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-submitted by Sarah Peterson, communications volunteer

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was responsible for setting up the first fire company in Philadelphia? On a visit to see his family Boston, he observed that Bostonians were much better equipped to fight fires and save lives than the people of Philadelphia. According to the website, ushistory.org, after consulting with civic leaders in Philadelphia, he gathered 30 young men together to form the Union Fire Company on December 7, 1736. These men had special equipment provided by the community, and they began meeting regularly to practice their techniques and discuss successful firefighting procedures.

In order to raise public awareness, Franklin began writing about fire safety in his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. In one article, written in 1735, he cautions his fellow citizens against moving hot coals from room to room on an open shovel, in case one ember is lost under the stairs and results in a middle-of-the-night,“when your Stairs being in Flames, you may be forced, (as I once was) to leap out of your Windows, and hazard your Necks to avoid being oven-roasted.”

rco_blog_img_BenFranklinFire safety awareness has improved since the 1700s. No doubt Franklin would have been thrilled by the efficacy of smoke detectors, but we still struggle to make sure fire safety measures are protecting everyone.  On October 3rd, 2014, the White House released a proclamation by President Obama to mark Fire Prevention Week and to remind all Americans of the danger of fire. He urged all of us to practice evacuations plans from our homes, schools and places of business. He urged Americans who live near woodlands to practice caution and clear flammable vegetation from around buildings. He reminded all of us that, “During Fire Prevention Week, we recognize our duty to be vigilant and take action to avert fires, and we remember the sacrifices of those who gave their lives so others might live.”

That’s why the Pennsylvania State House also took some time this week to recognize National Fire Prevention Week. According to State Senator Rob Teplitz, the week commemorates the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and was first designated in 1920. It is still unclear how the devastating fire in Chicago got started, but it burned for two days, destroyed 3.3 square miles of the city’s central business district, killed up to 300 people and left more than 100,000 residents homeless. In 1920, officials decided that such a massive disaster deserved the be remembered in a way that could help everyone learn more about fire safety and prevention and President Woodrow Wilson released the first National Fire Prevention Week Proclamation.

Appropriately, this year’s theme is “Smoke alarms save lives: Test yours every month.” As Franklin surely knew when warning about embers in an open shovel, home fire deaths are preventable but require residents to take care. We no longer worry about lost embers, but we must test our smoke alarms regularly and change the batteries twice a year.

As Franklin writes in 1735, “In the first Place, as an Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure” we must all be vigilant against the dangers of fire. We remember terrible disasters like the Chicago fire by taking the time to remind ourselves of this basic truth. Check your batteries, everyone! Take the time to practice an escape route from your home. And don’t carry those embers in an open shovel.

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By Caroline Hroncich, American Red Cross Volunteer and Villanova student

As a senior in college, I have come to think of this time in my life as a stepping-stone between childhood and adulthood. You are given freedom, but are not yet required to be completely independent. We often don’t realize how much we rely on our universities to provide us with essentials. Personally, I did not realize how much I relied on my school until Superstorm Sandy hit.

Until Sandy, I had never thought about what I would do in the face of a disaster at college. I have distinct memories of my 19-year-old self, perched atop my bunk bed, listening to rain pound the window. The lights flickered frequently, threatening to die; all I had to eat was a bag of tortilla chips. I was completely unprepared. The school lost power, the dining hall could not be kept open, and my friends and I found ourselves confined to our dorm rooms while the storm raged around us. After talking to my friends who attend other universities, I realized this was not an uncommon experience.

While universities are equipped to deal with disasters, it is equally as important for students to prepare. During my junior year, a major snowstorm hit, leaving me (I was now living in an on-campus apartment) without power. Being without light meant there was a mad rush to purchase battery-powered lamps, leaving many students without alternative options to light their apartments. I lost most of my refrigerated food. The school urged everyone to go home, but since I did not live a convenient distance, that was not an option. A few of my friends considered going to a nearby hotel for the night.

rco_blog_img_CollegePrepAs a freshman, I laughed at my parents when they insisted I keep things like a flashlight in my dorm room. Now I realize how truly important those things are. Keeping items like a flashlight, extra batteries and a small portable lamp in your dorm are essential when it comes to emergency preparedness. Even food is important to keep in your room, just in case the dining halls are unable to serve you. My experience has definitely taught me that as we go about our busy college lives it’s important to stop for a second and think about if we are truly prepared.

