Morning blaze serves “full meal deal” to volunteer in-training

Scott Olson, a volunteer Red Cross disaster relief worker in-training, got his first on-scene experience, Friday, March 9, 2012, when his phone rang early that morning. The Red Cross was responding to a 3-alarm fire in downtown Minneapolis.

2:30 got the call; 3:00 arrived on scene

Scott Olson, Red Cross volunteer-in-training, at Minneapolis apartment fire, March 9, 2012. Photo credit: Dave Schoeneck/American Red Cross

We tried to walk close to the building, but there were flames licking out the second and third floor windows. The whole area was cordoned off by fire trucks and police.

We went to the shelter bus. About that time there were ten people on it. Most of them were very upset, crying, sort of in shock. I remember another responder saying she expected more people to be on the bus. She handed me a clip board and told me to go ask them some questions. Then they started to trickle out of the bus, finding places to go.

The other responder said this isn’t typical for a first response. I hope it’s not scaring you away she told me. No, I’m not scared. It was neat. I got the full exposure. I got to watch the media. It was the full-meal deal, really.

8:00 am close to getting parking ticket, left the scene; 8:10 am arrived home; stripped and fell on bed; magic happened after that

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Mora fire invites reflection

Once a week Angela Carlson heads to the American Red Cross Central Minnesota Chapter where she supports local disaster action team volunteers. On Thursday, December 8, Carlson received a phone call from a volunteer who said someone might have died that day from fire in the chapter’s local response area.

A Red Cross volunteer told me that her pastor had called and reported a death in an apartment building fire in Mora. The first thing I did was contact the Sheriff’s office to verify that the Red Cross had been asked to respond. When I had confirmed that they wanted us there, I called the volunteer back to dispatch her and a second volunteer responder to the scene. After starting incident paperwork, I called Judy and Dick Pike, long-time Red Cross disaster relief workers. I told Judy that I wasn’t sure why I was calling, and that I just needed some support to process the dispatch. I reviewed my next steps with Judy who was very helpful.

"I have empathy for the individuals involved and understand that it’s difficult to be in any position during a disaster," says Angela Carlson, the client services caseworker who handled the Red Cross disaster dispatch for the tragic fire in Mora, Minnesota. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

The Mora fire was the first dispatch involving multiple chapters and multiple deaths that I have been involved in since I started with the Red Cross in October. While I was at the local chapter I felt much support from staff both in St. Cloud and in Minneapolis. Being in St Cloud rather than Minneapolis that day made a huge difference in the disaster response dispatch, giving it a local and community-based feel. People there checked in with me and made sure I was doing all right. In the end, a couple people said that they really looked forward to meeting me at the next Disaster Action Team meeting. I felt the same.

I was exhausted at the end of the day. The Mora fire response left me feeling reflective of the mission and vision of the Red Cross and of the services we provide. While I can’t fully appreciate the devastation families feel after a disaster because I don’t respond on-scene, I have empathy for the individuals involved and understand that it’s difficult to be in any position during a disaster. It’s meaningful to know that our clients are being served with such compassion.

This is a response that I will carry with me, especially after learning details about the people who died. There was a phone call that I took from a volunteer who was helping family members who did not yet know that a loved one had died. There was also a surviving teenager. That has been the hardest for me to process. I’ve been thinking about her a lot and when I do my heart just breaks. But each time that happens my heart mends itself stronger and that, in turn, helps me support our Red Cross volunteers more effectively so that they can continue serving our communities in great ways.

Angela Carlson, is a client services coordinator for the American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region. She is based in Minneapolis at the Twin Cities Area Chapter.

Home Alone Safety Steps

Children are returning to school during the coming weeks. Some will be spending time home alone until parents return home from work. Now’s the time for both parents and children to take and learn safety steps that will make after-school hours at home alone safer and less stressful for everyone.

Top ten steps parents + guardians can take:

  1. Develop a home safety plan and discuss and practice it with the whole family.
  2. If a child is going home after school, have him or her call to check in after arriving home.
  3. For an older child, set ground rules about whether other kids can come over, whether cooking is okay, and whether the child can leave home.
  4. Post an emergency phone list where the child can see it.
  5. Make sure the first aid kit is stocked and stored where your children can find it, but keep our of reach of young children.
  6. Identify neighbors whose home your child can go to in case of an emergency.
  7. Remove or safely store in locked areas dangerous items like guns, ammunition, knives, hand tools, power tools, razor blades, scissors, and other objects that can cause injury.
  8. Make sure potential poisons like detergents, polishes, pesticides, care-care fluids, lighter fluid and lamp oils are stored in locked cabinets or out of the reach of children.
  9. Make sure medicine is kept in a locked storage place or out of the reach of children.
  10. Make sure at least one approved smoke alarm is installed and operating on each level of the home.

