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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.

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Today (January 16, 2014)  is a very exciting day for the American Red Cross. It launched its Pet First Aid App for iPhone and Android. It is particularly exciting for the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania because the content and information in the app was provided by Dr. Debbie Mandell, an emergency room veterinarian at the Ryan Veterinary Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania here in Philadelphia. Dr. Mandell also serves as a pet advisor to the American Red Cross.

In order to launch the app, the Red Cross held what’s called a Satellite Media Tour at a studio in Philadelphia, featuring Dr. Mandell, a Red Cross national spokesperson, two pet first-aid CPR manikins, and Mana, the best behaved dog ever known to attend a media event. Basically, TV and radio stations across the country did interviews with them, one after the other.

emergency pet app info

I got to work on this project because of my position with the Red Cross here in Philadelphia. We did site surveys at Penn Vet’s ER, but we couldn’t logistically work out a way to showcase pet emergency care; the unpredictability of a pet emergency room could make for great TV or awful TV. We couldn’t take the chance on the latter.

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Dr. Debbie Mandell (L) of Penn Vet and Laura Howe of the American Red Cross, and Mana the dog, during media interviews about Red Cross Pet First-Aid app.

So for about six hours this morning, Dr. Mandell, the spokesperson, and Mana sat in a studio saying the same things over and over about the Pet First-Aid app. They explained for what seemed like a thousand times, the app’s many features, did pet CRP demonstrations, and showed what items should be in every family’s pet first-aid kit.

One thing in particular stands out to me from the series of interviews this morning. Dr. Mandell really did a geat job emphasizing the dangers in your home that you may not be aware of. She mentioned certain plants and flowers are toxic to cats and dogs. I had no idea. The Red Cross Pet First-Aid app identifies those plants for you and what to do if your pet eats or licks any of those plants.

My two dogs died a few years ago, so I don’t have any pets, but I can still use the app. It is useful for me to help potential Red Cross clients with pets, who need a place to go after a fire or flood, find 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, who runs the local pet disaster rescue organization Red Paw, 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.

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 go to redcross.org/mobileapps 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.

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Welcome to Giving Tuesday. I’m not a big fan of made up stuff so people can have a cool hashtag, but you can’t really argue with a day to recognize and draw attention to wonderful charitable organizations doing amazing work.

In deciding to write about our Red Cross blankets in honor of Giving Tuesday, I was motivated by one thing, the airing last night of the beloved holiday special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

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Scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas

That episode is a timeless classic I watch every year. There are so many great moments, but what always sticks out to me is the part where Linus and Charlie Brown are joined by the rest of the gang to decorate the pathetic tree Charlie picked out. Who can’t relate to the symbolism of that scene?

Now that I work for the Red Cross, I am particularly struck by how they use the blanket to secure the base of the tree to keep it from falling over. I never really thought much of it before. That’s not the case anymore. Now I think about the impact blankets have, symbolically and more importantly, practically.

For the Red Cross, the care we give to people who have suffered a disaster almost always begins with the blanket. In its most basic and utilitarian form, the blanket keeps people (and sometimes pets) warm. Red Cross blankets provide warmth to an elderly woman forced from her home by a hurricane on a chilly October day, to families in the dead of night as they watch their home burn to the ground, to passengers floating on an airplane wing in the middle of a river on a Fall afternoon, and to commuters who suddenly find themselves standing by a mangled train that ran off the tracks in a tragic accident. Feeling warmer is a small but vital step to recovery.

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Woman enjoys a friendly moment at the Red Cross shelter at Palisades High School in Bucks County after Hurricane Sandy. Credit: American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania

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Families gather after their apartment building in Yeadon, Delaware County, is destroyed by fire. Credit: American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania

 

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11 year old Ahmet keeps warm after a fire destroyed his home in Upper Merion Twp., Montgomery County. Credit: American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania

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Dozens of passengers wait to be rescued from downed jetliner in what is known as the Miracle on the Hudson Credit: AP

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A passenger is taken away on a stretcher after being rescued in the Miracle on the Hudson. Credit: American Red Cross New York

Passengers try to keep warm after their commuter train derailed in the Bronx. Credit: American Red Cross New York

Passengers try to keep warm after their commuter train derailed in the Bronx. Credit: American Red Cross New York

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A kitten rescued from a house that caught fire in Philadelphia. Credit: Red Paw Emergency Relief

As the person whose job it is to help protect and promote the image and reputation of the American Red Cross, I often comment that the blanket is the best PR the Red Cross could ever get. The sight of a person wrapped in a Red Cross blanket at a disaster scene pretty much sums up in as powerful a way as possible what the Red Cross does and what the Red Cross is all about.

