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The current spring cold snap is proving to be far more than just a nuisance. It’s proving to be downright dangerous. The cold temperatures reinforces the direct correlation between cold temperatures and the rate of home fires.

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All that’s left of a fire on April 15th in the 2400 block or Arlington Street in North Philadelphia that displaced a family of seven. Credit: Bob Schmidt/Red Cross volunteer

After a record setting winter that saw the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania respond to more than 450 fires, those who work and volunteer for the Red Cross had hoped and expected the number of fires to decrease significantly. And after a few days of warmer weather, that is exactly what happened. But sadly, it didn’t last, in part to Mother Nature.

Over the last 72 hours (since 4/15/14), as temperatures dropped to winter like levels again, the number of fires once again rose. In those 72 hours, the Red Cross responded to 12 fires, more than triple the 24  hour average. In all, the Red Cross assisted 21 families, 52 people displaced by those fires. Nine of those families are now at Red Cross House – The Center for Disaster Recovery. The American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania is on pace to exceed 750 fire responses this year, the most in more than four years.

In addition to being financially devastating to the families affected by the fires, the ongoing cold temperatures have had a huge impact on Red Cross resources, human and financial. Since the Red Cross is made up of 90% volunteers, it is mostly volunteers responding to the fires. And while the volunteers are dedicated and committed to serving the public, the relentlessness of the fires can take its toll on even the most seasoned volunteer. So if you’ve ever thought about being a Red Cross volunteer, now would be a great time to let us know. (click HERE for more information.)

 

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This early morning fire on April 17th on north 12th Street in Philadelphia, displaced five families, 16 people, and multiple pets. CREDIT: Jen Leary/Red Paw Emergency Relief

Because the Red Cross provides disaster survivors money for things like food, clothing, lodging, and other emergency needs, the ongoing cold and increase in fires has had a dramatic impact on our financial resources. We are significantly over our disaster response budget. Since the Red Cross will ALWAYS respond and provide the highest level of care, no matter the cost, the money must be found elsewhere. So if you’ve ever considered making a financial donation to the Red Cross, now would be a great time to do so. (click HERE for more information.)

But even if you don’t make a financial donation or volunteer, you can still help the Red Cross and more importantly the greater community. Even as the Red Cross is hopeful warmer temperatures will eventually arrive and the number of fires will decrease, the Red Cross urges residents to remain vigilant about fire safety. Residents should limit having more than two things plugged into one outlet and make sure dryer lint screens and heating system filters are cleaned regularly. Residents should also ensure they have working smoke alarms and have and practice at least twice a year a fire escape plan that includes pets.

For more fire safety information, including how to create a fire escape plan, visit redcross.org/homefires.


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Allergies and travel schedules have made it difficult for our family to have a pet, but that may be for the best. A few years ago, my youngest son brought home the classroom goldfish for the ten day Christmas Break. Merlin (we quickly renamed our guest) arrived looking a bit dull and tired in a plastic bag filled with water.

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Horrified, we ran out to the pet store and purchased several items the owner assured us were essential for goldfish health and happiness. By the end of Merlin’s ten day visit to our home, he was living in a fish tank with a filter, a plant, sparkly turquoise bottom filler and a replica of the Taj Mahal with its own stereo system. I tell this story to illustrate how I completely understand pet inspired devotion. That’s why it’s disturbing to imagine that a pet can be at serious risk during a disaster or harmed by ordinary household items.

emergency-pet-app-infoThe Red Cross has created an essential app to help families manage risk and harm to their pets. First, there are many household dangers to pets. We all know it’s bad when our dog eats our baby brother’s shoe, but what about the house plant in the corner. The app helps homeowners identify and manage these risks for dogs and cats. It also lets pet owners know what to do if their pets lick or eat something that’s toxic.

Pet owners whose families have suffered a disaster can use the app to find a place to go after a fire or flood by locating nearby pet friendly hotels. Often, concern about what to do with their pets prevents people from evacuating. This app helps alleviate those concerns. Jen Leary, founder of the local pet disaster rescue organization Red Paw Emergency Relief, downloaded the app and says the pet friendly hotel and vet locator portion of the Red Cross app is a “game changer” for her volunteers in the field. She had already used it within minutes of downloading to assist more than one family affected by disaster.lean-know-whats-normal-dog

But if you have a pet, you definitely need to consider downloading it. The 99 cents seems like a small price to pay for an app that has so many great, potentially lifesaving features. Plus the 99 cents goes to support all Red Cross services, including disaster relief. To do that, click here or search Red Cross on iTunes or Google Play. And help ensure you’re prepared to care for you pets like any other member of your family.

I’m not sure what the app could have done for Merlin, but it seems obvious that if you are the proud family member of a dog or cat, this is information you need to have. It may save the life of a dear friend.

Each year, the public affairs department of the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) makes a list of our “Top 20 Accomplishments” in order to take stock of our activities in the prior year and to let our friends know we have fulfilled our mission to the best of our ability. Funny thing about this list – it rarely appears in early January when one might expect to see it. Why? Because we’re often a little busy.

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Our most important work, helping those who face disasters, always comes first. The #1 accomplishment on the list mentions Superstorm Sandy, the enormous hurricane that hit the East Coast in early November.  During and in the wake of such a serious event, our small public affairs department went into overdrive to share important information with the public about preparedness, explain what SEPA is doing to support our community’s response to the storm and jumpstart our fundraising efforts.  Just when we’d got a handle on all that, it was the depth of winter, a time when the Philadelphia region is plagued by fire disasters that keep us on our toes.

