Smoke alarms are first line of defense to fight fires

By Kathleen Todd for the American Red Cross Minnesota Region

American Red Cross Minnesota Region smoke alarm installation, 2015.

When Suzie Olson of Saint Paul had a recent American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign visit, she had a big surprise.

“None of my smoke alarms actually worked. While I thought I had been on top of changing the batteries, my smoke detectors were so old that the smoke alarm itself was completely nonfunctional,” Olson says.  “I thought I had been so responsible about it.”

Olson took the first step to detecting a fire and now she wants others to take action. And the Red Cross wants to ensure that every household has working smoke alarms.

Please check the alarms in your home to see if they’re working. If not, replace the batteries or the alarms. The Red Cross can help you do this. Our Home Fire Campaign makes it possible for the Red Cross to install free smoke alarms that will help save lives during home fires.

Multi-unit apartment building fire, Robbinsdale, MN, 2016. Photo by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

The American Red Cross responds on average 60,000 disasters each year in the United Sates – and the vast majority of these are home fires. Since 2014, the Red Cross, in partnership with fire departments and other local groups, has visited homes and installed over a million free smoke alarms nationwide. Through these efforts, the Red Cross has saved over 250 lives.

In 2016, 43 Minnesotans lost their lives in fires. In 33 percent of the residential casualties, smoke alarms were absent or non-operating.

To request a smoke alarm installation for your home, community members can call 612-871-7676 or visit getasmokealarm.org. Appointments typically take 20-30 minutes.

Minnesota fire statistics provided by Minnesota State Fire Marshal

Thinking of becoming a Red Cross volunteer? These three opportunities support disaster relief.

Icon Disaster ServicesThis year, are you thinking of becoming a Red Cross volunteer? Right now in Minnesota, we’re recruiting for three opportunities supporting disaster relief. Each position ensures disaster workers can deliver humanitarian aid at home and around the corner. 

Icon DisasterSupport daily operations for disaster relief services
The American Red Cross serving Twin Cities Area seeks a volunteer to support instructor-led training by scheduling in-person classes and performing other administrative tasks, as needed. This is a flexible-schedule position that can be performed remotely during daytime hours. If interested, please contact Angela Antony (angela.antony@redcross.org).

Icon DisasterPrepare new volunteers for Red Cross disaster relief service
The American Red Cross serving Twin Cities Area seeks volunteers to assist Workforce Engagement with bringing on-board new disaster volunteers. This role guides new volunteers through the first steps of joining the Red Cross, from turning in the right paperwork and signing up for training, to helping them feel prepared for their roles. On-boarding volunteers enjoy working with people, being flexible, and serving on a team. If interested, please contact Hannah Linsk (hannah.linsk@redcross.org).

Icon DisasterHelp volunteers get out the door to disaster relief responses
The Minnesota Region needs volunteers to help deploy volunteers to both regional and national disasters. Deployment team members will assign volunteers to Disaster Relief Operations (DROs), give the proper information regarding deployment procedures, distribute mission cards, and perform other duties as necessary. The best candidates will be comfortable working with online platforms and on the telephone. Help us volunteers get out the door! If interested, please contact Susan Waananen (susan.waananen@redcross.org).

rco_blog_img_centenniallogoIt’s a great year to join us! Click here to learn more about our Century of Service, year-long celebration during 2017. #mnredcross100

Post by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross Minnesota Region

From Florida to the Carolinas

From Florida to the Carolinas, American Red Cross workers from Minnesota have supported Hurricane Matthew relief efforts. Assignments have ranged from working in a shelter and serving meals to coordinating with response partners and providing medical and mental health services. Others gathered stories and helped raise money for the response. Big picture number as of October 27: more than 50 Red Cross workers from Minnesota have deployed to areas impacted by the storm across the southeastern United States. Take a look.

14712963_10154611990962179_2000084266616440590_oCarole Madland visited people in shelters and neighborhoods in North Carolina. Sometimes she hitched a ride to reach isolated communities. Overall, the Red Cross mobilized 2,200 workers, 13 kitchens with partners, and 111 response vehicles for the state. Big picture number as of October 25: the Red Cross has mobilized more than 5,800 disaster workers since Hurricane Matthew first threatened communities in the southeast.