Top ten steps kids can take:

  1. Lock the door and make sure all the windows are closed and locked.
  2. Never open the door to strangers.
  3. Never open the door to delivery people or service representatives.
  4. Never tell someone on the telephone that mom or dad are not at home. Say something like “My mom is busy right now. Can I take a message?”
  5. Do not talk about being home alone on public websites.
  6. Never leave the house without permission.
  7. Do not go outside to check out an unusual noise. If the noise worries you, call mom, dad, or the police.
  8. Do not have friends over to visit when mom or dad aren’t at home without permission.
  9. Do not let anyone inside who is using drugs or alcohol, even if you know them.
  10. If you smell smoke or hears a fire or smoke alarm, get outside and ask a neighbor to call the fire department.

Perhaps you have more steps + tips that you’d like to share. Also, visit redcross.org to learn more about being Red Cross ready before, during, and after emergencies.

Red Cross shelter day three…working through the emotional stuff

by Andrea Bredow and Mark Smith, Twin Cities Red Cross Volunteers

When fire broke out on an early morning in Bloomington, Minnesota, a family of four found the only way to escape to safety was to break the second floor window, drop the oldest child out the window and then have her catch her two younger siblings. She caught one by the leg and the other around waist.  Not only is everything she owned now gone, she is also experiencing emotional reactions from an event no school aged girl should ever have to go through. The American Red Cross Disaster Stress Team steps in to help victims like this young girl work through the emotions from a traumatic life event.

On a sub-zero morning, people jumped out windows to escape this burning apartment building near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo credit: Anne Florenzano/American Red Cross

Cay Shea Hellervik, a member of the disaster response stress team, is one of many volunteers at the Bloomington shelter helping the residents from the apartment fire get back on their feet.  As important as finding clothes, shelter and food after a tragic event so is dealing with the event its self and all the emotions that come with a major life tragedy. Cay says it is important to have someone around who wants to listen.

“It is important to talk through what they just experienced when it is still vivid,” says Cay.

When she first arrives at a shelter, Cay checks with the manager and other volunteers to get a general feel for who may need to talk to the stress team.

“I make sure I touch base with everyone, asking how they are doing, how they are feeling and get them to talk through the event, ” says Cay.

For many, a step in the healing process is getting back in their routine. One young girl in the shelter was concerned about missing school, the problem; she only had the pajamas full of soot from the fire. Cay realized returning to her regular schedule was important for the young girl. Cay and the pastor from the church where fire victims are staying found clothes the church had on hand. A phone call was made to the school district and with in 15 minutes the young girl was dressed and ready for the yellow school bus that arrived at the shelter. Cay noticed a tear run down the girls face as she stepped on the bus as she return to her “normal” schedule.

Play time with a Red Cross volunteer helps children heal after a traumatic fire disaster near Minneapolis, Minnesota, which displaced more than 30 people. Photo credit: Cathryn Kennedy/American Red Cross

Along with her professional background in psychology, Cay credits the training the Red Cross provides.

“Red Cross training is so important and prepares you so well for events like this,” says Cay.

All members of the stress team are all trained degreed professionals, but Cay challenges this community to “join the Red Cross regardless of your training, find out what your roll could be and use the great knowledge and training of the Red Cross to contribute to the community.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities, please visit redcrosstc.org.

Busy Day Two At A Red Cross Shelter

By Cathryn Kennedy, Red Cross Volunteer, Twin Cities Area Chapter

Riley, 2, gets a snack with help from Red Cross volunteer Bonnie Reyers at the Bloomington shelter. Riley and his mother escaped the apartment fire early Tuesday morning. Photo credit: Cathryn Kennedy/American Red Cross

By 10 a.m. the list of tasks was getting long. Shelter Manager Ruth Talford needed to order pizzas for lunch, arrange transportation to off-site showers, and set up two family meeting rooms, including one for discussing financial assistance and another for providing stress relief and counseling. Later in the afternoon, Talford would need to help families get to where they could request government emergency assistance funds.

Meanwhile families in the shelter were busy, too.

