Why I volunteer to install smoke alarms

By Lowell Perman, Red Cross volunteer

About five years ago, I was looking for a volunteer opportunity and decided to join the American Red Cross. I went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and trained for sheltering because there was a call for volunteers before some hurricanes were heading to the state of Texas. I did my training for sheltering. A couple days later I got asked to deploy to Texas, and then it changed very soon because another hurricane came in to Georgia and I ended up going to Georgia and doing a two week deployment in sheltering.

Red Cross volunteer Lowell Perman. Submitted photo.

I flew into Atlanta and caught a ride to Macon, Georgia and was deployed there in a warehouse. Waiting to be sent to a shelter and having lunch one day in the back table with other people, I met someone from Georgia that was involved with the Pillowcase Project and since I’m a former educator I was really interested in the project and I never heard of it. So, she explained it to me and when I got back after my deployment I took the training and became a pillowcase instructor.

I’ve always enjoyed presenting the Pillowcase Project to kids and talking about emergencies and home fires and smoke alarms and this leads to my volunteering to help install smoke alarms in my local community as part of Sound the Alarm. The first time I volunteered I was paired with a cable installer from Midco. We went door to door, knocking on doors and asking to come in and check smoke alarms or install them if there weren’t any. It was really exciting for me because I am a public facing type of person and love boots on the ground type of work.

It’s a great feeling to know that you can do something in your local community and you just know that you’re making a difference.  

Lowell Perman, Red Cross Sound the Alarm Volunteer

Before we started I told the Midco installer gentleman that we can switch off every other time if he wants and he can do the presentation and I can do the installing. So, after the first one I said do you wanna switch and he said absolutely not – you keep doing the talking and communicating with the people and I’ll do the installing so that really worked. We had a really good day, we made a great organized team and covered a lot of blocks.  It was always interesting to talk to people, to meet new people, and it was a really good feeling knowing that I was doing something really good in the community like installing smoke alarms.  

What was really interesting and amazing to me was, I believe, about 25% of the smoke alarms that we installed were replacement of ones that had missing pieces or were non-functional or were just too old and didn’t work. So it was actually giving people a false sense of security having smoke alarms in their house that actually didn’t work. So that was a great feeling replacing old smoke alarms.

Red Cross volunteer Lowell Perman is a Pillowcase Project instructor. Photo, used with permission, by Curt Nettinga/Huron Plainsman.

What was also fun was the little kids that were watching me and asking me ‘what are you doing to our house’ and I would say we’re fixing your house and I would take out one of the smoke alarms and do a little presentation to show them what it sounds like when it goes off by pressing the test button on the smoke alarm and to stay low and get out of the house and stay out if there’s a fire. And I would also talk to them and their family about picking a meeting spot outside to meet in case of a fire emergency at their house.

It was a really fun project. I’ve also been paired with firefighters and that is a fun experience also going door to door. It’s a great feeling to know that you can do something in your local community and you just know that you’re making a difference.  

Lowell Perman is a volunteer with the American Red Cross serving Eastern South Dakota, which is part of the American Red Cross Minnesota and Dakotas Region. Sound the Alarm is a critical part of the national Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, which has helped save 1,243 lives, including 25 in our Minnesota and Dakotas region, since launching in October 2014. To volunteer for upcoming smoke alarm installation and home fire prevention activities, including events in Mobridge, SD, and Minot, ND, this May, click here.

Local Disaster Relief Rolling Snapshot – 2022

When the worst happens, we’re there. After disasters, mostly home fires in our region, Red Cross volunteers work with fire departments and other response partners to connect with families and support needs like emergency lodging, financial assistance and emotional support.

We’d like to share our deepest gratitude with our volunteers for their abiding devotion to helping people rebuild their lives after devastating home fires.

January

🔥 Our winter home fire season continued to disrupt lives during this difficult time. In January across the Minnesota & Dakotas Region, our disaster relief volunteers responded to 115+ home fires, helping 560+ people.