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Rachel Olmanson took meals to people in affected communities. Above is the view from Rachel’s truck while her team was next in line for food pick-up at a field kitchen in North Carolina. Big picture number as of October 25: the Red Cross and its partners have served more than 1.3 million meals and snacks in affected communities in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

 

matthew_daveschoeneckIn Florida, Dave Schoeneck (upper left) assisted with relief effort coordination. The Red Cross has worked closely with government officials and non-government organizations (NGOs), such as Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and others. Big picture number: around 13,000 homes are affected in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

 

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In South Carolina, Dave Snetsinger (second on right) was a shelter worker. Overall, the Red Cross has had nearly 1,200 workers, 5 kitchens with partners, and 53 response vehicles for relief efforts in the state. Big picture number as of October 25: the Red Cross has helped provide nearly 100,000 overnight shelter stays in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

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Mark and Gail Noren (right and center) are doing search and care, which means finding neighborhoods and people in need of meals and feeding them in North Carolina. Big picture number as of October 25: Red Cross and its partners have served 697,000 meals and snacks across hurricane affected areas in the state.

 

a9r13mhx5w_h375qp_a98-2In Georgia, Judy Hanne Gonzalez helped gather and share stories about the Red Cross and its Hurricane Matthew relief efforts. Judy also assisted with fundraising in Florida. Big picture number: as of October 25, the Red Cross has raised $8.1 million in designated donations and pledges for a relief response that’s estimated to cost $24-$28 million.

Thank you to everyone who has responded to the Hurricane Matthew relief efforts!

Red Cross prepares for disasters that could cross the northern border

Across northern Minnesota, American Red Cross disaster relief responders are working towards hosting a disaster shelter workshop in each county and tribal community. Most recently, the Red Cross teamed up with Koochiching County employees. In addition, the Red Cross connected with response partners across the U.S.-Canadian border because, as we know, ‘disasters don’t go through customs.’

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Nancy Young with the American Red Cross Dakotas Region guides shelter training participants during a workshop in Koochiching County, March 2016. Photo credit: Richard Johnson/International Falls Journal

The training week started with a shelter set-up that included twenty-four Koochiching County employees. (The workshop was a smaller version of what was used for the statewide Vigilant Guard exercise in Duluth in the fall of 2015.) Before the participants arrived they completed the American Red Cross Shelter Fundamentals course online. During the on-site part of the training, a Red Cross team of three volunteers from the Minnesota and North Dakota guided the shelter participants. (The cross-border collaboration between states has been in place for more than two years because we’re often called to respond together.) The workshop was set-up in three stations: registration, dormitory, and feeding. There was also a training for disaster nursing. After the two-hour workshop there was an open-house for the community members who were not in the training to ask questions and to see how the Red Cross and Koochiching County can work together to shelter displaced people during disaster relief response. The Salvation was also on hand serving lunch to all who participated. (Thanks!)

rco_blog_img_CrossBorderConference2016A cross-border conference called “Disasters Do Not go Through Customs” followed the shelter training. Sponsored by the Rainy River Cross Border Planning Group, the conference  brought together around one hundred people from both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border who could work together during major disasters affecting both sides of the international border. Presentations included managing potential threats, such as train derailments, floods, tornadoes, biological outbreak, communication failures, quarantine, wild fires and terrorism. All levels of government were represented from both Canada and the United States. Railroad representatives addressed one of the biggest concerns throughout the emergency management world: train derailments involving large amounts of oil carried by rail.

Less than twenty fours after the end of the conference there was a train derailment in Callaway, Minnesota. The accident forced the town of more than 200 people to be evacuated. Red Cross volunteers from North Dakota and Minnesota as well as Salvation Army relief workers were on-scene, providing the care and sheltering that we have trained for and do so well.

Story by Tony Guerra, Disaster Program Manager for the American Red Cross Serving Northern Minnesota. You can be a Red Cross disaster relief volunteer.

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.

Every home fire death breaks a heart

HFCv2_763x260This past weekend there were two home fire deaths in Minnesota. One was a woman 25 years old and the other was a girl 5 years old. These sad and tragic deaths bring the number of home fire deaths to 46 this year in Minnesota. And like the people closest to these disasters, we feel our heart break each time we learn of a home fire death, and we especially feel the heart ache when Red Cross volunteers are responding to these disasters, helping the survivors rebuild their lives.