Grandmother Eva Dale needed emergency medical care for care of her feet, but first she had to prepare granddaughter Kiara for kindergarten. That meant finding some school clothes and transportation to Kiara’s elementary school.

Red Cross volunteers sprung into action and within 15 minutes Kiara was decked out in a school outfit and winter coat, but she still needed shoes.  So did her sister, Kiana, as well as Grandmother Eva.  Shoes were in short supply so one volunteer was given names of two nearby neighbors who had offered to help.

School bus driver Tim Hamm stopped by the shelter to check on one of his students. Hamm offered to help and later dropped off diapers for younger children. Photo credit: Cathryn Kennedy/American Red Cross
School bus driver Tim Hamm stopped by the shelter to check on one of his students. Hamm offered to help and later dropped off diapers for younger children. Photo credit: Cathryn Kennedy/American Red Cross

The night of the fire Eva was caring for her granddaughters, while their mother was in Iowa. Eva woke up in the night smelling smoke and when she opened the window for ventilation, she saw flames leaping out of a neighbor’s apartment and a parent yelling for help. She awoke her granddaughters and dropped them out the window to waiting rescue workers before jumping out herself. With no time to get shoes, Eva suffered frostbite, and getting her to a doctor was added to the shelter manager’s list urgent things to do.

Meanwhile, Bloomington school bus driver Tim Hamm, who had Kiara on his route, stopped by to see if she was all right. Asking how he could help, he offered to purchase some diapers for a couple of younger children.

Two-year-old Riley and his mother were waiting for a cab to take him to day care, and other families were headed out to go buy new clothes with Red Cross vouchers.

Before noon nine pizzas arrived and after some nourishment everyone went back to work helping families get lives back in order after a fire disaster.

Red Cross Responds On Sub-Zero Minnesota Morning

By Red Cross Volunteers Dave Schoeneck and Grace Thompson

When fire struck an apartment building on a recent sub-zero morning in Minnesota, residents had little time to do more than escape. Some leaped from second- and third-story windows while others dropped their children into the arms of first responders.

Eleven apartments suffered extensive damage, displacing more than 30 people. Within minutes, Twin Cities Red Cross volunteers responded to assist them.

Red Cross Comfort Kit
A simple Red Cross Comfort Kit, which includes shampoo, soap, and other essential personal care items, helps people with immediate disaster relief. Photo credit: Grace Thompson/American Red Cross

“Some people fled the burning building in nothing more than shorts,” said Anne Florenzano, a Red Cross volunteer who arrived on the scene early Tuesday.

Heated buses provided initial refuge while residents wondered where they’d sleep that night. By 10:30 AM, the Red Cross had opened a shelter offering a safe and warm place for families to sleep and make plans for rebuilding lives torn apart by disaster.

Kiara Faalafula, a six year-old girl living with her grandmother, was dropped from the second story window because smoke filled the halls made escape by stairs impossible. A police officer caught the kindergartener and took her to a heated bus where she was given a blanket, and later a coat.

Melvin Saballos, 31, who also lived on the second floor, was woken by his father about 5:45 AM. The hall was so filled with smoke that the only exit was through a window.

Melvin, 31, escaped the burning building on a ladder and later sought refuge in a Red Cross shelter. Photo credit: Grace Thompson/American Red Cross

“The Red Cross has been very attentive to the needs of the people, making sure that nobody panics,” said Saballos. “The Red Cross has been incredibly helpful. We are warm and safe.”

Britney Godfrey and Roderick Diggins, along with their daughter, MaKayla, and Roderick’s sister, Ladietra Diggins and her son, Tre’von Diggans, lived in a third floor apartment.

MaKayla, 3, was dropped from a third-story apartment window and caught by a police officer. Here, she's getting clean socks and pants (that are way too big for her). Photo credit: Grace Thompson/American Red Cross

Britney woke up, smelled smoke, and tried to get everyone out, but the smoke-filled hallway was impassible. Godfrey realized that the window was the only way out. After dropping the children into the arms of first responders, the three adults then jumped to save their own lives. All are grateful for the Red Cross help they’ve received.

Since January 1, The Twin Cities Red Cross has responded to 80 fire disasters, providing comfort and other immediate disaster relief for more than 250 people. More than 75 Red Cross volunteers have assisted these families.

Residents affected by the Bloomington apartment fire or other recent disasters can call (612) 871-7676 for more information about the Red Cross and disaster relief services.