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.

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

Two States + Two Disasters = One Team

Mary Gagnon

Mary Gagnon

For six non-stop weeks, the Texas weather was dreadful. Residents were experiencing multiple tornadoes, large hail, heavy rainfall and flooding causing the dams to breach. More than 100 counties were affected by this treacherous weather. (Wisconsin only has 72-counties; so this was a massive area) American Red Cross chapters throughout Texas helped residents affected by opening 60 shelters, served more than 350,000 meals and snacks and engaged 2,300 trained Red Cross responders. Wisconsin provided 42 responders; this is the first-hand story of our own Mary Gagnon.


On June 15, the Red Cross asked my husband Dean and I to deploy to Houston, Texas to help with disaster relief. Both of us volunteer with the Red Cross and reside in Texas AND Wisconsin. We arrived on the 16th and were reminded immediately of the heat and humidity that sends us back north each spring.

After a week of providing shelter and food near Houston, we were reassigned to the Rio Grande Valley, near the tip of Texas. Coincidentally, this general area is where we live during the winter. And our ‘hometown’ Red Cross Chapter there became headquarters.Flooded road, Edinburg, TX

There were so many people with so few personal resources. Residents told us of flood waters three feet deep in their homes and side streets were impassable for days. When we found an unflooded driveway, we parked the Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV), which contained water, food and hygiene kits. There, we asked people to phone neighbors down the street to let them know we were there to help. Invariably, word travelled fast, and people lined-up to receive what they needed and wanted: hot food, bottled water, Clorox, shovels and mosquito repellant.

Cruz Roja at Edinburg shelter

When there were still items remaining in the ERV, which is a large ambulance sized vehicle so we could haul large amounts of supplies, we drove to a nearby street and started the process again.

Steve Stringer with Cruz Roja in Edinburg-2

The American Red Cross increased its staffing resources when Cruz Roja Mexicana (Mexican Red Cross) arrived. As the flooding decreased and people could get out of their homes, the Cruz Roja site provided necessary cleaning materials and, just as importantly, the ability to respond in Spanish to needs and stories provided by those flooded out of their homes. We felt fortunate to work with Cruz Roja! They understood the community needs; the difficulties of the weather and the support needed to bring back ‘normalcy’ to Hidalgo and Cameron Counties.


The following week, on our way back to the local Red Cross Chapter to re-fill our ERV with cases of water and clean-up materials, we stopped at a gas station. The search-and-distribute system of helping home owners during the recent Texas floods brought much-needed supplies directly to people considering the scorching 96 degree weather. This system created a need for us to get just a few minutes of rest. An ice cream bar and air conditioning altered my core temperature just enough to make getting back on the road OK. But it was the unexpected ‘coolness’ of hearing The Spinners singing on the store’s music system that recouped my energy! With only the bathroom mirror watching, I danced to ‘Rubber Band Man’ with all of my best ‘60s and 70s moves.

And Coolness was achieved.


Upon returning to Wisconsin for the ‘summer’ they were deployed to Columbus, Wisconsin to open an evacuation center/shelter for people affected by the July 13th 90-mile per hour winds. Two (states) plus two (disasters) really can equal ONE RED CROSS. To begin your own Red Cross adventure, please check here for volunteer opportunities.

Thank You to Walmart for Their Support of Disaster Relief

Walmart Mutual St. 2

When Northeast Wisconsin was impacted by SIX tornadoes and straight line winds in August, friends, neighbors and local organizations jumped in to help those in need.  The Walmart store (#1982) in Appleton on Mutual Way is still helping.

Michael Queen, Shift Manager, presented Betsy Wandtke, Major Gifts Officer, with a check for $1,000 for Disaster Relief.  The presentation was made during the store’s grand opening after the major remodeling project.  The event was attended by other store managers, employees and organizations also getting support for their causes.  It was an energetic and uplifting meeting.

We want to thank Walmart for their support of the community not only during the disaster, but after as well.  We couldn’t do what we do without their help!

How the Red Cross is helping!

A house in the Freedom area destroyed by the tornadoes.

A house in the Freedom area destroyed by the tornadoes.

The early morning of August 7, 2013 Northeast Wisconsin was hit with five tornadoes, confirmed by the National Weather Service causing power outages, damage to homes and businesses, and leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

Red Cross workers where immediately called to action to respond to those impacted by the tornadoes and storms. Our support, to those impacted, continues as some are just starting to get their power restored.

As of Aug 8, our total response includes:

  • Serving 4,920 meals and snacks to those impacted.
  • Distribution of 7,500 pounds of ice.
  • Three shelters open (Wrightstown, Appleton and New London) for people to receive water, food, ice, a place to stay, and a place to charge electronics.
  •  Two mobile feeding trucks going out into the impacted communities delivering water, ice, snacks, sandwiches, and gloves.
  • 72 Red Cross workers responding to those in need.
Volunteer, Chris Worm, from Fond du Lac, giving out water and sandwiches to those in need.

Volunteer, Chris Worm, from Fond du Lac, giving out water and sandwiches to those in need.

Red Cross will be sending two mobile feeding trucks this afternoon, and over the weekend to the communities of Wrightstown, Freedom, Appleton, Hortonville and New London. These trucks will have water, ice, snacks, sandwiches and gloves to distribute to those in need.

Our shelter in Wrightstown closed as of 9:30am, Thursday, August 8 and our New London shelter closed at 1:00pm today. The Appleton shelter, located at Appleton West HS, 1610 Badger Ave, will be closed at 7:00pm tonight.

Individuals can pick up ice and supplies at the Appleton shelter until 7:00pm today or at our Appleton Office, located at 1302 E. Wisconsin Ave until 4:00pm today.

If you need help due to storm/tornado damage throughout Northeast Wisconsin, please call 1-800-236-8680 for assistance. Disaster teams are ready to help you with your immediate emergency needs.

Want to see pictures of our volunteers in action?  Check out our flickr site:


If you would like to make a financial gift please go to: http://www.redcross.org, or call 1-800-Red-Cross (1-800-733-2767)


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