Hawkeye Fist Bump

Sarah Farr, Nick Stanley, and Carrie Carlson-Guest share Hawkeye spirit after meeting at a Red Cross shelter in Edina, Minnesota. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

No disaster is fun—seriously, we would all prefer doing something other than running or recovering from a flood, tornado, or fire.  But a positive-side of things short list might include “disasters, a chance to meet new people.”

Take Sarah Farr and Nick Stanley. We bumped into them the other day while they rested at a Red Cross shelter after a fire burned their Edina, Minnesota, apartment building. Sarah heard the fire alarm before Nick, “Sarah woke me up. And I said, is everybody else outside? Could this be a false alarm?” Then they saw lots of people standing on the lawn. Once outside, they watched and waited with the others. “It was the first time we talked to many of our neighbors,” says Sarah.

Among the important items grabbed during the escape, Nick Stanley’s computer, showing here a photo he took of the burned apartments. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

The fire spared their unit but no utilities meant no re-entry until officials gave the A-Okay sometime later. So, rather than coach surf with friends or family, the two slept in their SUV and eventually made their way to the Red Cross shelter. And yay for that! We got to meet two sweet peeps who turned out to be Hawkeye fans. (Some of us aren’t Hawkeye fans per se but Iowa farm family connections make us supporters in spirit.)

It was nice meeting you, Sarah and Nick, and we wish you the very best. But if we meet again let’s agree that it will under more fun circumstances.

P.S. We’d still like you bunches even if you’d turned out to be Cyclone fans.

Banging on doors, pounding on windows saves lives

Story and photos by Red Cross Volunteer Amy Conger

Nathan Steen (l) receives comfort kits for his children from Red Cross disaster relief volunteer John Trieb, July 5, 2012. Photo credit: Amy Conger/American Red Cross

Hudson, Wisconsin resident Nathan Steen was watching TV around 2:30 in the morning, July 5, 2012, when he started to smell an odd, almost chemical-like, smell in his basement apartment. He opened the door to his unit and was shocked to see thick black smoke in the hallway. Running to the fire alarm pull switch in the hallway, he yanked it several times but did not hear the alarm. Nathan couldn’t see flames or the source of the fire, so he went back to his apartment, woke his wife and two children, and called then called 911. He then ran to the other apartments, banging on doors to alert his neighbors to the fire. He was pounding on windows from outside, yelling “Fire!”, when the police arrived and began to assist getting people out from the other 9 units of the building.

Red Cross disaster relief volunteer Jason Winget (l) assisted resident Jannelle Waara following the Hudson apartment fire, July 5, 2012. Photo credit: Amy Conger/American Red Cross

The other residents report opening their doors to thick black smoke before rushing out of the building. A main concern of all the residents was the failure of the alarms to sound. Nathan Steen was truly a hero to alert everyone to the danger before it spread to other areas of the building. The fire appears to have occurred in a basement storage area, but the incident is under investigation by the Hudson Police Department.

Kevin Williams (c) shares his surprise about Red Cross disaster relief with volunteer Jason Winget, July 5, 2012. Photo credit: Amy Conger/American Red Cross

Red Cross volunteer workers Jason Winget and John Trieb assisted residents of the two lower units with emergency disaster relief. They will be able to return to their homes after the smoke damage is cleared. Everyone assisted by the Red Cross was thankful for the help. Kevin Williams, who was displaced by the fire with his mother, said that the Red Cross helped bring relief and comfort to them. He didn’t know that Red Cross volunteers helped people in situations like this and said that he would consider volunteering himself in the future to help others dealing with disaster from fire.

Visit our website redcrossmn.org to learn more about Red Cross services and opportunities.

Apartment Fire Survivor “Worse than Back to Square One”

On Friday, March 9, 2012, a fire burned an apartment building in Minneapolis. That afternoon at the Red Cross service center volunteer relief worker Kevin Berger spoke with two people affected by this disaster and learned more about them.

Kimberlee Overvold and Carl Robinsen survived the March 9, 2012, St. George apartment fire in Minneapolis. Photo credit: Kevin Berger/American Red Cross

Kimberlee Overvold was at the temporary Red Cross service center just a few blocks from where she had lived for 11 months before a fire destroyed the St. George apartment building on 17thStreet. She was trying to collect herself and figure out her next steps. Overvold and her boyfriend were in the process of finding a bigger apartment but then the fire took it all away. Overwhelmed with the emotion of the situation she said,“I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and it’s going to be a dream.”

They had just gone to bed around 1:45 a.m. when the fire alarms sounded at 2 a.m. Kimberlee said at first they thought it was a false alarm because even as they headed out of the building there was no signs of smoke or fire. However, it wasn’t long before flames rushed through the building and they found themselves meeting up with their neighbors in a bus temporarily used as a shelter.