— Cross-posted from the American Red Cross of Greater New York’s Blog

 

 

 

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Although I’ve only been interning with the Red Cross Communications team for several weeks, I have already gained an entirely new perspective on both this community and providing assistance to those in need. The future of the Red Cross is dependent on volunteers who recognize the importance of this organization and then donate their efforts towards fulfilling its mission.

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During my time at the Red Cross, I have had the opportunity to assist outside of the office. One day, I hope to be part of the Disaster Action team and respond to local disasters. So far, the closest that I have come to disaster response is participating in Red Cross Fire Safety Walkthroughs. During Fire Safety Walkthroughs, Red Cross workers distribute fire safety materials, such as educational materials as well as a 9-volt battery for smoke detectors. The educational material comes in multiple languages and provides individuals with information on how to prevent a fire, making an escape plan and pet fire safety.  In the past several weeks, I’ve participated in Fire Safety Walkthroughs in the two communities surrounding the fatal fires at Gesner Street and North Sixth Street. When fire suddenly destroys homes and claims the lives of community members, the scene is always very sensitive.  It has been difficult to see the tremendous toll these disasters have on communities. As we made our way up and down the streets, I did my best to be respectful to people’s properties, especially the homes where the fires occurred.

Gesner St Fire picture of Laurel

When I am in the office, I work with both internal and external means of communication to keep the general public as well as Red Cross employees and volunteers informed about what is going on in the community and the office. I really value working beside and learning from my manager, Sara, and the rest of the Communications department. Our many responsibilities have so much purpose, which causes me to constantly look forward to my time here. This branch of the Red Cross employs many friendly and intelligent people. I’ve received nothing but a warm welcome to this team. The Red Cross never stops responding, so as long as I’m here I’m sure I will be kept busy by providing the community with the information they need to stay informed and safe.

~submitted by Laurel, a high school intern for the communications department

If you are interested in volunteering with the American Red Cross, click here.

It was shortly after the celebration of America’s Birthday ended when a devastating fire ripped through the 6500 block of Gesner Street in Southwest Philadelphia. The raging fire destroyed or damaged 10 homes, leaving 42 residents without a place to stay. Sadly, 4 children did not escape the fire. This was a tragedy that stunned the entire community.

Red Cross workers, some who had just worked nearly 20 hours at the Wawa Welcome America events along the parkway, responded to assist a neighborhood in grief. Volunteers provided blankets, water, hugs, support, comfort and counsel in the early hours of July 5th. A reception center was set up nearby at Bartram High School where more than 2 dozen residents registered. By Sunday afternoon, Red Cross had provided financial assistance to 10 families, 33 people… 18 of who are in our care staying at Red Cross House.

rco_blog_img_GesnerThe Red Cross will continue to provide assistance to other families who may come forward in the days to come and will continue to support those families in grief over the loss of these children.

We have been inundated with requests to help, so here are the ways you can help:

First, please consider making a financial donation to local disaster relief to allow the Red Cross to have resources constantly available to respond to disasters like this one and to continue to provide support to the families affected by the Gesner Street fire. You can d this by calling 1-800-RED CROSS or by clicking here.

For those wishing to donate material items specifically to the affected families, many partners are coordinating these efforts. Here is a short list of places to contact or take items:

Christ International Baptist Church
2210 South 65th Street
Philadelphia. Ph:215-729-0214

Community Support Center
Connell Park
6401 Elmwood Ave
Philadelphia, PA

Liberian Association of Pennsylvania, Inc.
1155 South 54th Street
Philadelphia, PA
Ph: 215-651-9322

Saving Grace Orphanage
4918 Baltimore Ave
Philadelphia, PA
Ph: 215-779-5726

First Baptist Church of Paschall
7100 Woodland Avenue
Philadelphia, PA
Ph: 215-724-3294

(This list will be updated as more information becomes available)

Also, consider joining the Red Cross as a volunteer to respond to disaster like this one. We are always looking for dedicated people. You can learn more and sign up by clicking here.