We do not know details about how the most recent home fires started. But we encourage everyone to  practice home fire safety, especially during the busy holiday season. Here are several resources that will get you started:

Icon PreparednessOne thing we’re passionate about is making sure that every household has working smoke alarms. Please check the alarms in your home to see if they’re working. If not, replace the batteries or the alarms. We can help you do this. Our Home Fire Campaign makes it possible for the Red Cross to install free smoke alarms that will help save lives during home fires.

Remember: if a fire starts in your home get out to safety, and then dial 9-1-1 for emergency assistance.

In Saipan, every interview was the start of a new day

BobPearce_photo2American Red Cross volunteer Bob Pearce recently returned from deployment to Saipan where he worked directly with more than 400 people affected by Typhoon Soudelor. New to the Red Cross, the typhoon relief operation in Saipan was Bob’s first large-scale response. He’s already responding to his second, serving as a virtual volunteer from his home base in Minnesota for the Red Cross response to the wildfires in California. Below, Bob shares with us his Saipan experience.

Information about Typhoon Soudelor and its damage may be interesting, but it doesn’t tell the real or whole story. Many of the Red Cross volunteers used the term resilient to describe the islanders. Others said they were patient. For me, the people of Saipan are remarkable.

Tin roof & coconut treeSaipan is a 12 by 5.5 mile island in the south Pacific. Guam, Tinian, Rota and Saipan form the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, a United States Territory. With a small garment manufacturing industry in continuing decline, the 53,883 residents of Saipan have relied on tourism to help their economy. So, when Typhoon Soudelor slammed into the island in the late night and early morning hours of August 2 and 3, 2015, damage was felt in more than one way.

Winds from the Category III Typhoon broke the NWS anemometer on Saipan at 91mph. Whatever their speed, the winds were sufficient to snap off over 300 power poles on the island, far exceeding the 80-some spares stored for an emergency. Rain and wind-driven sea water also damaged generating plants, further hampering infrastructure recovery. Without power, processing and delivery of fresh and waste water were still further casualties of the storm.

Cleanup of splintered and downed trees from roads began immediately. Hotels and a few businesses, including gas stations, fired up emergency generators and began providing needed services during daylight hours.

The U.S. Navy moved three ships from Guam to Saipan to provide fresh water for the island. People drove cautiously through intersections formerly controlled by traffic signals. And neighbors helped neighbors dig out from the remains of their homes. The same winds and water that knocked out electrical power and stopped road traffic, had also destroyed or seriously damaged well over 500 homes, and many hundreds of other residences were also damaged to some extent.

NMI ChapterIn the first hours after the typhoon, the Northern Mariana Islands Chapter of the American Red Cross mobilized ten core volunteers plus a trained group of 14 other local volunteers. Together with chapter staff, this initial response force began providing immediate assistance to many of the more than 2000 people who called for help. Gradually, the chapter response was supplemented by volunteers from “the mainland,” which is the islanders’ term for the continental U.S. Minnesota provided four of those volunteers, who served in Disaster Health Services (DHS), Disaster Services Technology (DST), and client casework.

Local residents began lining up at the chapter office early each morning, well before the generator was started, DST had reset all systems, and the doors were opened. With daily preparations and briefings completed, health services and client casework volunteers began seeing local residents by 9:00 each morning, and continued well into the evening until there were no more lines. Estimates of the number of clients seen ranged from 200 to 500 daily, seven days a week, for the first couple of weeks. Direct Assistance to Saipan Households (DASH), ranged from cans of food, bottles of water, and bags of rice, to financial assistance cards for people to use for disaster-related needs.

BobPearce_photoSaipan definitely has a slower lifestyle than many of us are accustomed to, yet there’s more to the calm and peace that the residents exhibit. Each client greeted us with a warm smile and a firm handshake. Every interview was the start of a new day. One after another, they thanked the Red Cross volunteers for being there. Most of the islanders have little compared to what many of us have. On the other hand, they have so much. They are happy, generous and content. Saipan is unique and its people exceptional in the face of disaster.

To learn more about how to become a Red Cross volunteer, click here. For more about the Red Cross disaster relief response in Saipan, click here.
Photos provided courtesy of Bob Pearce.