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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Life’s more persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

As part of the MLK Day of Service, the Red Cross Eastern Pennsylvania Region participated in a nationwide effort to install 15,000 smoke alarms in homes across the country.  The Red Cross held six smoke alarm installation events across our 17 county region, installing approximately 1,200 smoke alarms. It’s all part of the continuing Home Fire Campaign to make our communities safer and better prepared.

Red Cross volunteers, along with local fire departments and our community partners, went door-to-door to speak with residents and educate them on potential home fire hazards and risks. Fire safety information was provided in English and Spanish and residents received free smoke alarms installed in their homes.

Since 2015, the Eastern Pennsylvania Region, in partnership with local fire departments and community partners, have installed approximately 8,000 smoke alarms.

Take a moment to watch the MLK Day of Service Video.

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Lehigh Valley-Bucks Chapter

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Tri-County Chapter

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NEPA Chapter

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SEPA Chapter

Photo galleries of the events can be found here.

IMPACT OF HOME FIRES & RED CROSS RESPONSE:  Seven times a day someone in this country dies in a home fire and on average 36 people suffer injuries as a result of home fires every day. To combat these tragic statistics, the Red Cross has launched a nationwide campaign to reduce the number of deaths and injuries due to home fires by 25 percent by 2020. Since 2014 the Home Fire Campaign has saved 116 lives nationwide.

Home fires remain the biggest disaster threat to individuals and families in the United States and the number one disaster the Red Cross responds to in America. This campaign is in direct response to that dire threat, with the Red Cross committed to install 2.5 million free smoke alarms in neighborhoods at high risk for fires, and to educate those residents about fire prevention and preparedness.

HOME FIRE SAFETY, A FEW SIMPLE STEPS: Most home fires can be prevented. The Red Cross is asking everyone to take two simple steps that can save lives: check their existing smoke alarm and practice fire drills at home.

There are several things families and individuals can do to increase their chances of survival in a fire:

  1. If someone doesn’t have smoke alarms, install them.  At a minimum, put one on every level of the home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Local building codes vary and there may be additional requirements where someone lives and practice.
  2. If someone does have alarms, test them today.  If they don’t work, replace them.
  3. Make sure everyone in the family knows how to get out of every room and the home in less than two minutes.
  4. Practice the plan with home fire drills.  What’s the household’s escape time?  An individual only has two minutes.

 

To become a Red Cross volunteer please visit, www.redcross.org/volunteer.

A recipe for Thanksgiving cooking safety

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You’ve been thinking about turkey for weeks. But did you know that Thanksgiving is the leading day for home fires and home fire injuries involving cooking equipment?

“People think that it can’t happen to them,” says Nina Johnson, Disaster Program Specialist at the American Red Cross of the Greater Lehigh Valley. “But unfortunately it can.”

Here’s Nina’s recipe for Thanksgiving cooking safety:

Ingredients:

  • Smoke alarms
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Close-fitting clothing

Directions:

  1. Test your smoke alarms: Smoke alarms generally fail because the batteries are missing, disconnected, or dead. Press the test button on each smoke alarm in your home. Functioning alarms should produce a loud siren. Smoke alarms that produce weak or nonexistent sirens need new batteries.
  2. Check your fire extinguisher: The National Fire Protection Agency recommends inspecting portable fire extinguishers monthly and getting professional maintenance once a year. Refer to the label or user manual of your extinguisher for the manufacturer’s maintenance suggestions.
  3. Clean your oven and cooktop: Dirty cooking surfaces can lead to a fire. Be sure to open windows and turn on the exhaust fan when using an oven’s self-cleaning feature. And don’t forget to remove any ash once the oven is cool. If you are cleaning your oven by hand, make sure to wipe down the oven and cooktop after using cleaning supplies.
  4. Wear close-fitting clothing: Keep your scarves, ties, and other loose-fitted clothing in the bedroom until you have finished cooking. Nina recommends wearing a close-fitted short-sleeve shirt in the kitchen.
  5. Stay in the house while the oven is on: It takes time to cook a juicy bird. Make sure that there is at least one adult in the house while the oven is on.
  6. Stay in the kitchen while cooking on the stovetop: Unattended cooking accounted for 48% of injuries in a study by the National Fire Protection Agency. Be sure to stay in the kitchen when cooking on a range or cooktop.
  7. Keep children away from the oven: Make sure to keep kids away from the oven and hot cooking surfaces. Serve appetizers or snacks in another room to keep children out of the kitchen.
  8. Stay calm if a fire starts: Don’t try to throw a burning pan in the sink or run through the house to throw it outside. Cover the pan with a metal lid. If the fire continues, get everyone out of the house and call 911.