 

I am currently serving as an AmeriCorps member at the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania.  Our year of service is quickly coming to a close and we are already in our last rotations. I will be finishing out my year with the communications department, but I would like to use this blog post to reflect on my rotation at Red Cross House.  Going in I knew very little about what my days would look like.  I knew the statistics, but what I didn't know was all the work that goes on over there. The caseworkers spend many hours helping residents who are staying at Red Cross House following a disaster find assistance and residents spend many hours searching for a new place to live. Anyone who has looked for an apartment or house knows how stressful the process is, but imagine adding that to the stress of just having lost your home and belongings. When families first enter Red Cross House it is not uncommon for them to be overwhelmed. They have a daunting journey ahead of them. Soon, typically the day after they enter, they will sit down with their caseworker.  The trained caseworkers go over what the family lost, what their recovery plans are, and what the next steps should be.  After this first meeting you often can see that the family is visibly more relaxed, because they now at least have an idea of what to do to get back into a home.  The road ahead is still difficult, but they have a sense of control again.

Residents also take classes while staying at Red Cross House.  Some classes offer practical knowledge, such as fire safety and financial literacy, while other activities are ways for the residents to have fun and decompress, such as yoga class or getting a free haircut. None of these classes would happen without our volunteers and financial supporters. In fact, Red Cross House would not run smoothly without the many volunteers who help at the front desk, serve lunch, teach classes, and offer counseling services, or the financial support to help keep the place looking nice.

One of the things about Red Cross House that stands out to me the most is how quickly residents form bonds with each other. After all, no one understands what you're going through better than the people staying down the hall. It was not uncommon to see people sit down at lunch together and start talking about what had brought them to the house.  Soon you would see them checking in on each other, and sometimes even helping each other look for a new place to live. I believe that the sense of community is one of the first things that helps people on their road to recovery, because they are reminded that they are not alone, and they see others who were in the same place as them moving back into a home.

Working at Red Cross House showed me how resilient the people of Philadelphia are.  All of the residents staying there were going through a very challenging period, but they all continued to move forward and do what needed to be done to get them back into a forever home. ​In the meantime, Red Cross House stands ready to act as home whenever needed. Learn more about Red Cross House. - Submitted by Megan Wood, AmeriCorps NPRC Member


April 6th – April 12th, 2014 is National Volunteer Week. We asked some of our volunteers why they volunteer for the Red Cross. Below is just sampling of some of their answers.

 

Carol Aldridge

9 years of service

Emergency Services

“I had seen so much that had happened at Katrina that it really pulled at my heartstrings.”

 

Carol Barnett    

22 years of service

Emergency Services

“The best part about the Red Cross is the people you work with and all the diversity.”

 

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Stan Dunn accepting an award during the 2013 American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Celebration of Volunteers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stan Dunn

12 years of service

Emergency Services

“(During 9/11) We were so impressed by what the Red Cross was doing, when we came home we decided we would volunteer for the Red Cross.”

 

Heath Morris    

5 years of service

Red Cross House

“I wanted something to do after leaving the Treasury Department. It (Red Cross House) is a good facility and helps people in need.

 

Anthony Robinson, pictured with our CEO, receiving an award at the 2013 Celebration of Awards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthony Robinson

2 years of service

Volunteer Administration

“Here I feel as though I can actually do some good and help people. I had some health issues and I decided I needed to get out of hte house. It’s really worked out for me.”

 

Tom Reithof

30+ years of service

Emergency Services

“I kind of thought it was fun. Before (volunteering for the Red Cross) I worked as an engineer and physicist that never dealt with human beings. I started learning about human beings.”

 

Alice Taylor, at a desk in Volunteer Administration

Alice Taylor, at a desk in Volunteer Administration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alice Taylor  

11 years of service

Blood Services and Volunteer Administration

“I enjoy doing it. It keeps me out of trouble.”

 

Jen Tso      

4 months of service

Financial Development

“Everyone is super excited about the work that they do, so it’s a great environment to be part of.”

 

 

From left to right; Carol Barnet, at the Regional Disaster Coordination Center, David Yu, at the 2014 Red Ball, Jen Tso at her desk

David Yu

1 year of service

Disaster Action Team and Disaster Services Technology

“I get to meet a lot of different people. I love the fact that we are so diverse and that we can actually coordinate as one. That also amazes me.

