Red Cross helps unite military family following explosion and home fire

“I didn’t know that emergency communications for military families in times of a disaster was something the Red Cross could help with.”

Early one morning in February, in Rapid City, South Dakota, a loud noise awakened Misti O’Connor. “Startled, I rushed outside to see what was going on and I could ‘hear’ the gas,” said Misti. A vehicle had crashed through the camper parked in her driveway, and then into her neighbor’s home, rupturing a gas line and causing the home to explode. This set the O’Connor’s garage on fire.

Aerial view of the damage at the O’Connor’s and neighbor’s houses. Submitted photo.

Misti ran back into the house to get her kids and that’s when they heard the next explosion. “It was really scary,” recalls Raenan, her 8-year-old son.

The O’Connor’s garage and camper following an explosion at their neighbor’s house. Submitted photo.

Back outside, Misti tried calling her husband, Jason, a staff sergeant deployed with the South Dakota Army National Guard on U.S. southern border. “He didn’t pick up at first because it was the middle of the night.  I had to try several times.” Finally, they connected and once Misti explained what was happening, they both started making calls to see if they could get him home. Jason informed his guard command that there was an emergency at home and he needed to go.

Meanwhile, the local Red Cross disaster action team (DAT) was dispatched to respond to the fire and immediately mobilized volunteers, staff and the emergency response vehicle. On-site they provided hot chocolate to the first responders and people affected – and made sure everyone had a warm place to stay.

Extensive damage inside the O’Connor’s garage. Submitted photo.

Richard Felix, regional manager for Red Cross’s Service to the Armed Forces program in South Dakota, was part of the fire response team. Once he found out that Jason was deployed, he informed them of the Red Cross emergency communications program for military members. “Being on-scene was crucial in helping this family make a connection and getting Sgt. O’Connor home when his family needed him most,” said Richard.

“I didn’t know that emergency communications for military families in times of a disaster was something the Red Cross could help with,” said Misti. “We don’t like to accept help from others, so I was very reluctant, but I’m glad the Red Cross was there to help!”

They made the necessary arrangements through the Red Cross and Jason was on a plane headed home to be with his family by Saturday afternoon – just a day after the disaster. “The Red Cross made it so easy,” Jason said.

Having her husband home during this time was “everything” to Misti. “At first, we didn’t know the extent of the damage, but once I saw it, I realized I needed him home. I don’t think I could have done it without his help – I could have, but it would have been hard.”

“I definitely needed to come home to be with my family – to provide moral support,” said Jason who was able be at home for 10 days before returning to his deployment.

The O’Connor family spent five nights in a hotel before returning to their home. There’s still no electricity in the garage, but they’re getting close to having the work completed. “We’re just grateful things weren’t worse, and Jason was able to be home with me and the kids during such a scary and uncertain time,” said Misti.

Misti and Jason O’Connor with their children Raenan (8) and Lorelai (6). Submitted photo.

The Red Cross helps members of the military, veterans and their families prepare for, cope with, and respond to, the challenges of military service. Click here to learn more about Red Cross services for military and veteran families.

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