Before moving into the St. George apartments she had been homeless for nearly 2 years. Back then she said at least she had some possessions, but now “I’m worse than back to square one” as she’s lost everything. Pointing at herself with her mobile phone in hand, she said, “this is my living room now as all my stuff is gone.”

She reflected on some of her family pictures and watercolors she had from her late grandmother. “That’s the stuff I’m going to miss.”

The St. George apartments burned, displacing more than 30 residents of Minneapolis. Photo credit: Kevin Berger/American Red Cross

Her boyfriend, Carl Robinsen, was also considering how to move forward. “I’m not worried about what caused this to happen, we just need to fix it.” He said they were thankful that no one was seriously hurt or killed in the building that housed 32 units. “You can’t replace life,” he said.

One concern is replacing clippers and shears valued at more than $1500 and needs for the barber program he’s just four months from completing at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). As lunch passed by at the Red Cross service center Robinsen was wondering if he should make his way to his job as a janitor in Edina so that he could at least think about something else for a while.

The couple left the service center with information from the Red Cross and The Salvation Army for a temporary place to stay and getting some clothes before finding a new home.

Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross disaster relief, helping people recover from this fire and similar disasters. Or go to redcross.org to donate even more financial support. This story and the accompanying photos are by Kevin Berger, a volunteer American Red Cross disaster relief worker based in Minnesota.

Morning blaze serves “full meal deal” to volunteer in-training

Scott Olson, a volunteer Red Cross disaster relief worker in-training, got his first on-scene experience, Friday, March 9, 2012, when his phone rang early that morning. The Red Cross was responding to a 3-alarm fire in downtown Minneapolis.

2:30 got the call; 3:00 arrived on scene

Scott Olson, Red Cross volunteer-in-training, at Minneapolis apartment fire, March 9, 2012. Photo credit: Dave Schoeneck/American Red Cross

We tried to walk close to the building, but there were flames licking out the second and third floor windows. The whole area was cordoned off by fire trucks and police.

We went to the shelter bus. About that time there were ten people on it. Most of them were very upset, crying, sort of in shock. I remember another responder saying she expected more people to be on the bus. She handed me a clip board and told me to go ask them some questions. Then they started to trickle out of the bus, finding places to go.

The other responder said this isn’t typical for a first response. I hope it’s not scaring you away she told me. No, I’m not scared. It was neat. I got the full exposure. I got to watch the media. It was the full-meal deal, really.

8:00 am close to getting parking ticket, left the scene; 8:10 am arrived home; stripped and fell on bed; magic happened after that

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Mora fire invites reflection

Once a week Angela Carlson heads to the American Red Cross Central Minnesota Chapter where she supports local disaster action team volunteers. On Thursday, December 8, Carlson received a phone call from a volunteer who said someone might have died that day from fire in the chapter’s local response area.

A Red Cross volunteer told me that her pastor had called and reported a death in an apartment building fire in Mora. The first thing I did was contact the Sheriff’s office to verify that the Red Cross had been asked to respond. When I had confirmed that they wanted us there, I called the volunteer back to dispatch her and a second volunteer responder to the scene. After starting incident paperwork, I called Judy and Dick Pike, long-time Red Cross disaster relief workers. I told Judy that I wasn’t sure why I was calling, and that I just needed some support to process the dispatch. I reviewed my next steps with Judy who was very helpful.

"I have empathy for the individuals involved and understand that it’s difficult to be in any position during a disaster," says Angela Carlson, the client services caseworker who handled the Red Cross disaster dispatch for the tragic fire in Mora, Minnesota. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

The Mora fire was the first dispatch involving multiple chapters and multiple deaths that I have been involved in since I started with the Red Cross in October. While I was at the local chapter I felt much support from staff both in St. Cloud and in Minneapolis. Being in St Cloud rather than Minneapolis that day made a huge difference in the disaster response dispatch, giving it a local and community-based feel. People there checked in with me and made sure I was doing all right. In the end, a couple people said that they really looked forward to meeting me at the next Disaster Action Team meeting. I felt the same.

I was exhausted at the end of the day. The Mora fire response left me feeling reflective of the mission and vision of the Red Cross and of the services we provide. While I can’t fully appreciate the devastation families feel after a disaster because I don’t respond on-scene, I have empathy for the individuals involved and understand that it’s difficult to be in any position during a disaster. It’s meaningful to know that our clients are being served with such compassion.

This is a response that I will carry with me, especially after learning details about the people who died. There was a phone call that I took from a volunteer who was helping family members who did not yet know that a loved one had died. There was also a surviving teenager. That has been the hardest for me to process. I’ve been thinking about her a lot and when I do my heart just breaks. But each time that happens my heart mends itself stronger and that, in turn, helps me support our Red Cross volunteers more effectively so that they can continue serving our communities in great ways.