 

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Not this Ben Franklin…

In the era of digital cameras, smartphones with 13 megapixel cameras that fit into your pocket, and everything being done remotely with a few strokes of a keyboard, you wouldn’t think getting a picture of a huge bridge would be all that difficult.

Well, you’d be wrong.

I preface this by saying this is absolutely no one’s fault. Everyone who helped with this did everything they could to facilitate. Every request I made was granted. But sometimes for a variety of reasons, even the smallest, simplest tasks, can wind up being a challenge.

Every March for Red Cross Month, I request the Delaware River Port Authority to light the Ben Franklin Bridge red to honor the work of the thousands of Red Cross volunteers. And DRPA always happily obliges by setting aside most days for the bridge to be red. (excluding March 17th when the bridge is green and a few other days here and there.)

Ben Franklin Bridge lit up on a normal evening. (Courtesy Jingoli.com)

This year was no exception. But I hit snags at just about every turn. First, there was some sort of construction on the bridge involving PATCO which made programming the light display on the bridge hit and miss. Some nights, the lights would work. Some nights they wouldn’t. Sadly, on the nights I dispatched a photographer to snap a photo, were nights the bridge wasn’t red.

I also called on my friends in the media to take beauty shots of the bridge lit in red during their news and weather casts. But without hard and fast dates and times, it’s difficult to ensure the bridge would ever make air.

Which brings me to last night (3/31), the last night of Red Cross Month and the last opportunity to get a photo of the bridge lit red.

I’m a lucky person. I work for the Red Cross so when I ask for a favor, people will go out of their way to try and help. The folks at DRPA exchanged emails with me and made phone calls off hours and over the weekend to make sure the bridge was red Monday night, March 31st, so I could get that photo, raise awareness about the great work the Red Cross does, and in a very real way, generate an extra sense of pride among our thousands of volunteers.

So I sent out the call one last time for volunteers to head to the bridge at dark to take pictures. (Not easy to do after 3 or 4 wild goose chases.) But as I mentioned earlier, people want to help the Red Cross. And bless their hearts, several people grabbed their iPhones and cameras to get the perfect shot. They even drove to Camden to get different angles.

At first, only a small part of the bridge was red and I began to get a huge sense of dread. Did I really do all this and ask others to do this AGAIN, for a few lights? I was feverishly texting back and forth with the volunteers in the area, asking who had the best angle. Could they see the red?

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Ben Franklin Bridge at 8:15pm on 3/31/14. Credit: Janice Winston

I’m sure I came off sounding like a crazed lunatic, obsessed with getting a photo of a bridge. But the volunteers didn’t complain. They have an overwhelming ability to be understanding. They have compassion, even for a guy who just wants a photo. They wanted to come through not for me, but for the Red Cross and their fellow volunteers.

And come through they did. It wasn’t until 11:30pm that all the volunteers were making their way home after chasing red lights on a bridge for four hours.  But the day after, I have plenty of great shots of the bridge lit in all its glorious red.

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Credit: Bob Schmidt

 

And because DRPA came through for us, 6ABC’s Cecily Tynan gave the Red Cross a very nice shoutout during her weather cast.

 

It wasn’t easy, but mission accomplished, much like a disaster response. Rarely are they ever easy or go exactly according to plan. But Red Cross volunteers are adaptable, flexible, and understanding. They are compassionate. So even though in this case, Red Cross volunteers weren’t helping a family burned out their home by a fire or feeding a child at a shelter because a massive ice storm knocked out power to their home (although at the same time, other volunteers were responding to two fires in Philadelphia), they helped make a difference. They helped share their pride in the Red Cross with others as the photos are placed on Facebook, Twitter, newsletters, etc. They may have prompted someone to donate $25 to the Red Cross or better yet, volunteer.

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Credit: Michelle Alton

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Ben Franklin Bridge with Red Cross vehicle. Credit: Michelle Alton

 

The willingness of volunteers to help is what makes the Red Cross run. So when you look at these photos, think of the volunteers who made them possible and be confident that when disaster strikes, the dedication and care volunteers give to getting a photo pales in comparison to the dedication and care they give to people in their moment of greatest need.

Want to see MORE photos of Ben Franklin decked in Red? Click here for the full set on Flickr.