So here we are, on February 21, 2013, ready to share and celebrate our 2012 accomplishments with a marvelous multi-media presentation!  As we do every year, we printed a booklet with photographs and in-depth explanations of our activities throughout the year. (here’s the Top20_2012_FinalIn addition, as part of our digital and social media efforts, we will devote a part of our website to displaying a digital version of our booklet  and, for the first time ever, a video display of the many ways we achieved the goals of our mission. Dear Reader, please click on this link to experience our moment of reflection in a wholly new and exciting way. I watched it this morning and I was amazed, captivated and utterly floored by its power to convey our message.

Like our mission itself, the video is a testimony to working together to achieve a goal. The SEPA public affairs team consists of our fearless leader, Dave Schrader and his tireless communications specialist, Sara Smith. The rest of us are volunteers who wander in and out throughout each week, contributing as best we can. I think all viewers will agree that our intrepid video interns, Michelle Davies and Kareem Bazali, did a fantastic job of putting the video together. The fades to black and white were Sara’s brainchild, informed by her background in TV, and she curated the beautiful photos. I did some shaping of the language in both the booklet and the video. Dave was the mastermind behind the list itself and a wise producer and director of all our efforts.

We are extremely pleased with our final Top 20 compilation and gratified by our role in sharing the SEPA story with donors, volunteers and friends.  But we are proudest of the work itself — SEPA’s ongoing efforts to alleviate suffering and create a more humane, caring and just world.

–          Submitted by Sarah Peterson, public affairs volunteer

I never need convincing that Red Cross volunteers are the salt of the earth. I know that already. I don’t need to be at an event to know how dedicated and committed Red Cross volunteers are. But there is just something about our annual Celebration of Volunteers event that makes what they do individually and collectively awe inspiring. No matter how much you already appreciate them, this event makes you appreciate them even more.

More than 400 American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania volunteers were on hand for the 10th anniversary of the event. It honors all Red Cross SEPA volunteers and the amazing work they do each year for disaster survivors in the Philadelphia region and across  the country.

I know many of the volunteers personally. I’ve met them at disaster scenes or various functions. They all have their own reasons for volunteering. Each brings their own skill sets and strengths. Just like any job.Noel for example, received our Disaster Action Team Captain of the Year. He was so deserving and got a rousing cheer when his name was announced. He’s very unassuming and upon first meeting him, you’d never figure him for a take charge, DAT captain. But he owns his own company that does computer techy stuff I’ll never understand. He is a leader by any definition. And we are lucky to have him. There’s Jen, who is not only a Philadelphia firefighter full-time and Red Cross volunteer, but she also runs Red Paw, a non-profit that takes care of pets temporarily following a disaster so families can focus on their recovery. She showed up to the event in a sling because one of the dogs in her care bit her arm and the injury was so bad she required surgery. But that has not deterred her. I was tweeting back and forth with her a few days ago as she was responding to a disaster. I didn’t know about the attack. She was already back at it just days after the attack. She’s a better person than I am. There’s Sarah Shabaglian. I had never met her. She’s no longer technically a volunteer. But at 93 years old, she was being honored for her service to the Red Cross and our Armed Forces. She served in World War II in Italy and Okinawa helping our GIs and their spouses get back to the U.S. She was decked out in her full Red Cross military uniform. What an amazing moment that was for the entire room.

Noel with his Disaster Action Team Captain of the Year award at our Celebration of Volunteers event. Pictured with SEPA’s Volunteer Chair, Chairman of the Board and 6ABC’s Alicia Vitarelli

Jen with her special partnership award for her work with the Red Cross on behalf of Red Paw. Pictured with SEPA Chair of Volunteers, Chairman of the Board, and 6ABC’s Alicia Vitarelli

Sarah (Sally) Shabaglian received a special Services to the Armed Forces legacy award for her work on behalf of the Red Cross during World War II

I could give you example after example of volunteers with amazing stories. These were just three. The volunteers don’t do what they do to get awards and recognition. Many don’t even want it. But to me this event is  about more than just recognition. It’s a way for all the volunteers to enjoy each other outside of a moment of disaster. A chance for them to reconnect or meet for the very first time. The Red Cross is a family after all. Sometimes dysfunctional, but always caring, always looking out for each other and those we serve.

One thing I am always struck by when I meet a volunteer for the first time and tell them what I do. They almost always respond by saying, “I’m just a volunteer.” I always try to nicely correct them. I am the one who should be saying “I’m just an employee.” I get paid to serve the Red Cross. I get paid to serve those who have been through a disaster. They do this because they love the Red Cross, they love the mission, they love helping.

Our CEO really struck a chord with me during her remarks at the event when she said the volunteers are the reason she gets up and goes to work in the morning.

“I don’t like asking for things,” she said. “But asking for things is my job. And I do it because of you. You and your work make me want to ask for things.”

That’s pretty powerful. And it hits home with me because the Celebration of Volunteers is a lot of work. Both in the planning and execution. A lot goes on behind the scenes. A lot. It’s hard. It’s time consuming. It’s comparable to Red Ball, at least when it comes to my role. But the people in the room that night deserve it. My effort pales in comparison to theirs. They make it worth getting up in the morning on days you’d rather not.

So on this day after the Celebration of Volunteers, we are already thinking about ways to make next year’s event even better and ways to improve the entire volunteer experience in general.

So if you’re looking for a place where your volunteerism is needed and appreciated. Where your efforts have a direct impact on lives that you can see. Where you’re part of a small local and large global family consider the Red Cross. Consider being the reason why others go to work in the morning.

Video highlighting volunteer deployments (4 minutes)

Mission Moment from Celebration of Volunteers featuring the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts (1 min 15 sec)