Find more cooking tips for Thanksgiving Chefs

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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.

Does your home have a working fire alarm?  Do you have an escape plan in the event of a fire?  Did you remember to turn off the stove?

Growing up in the suburbs near Trenton, New Jersey, I found questions like this a nuisance because fires in my area were a rare event.   It was not until I began school at Temple University that I started to appreciate why my school engraved fire safety tips into our minds.  During my years at Temple, I would often hear a sound unfamiliar to me when I lived in the suburbs; the sound of a fire truck siren.  To my surprise, it was not uncommon to see a fire truck racing down Broad Street three, four times a week.  Now, working at the Red Cross as an AmeriCorps NPRC member, I’ve seen first-hand the effects of fires on the people of Philadelphia and the importance of fire safety.

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September was National Preparedness Month, and one of the things we all need to prepare for is fires.  Fire is an unforgiving chemical process that will continue to spread and be fatal if not accounted for.  Of the 74,000 disasters Red Cross responded to this past year, 93 percent of them were fire related.  In fact, fire kills more Americans each year then all the natural disasters combined.  As National Fire Safety Month begins, it is essential for everyone to take steps to help protect their homes and the people they care about.

Common house hold items are often a source of fire; anything from the stove in the kitchen to the space heater used to warm up the house during those cold winter nights are all potential fire hazards.  Even things we cannot see like the wiring behind the wall can cause fires.  It is important to learn more about these items in order to prevent fires from occurring.

The most important way to help save lives in the event of a fire is that first alert to a problem.  This is why it is essential to install and maintain all smoke alarms throughout the house.  Smoke alarms can help notify people a fire is occurring and help them escape before the fire spreads to all available exits in the house. The next thing you must do is have and practice your escape plan. In fact, the Red Cross recommends having at least two ways out of every room in your house.  At Temple, that meant investing in a fire ladder for myself. My second way out was through a third story window, so I had a ladder ready, just in case.

Preparing and planning for fires can protect what you love most.  Please take the time to visit http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/home-fire to learn more about fires in order to prevent them and prepare for them in the event that a fire does occur in your home.

a kiss for Savannah

It was 11pm Monday night and I had just settled my 4 month old little girl down for her long night shift of sleep, and handed off monitoring duty of our three year old, who is going through a spell of waking in the night, to my husband, as he stays up a little later than me. It was time for bed, after another long 16 hour day. Little did I know what was to come.

At 1:30am my “bat phone” rang. This is the Red Cross phone. I was serving as “PR on call” for the night and this was “the call”. There was a large fire burning in Coatesville with fatalities, injuries and rooftop rescues. Many people were displaced and our DAT volunteers were on the way. The phone woke the 4 month old, but I calmed her down and handed her off to my husband while I took down the pertinent information. After waking my director to let him know what was going on, it was decided that I would head out to the scene…. I only live about 20 minutes away.

500 block of Chestnut Street active scene approximately 2:45am

When I arrived on scene at about 2:30am, it was pretty chaotic and pouring down rain. But our volunteers were doing all they could to comfort people who had been through a traumatic incident. I was touched by their dedication. One married couple who serve Chester County were on the scene. It was their second response of the night and neither had been to bed, but you would never have known it by the way they continued to serve the mission in a pleasant manner. They inspire me.

Half of the displaced from the fire huddled on a porch of an adjacent building were Mexican and spoke only Spanish. We relied on an interpreter and the children in the crowd to help us communicate the best we could for the time being. Our volunteers took names, handed out snacks, offered blankets, hugs and pats on the back.

