, and future roles. With Nancy’s help, we as a region are able to help volunteers feel supported before, during and after a deployment.”

“Staff Service has been my favorite part of working with the American Red Cross. Now that I am unable to travel myself, I feel that being a deployment officer makes me feel just as much a part of the American Red Cross.”

Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your talents and time with the American Red Cross!


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