Angela Carlson, is a client services coordinator for the American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region. She is based in Minneapolis at the Twin Cities Area Chapter.

Home Alone Safety Steps

Children are returning to school during the coming weeks. Some will be spending time home alone until parents return home from work. Now’s the time for both parents and children to take and learn safety steps that will make after-school hours at home alone safer and less stressful for everyone.

Top ten steps parents + guardians can take:

  1. Develop a home safety plan and discuss and practice it with the whole family.
  2. If a child is going home after school, have him or her call to check in after arriving home.
  3. For an older child, set ground rules about whether other kids can come over, whether cooking is okay, and whether the child can leave home.
  4. Post an emergency phone list where the child can see it.
  5. Make sure the first aid kit is stocked and stored where your children can find it, but keep our of reach of young children.
  6. Identify neighbors whose home your child can go to in case of an emergency.
  7. Remove or safely store in locked areas dangerous items like guns, ammunition, knives, hand tools, power tools, razor blades, scissors, and other objects that can cause injury.
  8. Make sure potential poisons like detergents, polishes, pesticides, care-care fluids, lighter fluid and lamp oils are stored in locked cabinets or out of the reach of children.
  9. Make sure medicine is kept in a locked storage place or out of the reach of children.
  10. Make sure at least one approved smoke alarm is installed and operating on each level of the home.

Top ten steps kids can take:

  1. Lock the door and make sure all the windows are closed and locked.
  2. Never open the door to strangers.
  3. Never open the door to delivery people or service representatives.
  4. Never tell someone on the telephone that mom or dad are not at home. Say something like “My mom is busy right now. Can I take a message?”
  5. Do not talk about being home alone on public websites.
  6. Never leave the house without permission.
  7. Do not go outside to check out an unusual noise. If the noise worries you, call mom, dad, or the police.
  8. Do not have friends over to visit when mom or dad aren’t at home without permission.
  9. Do not let anyone inside who is using drugs or alcohol, even if you know them.
  10. If you smell smoke or hears a fire or smoke alarm, get outside and ask a neighbor to call the fire department.

Perhaps you have more steps + tips that you’d like to share. Also, visit redcross.org to learn more about being Red Cross ready before, during, and after emergencies.

Red Cross shelter day three…working through the emotional stuff

by Andrea Bredow and Mark Smith, Twin Cities Red Cross Volunteers

When fire broke out on an early morning in Bloomington, Minnesota, a family of four found the only way to escape to safety was to break the second floor window, drop the oldest child out the window and then have her catch her two younger siblings. She caught one by the leg and the other around waist.  Not only is everything she owned now gone, she is also experiencing emotional reactions from an event no school aged girl should ever have to go through. The American Red Cross Disaster Stress Team steps in to help victims like this young girl work through the emotions from a traumatic life event.

On a sub-zero morning, people jumped out windows to escape this burning apartment building near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo credit: Anne Florenzano/American Red Cross

Cay Shea Hellervik, a member of the disaster response stress team, is one of many volunteers at the Bloomington shelter helping the residents from the apartment fire get back on their feet.  As important as finding clothes, shelter and food after a tragic event so is dealing with the event its self and all the emotions that come with a major life tragedy. Cay says it is important to have someone around who wants to listen.

“It is important to talk through what they just experienced when it is still vivid,” says Cay.

When she first arrives at a shelter, Cay checks with the manager and other volunteers to get a general feel for who may need to talk to the stress team.

“I make sure I touch base with everyone, asking how they are doing, how they are feeling and get them to talk through the event, ” says Cay.

For many, a step in the healing process is getting back in their routine. One young girl in the shelter was concerned about missing school, the problem; she only had the pajamas full of soot from the fire. Cay realized returning to her regular schedule was important for the young girl. Cay and the pastor from the church where fire victims are staying found clothes the church had on hand. A phone call was made to the school district and with in 15 minutes the young girl was dressed and ready for the yellow school bus that arrived at the shelter. Cay noticed a tear run down the girls face as she stepped on the bus as she return to her “normal” schedule.

Play time with a Red Cross volunteer helps children heal after a traumatic fire disaster near Minneapolis, Minnesota, which displaced more than 30 people. Photo credit: Cathryn Kennedy/American Red Cross

Along with her professional background in psychology, Cay credits the training the Red Cross provides.

“Red Cross training is so important and prepares you so well for events like this,” says Cay.

All members of the stress team are all trained degreed professionals, but Cay challenges this community to “join the Red Cross regardless of your training, find out what your roll could be and use the great knowledge and training of the Red Cross to contribute to the community.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities, please visit redcrosstc.org.