I gathered the information that I could from those taking names and making lists and found out we had at least 31 people who would need a place to stay… two more were at the hospital being checked out, but they would likely return and need our help as well… that made 33 and 12 of them were children. One was 7 weeks old…. another just 15 months and the same size as my 4 month old back at home (she’s a beast). It broke my heart, as a mom, to see these kids huddled in their parent’s arms, dressed in their pajamas looking up at their destroyed homes.

I kept my head in the game and watched for the media to show up. I tweeted, I emailed, called to check in with my director and took photos. I kept up on the latest information and was ready when the media did arrive, call, or tweet me back. I stood in the rain for numerous interviews and facilitated a statement from the fire chief for the cameras that were on scene. I was live at 6am with one station…. and stuck around to make sure the morning reporters had the latest information.

During all of that, the decision was made that we would open a shelter a few blocks away. More volunteers had arrived and were working with officials to get keys to the building, supplies from a trailer and get the shelter set up. The residents waited patiently. We were told they would be able to go into their homes to grab some belongings two at a time. It was relatively quiet amongst the porch dwellers. You could hear the loud noise of the fire trucks, a back-up beeping from time to time and the rain and wind. The weather seemed to be getting worse. One of our volunteers grabbed trash bags to hand out to the crowd. It was something they could use put their belongings in when they went into their homes. The volunteers reminded everyone to gather the ESSENTIALS like medications, eye glasses, identification…. things like that.

As the families came out of the burned building with bags full, we worked with the local police to transport them to the community center, which was now set up and ready to accept people. A young officer made numerous trips in his cruiser back and forth until everyone was accounted for.

By this time, the sun was beginning to rise, but the folks were ready for some sleep, so it was lights out at the shelter. I helped hand out some blankets. It’s not my job in disaster response, but I can’t help myself… Seeing little kiddos curled up on Red Cross cots touches my heart and I want them to be as comfy as possible. I gathered the information I needed from those signing folks into the shelter and headed back to the scene to update the media… I wanted to keep the media on scene happy with information from me so everyone could sleep at the shelter.

After the morning news, the second shift of reporters began to arrive, but I needed a break. It was 7am and I was going on 2 hours of sleep and no food. I offered to take the volunteer who hadn’t slept at all home as she and her husband had brought the ERV to the scene and they had no way of getting home. It was out of my way, but the least I could do.

I checked in with the director on my way home and we decided to touch base after I napped.

About 10am or so, I was up again after a maybe 2 hour power nap…. the baby wanted me and my phone started ringing again. It was clear I wouldn’t be able to get any more sleep. I fed the baby, hugged her tight, grabbed some breakfast, kissed my amazing husband and headed back to the scene.

Our vehicles outside of the shelter

By the time I got there, I’d be on my 3rd shift of reporters, and the fire scene would be boarded up… a few stuffed animals placed at the bottom of the steps in memory of the mother and child who lost their lives…  it was surreal.

I was also amazed by the efficiency in the shelter. Volunteers had served breakfast and lunch was on the way. Kids were playing nicely with stuffed animals we handed out and eating popsicles. They were in good spirits after a short night and their parents were doing a great job of staying calm. Caseworkers had arrived on scene to help with the work of transitioning the families to the next location. We had a language barrier, but plenty of folks from Chapter who spoke Spanish were on hand helping to bridge that gap. I was impressed by the resiliency of the folks in need and the dedication and compassion of the Red Crossers there to respond.

We faced obstacles along the way, of course… including a run to the store to buy car seats so we could safely transport families to a nearby hotel and dealing with close quarters and that pesky language barrier.. but in the end, we were able to assist 33 people. We gave them lodging, food, clothing, counseling… and a caseworker to contact for follow up needs. We helped refill prescriptions and even called in our friends at Red Paw to help with a bird and a cat.

It’s not every day that my work is dedicated to the mission like it was this day, but I do cherish these glances at what the Red Cross is all about. My heart aches for those we’re helping, but on responses like these I wonder what if the Red Cross hadn’t been there? Where would these folks have gone? Would they have huddled into cars for the night? Maybe curled up on that porch or tried to get back into their damaged and unsafe homes? The Red Cross was there to alleviate that suffering. We answered that question and put some smiles back on some faces. It’s nice to be able to witness this… but I wish we didn’t have to.
Sara