Fires do more than burn

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As part of a Red Cross disaster relief team, Rose Ingebrigtsen has responded to several house fires in northern Minnesota, including one in Virginia on January 26, 2016. Photo credit: Nancy Rogers/American Red Cross

By Rose Ingebrigtsen, an American Red Cross intern serving in northern Minnesota

When I saw that the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota was looking for a disaster services intern I was immediately interested. Even though I did not have any prior experience with the Red Cross personally, I knew it must be a great place to work. Why else would 330,000 volunteers nationwide serve for free? At this point I am mostly learning about disaster response and capacity building for The Pillowcase Project (a youth disaster preparedness program that the Red Cross is doing in partnership with Disney), which is great because I love doing hands on work and working directly with people.

That changed on Friday, January 22, when I was able to go on my first D.A.T. (Disaster Action Team) response with the Red Cross. I was a little nervous due to the fact I had never done anything like this before, but I was lucky enough to be accompanied by our local disaster program manager and seasoned D.A.T. captain Tony Guerra.

Before meeting with the affected resident, we drove to the address to see first-hand the condition of the burned house. Due to sketchy cell service and an unreliable maps app we couldn’t find the house, but it turned out there wasn’t much of a house left to find. Later, when we met our client, I quickly learned how hard it is to be really prepared for a house fire, and that no one knows exactly what to do after and much of their belongings are damaged or gone. This client was no different: all she had now were the clothes on her back and, luckily, her purse.

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In northern Minnesota local community members help the Red Cross provide basic comfort and care to people who have suffered a tremendous loss because of home fire and other disasters. Photo credit: Nancy Rogers/American Red Cross.

After we assessed our client’s needs and determined what steps she needed to take next we brought her a donated quilt, which she appreciated so much. Typically these quilts are made by local church groups, and then they are donated to disaster victims and military veterans through the Red Cross. Giving someone in need a quilt is, I think, fitting. Back in the day, imported fabric was expensive for the average person in America and it was difficult to find sufficient, affordable fabric locally. The solution was to salvage scraps of fabric and to sew together into a quilt. Today, after someone has a house fire family, friends, strangers, and the Red Cross come together like small pieces of fabric to help people rebuild their lives.

Before beginning this internship, I had no idea how many house fires there were in our area and the damage they do besides burning up the contents of your house: think smoke damage or water damage. Since my first response in January, I’ve had the opportunity to respond to two more fire disasters in northern Minnesota. I was struck by the devastation residents feel after losing much to all of their belongings, and how much Red Cross disaster relief is necessary and appreciated. I hope there will be fewer house fires in the area. But if there are more I hope I have the opportunity respond again, because I have enjoyed lending a hand and making a direct positive difference in someone’s life.

Author: American Red Cross

The American Red Cross provides relief to victims of disasters and helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. The Minnesota Region serves 5.2 million people across Minnesota and part of western Wisconsin.

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