While the Red Cross provides far more than blankets to those affected by disaster, the blanket is usually the most immediate physical and emotional need the Red Cross meets. Each blanket costs about $6. And PR aside, it’s the best $6 the Red Cross could ever spend. So on this Giving Tuesday, think about Charlie Brown and the blanket that helped make that sad tree beautiful. Then think about the Red Cross blanket and how much comfort, hope, and recovery $6 can buy.

This month there is an exciting opportunity for Red Cross employees, volunteers and partners in the disaster response field! On October 25-29, 2013, the Pennsylvania Disaster Training Institute will offer training courses which teach life-changing leadership skills. The trainings are FREE and will also emphasize management skills and practices.

On Friday, October 25,2013, I look forward to taking the Assisting Animals on a Residential Disaster scene, the Red Paw Pilot Program. Red Paw is an organization that I have been wanting to get involved with since learning about them a few months ago.

“The Red Paw Emergency Relief Team is an emergency services, nonprofit organization that works in conjunction with the American Red Cross, SEPA Chapter and other public and private disaster relief, social service, and animal welfare organizations to provide emergency transport, shelter, and veterinary care to animals involved in residential fires and other disasters”.- Red Paw

The Red Paw Pilot Program is a three-part workshop from 9:00a.m.-3:00p.m. Part One of the workshop will emphasize pet preparedness as a part of the Preparedness component of the Red Cross Disaster Cycle. Part Two is where participants will learn the steps to take on a disaster scene response, including the assessment of animals and how to provide assistance during and after the response. Part two will also will feature a hands-on presentation with live animals! Part Three will focus on the development of the Red Paw Emergency Relief Team. Additionally, participants will learn how to start an organization that provides assistance to pets during a disaster, and includes potential obstacles and information on how to move forward if your local Red Cross chapter is not in a position to help support a fully formed organization.

There are many more amazing courses to take part in. Hurry and sign up before all courses are full!

The Disaster Training Institute will take place at American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter and the Red Cross House

To Check out the Disaster Institute Training Courses please click here

To Register for Courses at the Disaster Institute please click here

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)

We know the Red Cross SEPA Chapter helps people in disasters, emergencies, and crises and in severe thunderstorms, fires and property catastrophes throughout all seasons from the cold winter months to the hot summer days. Many times whole families are tragically displaced from their homes during a disaster and the Red Cross commonly seeks to find them shelter and assist them with a short term and long term plan for recovery. But what happens if the disaster victims have pets? What is their fate? Are they unfortunately left behind? Do recovery services extend to the pets of survivors? That’s what the Red Paw Emergency Relief Team has been working on for a year now. With the help of a dedicated Red Cross volunteer, Jen Leary (pictured), who championed the idea of supporting the pets of disaster victims, the Red Paw Emergency Relief Team was designed.

The Red Paw Emergency Relief Team works in conjunction with the American Red Cross SEPA Chapter and partners with them at an emergency disaster scene.  As soon as a Red Cross responder finds that there is an animal companion of a survivor at the scene of a disaster, Red Paw Emergency Team responders are alerted and spring into action to meet the needs of the beloved animal and to transport them to the appropriate facility. The Red Paw Team is an emergency response and animal welfare nonprofit that supports the Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Montgomery, and Delaware Counties. Displaced pets are cared for and kept up to 30 days, until family members are able to take them back. Family members are not charged for this care, instead all basic pet care due to a disaster is free of charge. Red Paw is able to make this happen through the generous support of donations. To find out more about Red Paw, Click here.

Jabril Redmond, guest, volunteer blogger