February

🔥 Across our three-state region during February, we responded to 90+ home fires and helped 290+ people affected by these fires. Help us change these statistics. Learn what to do before, during and after a fire! Visit redcross.org/mndaks for fire prevention and safety tips! #endhomefires

March

🔥 During March, our Disaster Action Team was as busy as ever helping people affected by the devastation and trauma that a home fire brings. Across our region, comprised of South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota, our relief workers (90% volunteers) responded to nearly 80 home fires and helped 300+ adults and children. Some families were displaced for a short period of time while others needed to find new housing. Many thanks to all for being there for people when they needed you the most.

April

🔥 During April, responding to help people affected by flooding, freezing weather, home fires and even a tornado in Taopi, MN, filled the hands of our disaster services volunteers. Our trained volunteers supported 60+ disasters and helped 225+ people. Their efforts included working with local partners to support shelters in northwest Minnesota and western North Dakota. Thank you to everyone, especially our volunteers, for stepping up to help people when they needed you the most.

May

🔥 Our trained disaster responders (90% volunteers) responded to 70+ home fires and helped 260+ people.

June

🔥 Home fire relief doesn’t take a summer break. Our trained disaster responders (90% volunteers) helped around 100 people affected by nearly 430 home fires.

July

🔥 Home fires continue this summer throughout our three-state region. Our trained disaster responders (90% volunteers) helped more than 260 people affected by nearly 70 home fires. More trained volunteers are needed to serve on local “Disaster Action Teams” who help people affected by disasters. Apply here.

August

Most of us have not lost a home to fire in the middle of the night. Those who have know the uncertainty that such a disaster can bring. In August, our disaster responders helped more than 300 people affected more than 70 disasters, nearly all home fires, in our three-state region. More than 90 percent of our responders are volunteers. Thank you for your ongoing commitment to supporting people during terrible times in their lives.

You Can Help

DONATE – Thanks to donations, our services are free and available for all those in need. Visit here to support our lifesaving work.

VOLUNTEER – The need is constant to help families affected by home fires and other disasters. Click here to become a volunteer.

Putting life back together ‘slowly but surely’ following a home fire in the northern Black Hills of South Dakota

Stone Street multi-family apartment fire, Lead, SD, July 10, 2021. Photo: Richard Smith/American Red Cross

Every day, the Red Cross helps people affected by home fires big and small. During 2021, for example, the Red Cross in South Dakota responded to more than 200 home fires and helped nearly 800 people.

Among them was Alisha Baudino and her son. On July 10, 2021, they were home and asleep when a fire started in the walls of the building where they rented an apartment on Stone Street in Lead, a small city founded after the discovery of gold in the northern Black Hills.

“I woke at 5 a.m. smelling smoke and just trying to figure out where it was coming from,” said Baudino. “I couldn’t see smoke or anything, but I could smell it.”  

Alisha went outside and still she saw nothing. Miners working across the street saw flames and pointed them out to her. “They yelled there was fire so I turned around to get my son out of the apartment.”

The apartment was already filled with smoke. Thankfully her son, who had recently turned 18, made it out on his own. They then helped account for those living in other units.

“There ended up being 11 different fire companies. After that it was just downhill. There was nothing we could do about it. We just sat there and watched while they tried to get it out.”

The building originally was a single-family house later turned into five apartments. It was declared a total loss and demolished. Only items stored in the garage, like her son’s work tools, were spared from the blaze.

“We’re doing good just working, trying to put life back together slowly but surely,” said Alisha Baudino, pictured with her son. Submitted photo.

Community members rallied to help. The Red Cross responded as well within hours after the fire started. “The Red Cross was there immediately. It was really quick.”

The Red Cross assistance gave everyone options to help themselves do what each needed most. Alisha, for example, used some of the relief to pay for a hotel room for her and her son. From there, they went to a cabin rental found by a friend, and then to a house they’d already planned to move into at the end of July.

Since the fire, life is gradually getting back to normal. She has two full-time jobs and takes each day one at a time going from home to work and back again.

“We’re doing good just working, trying to put life back together slowly but surely.”

To support Red Cross disaster relief through volunteer service or financial donation, click here. To learn more about the Red Cross home fire campaign, click here.

Story by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross. Photo by Richard Smith/American Red Cross.

Home Fire Relief – Brainerd, Minnesota

Red Cross volunteers assist Brainerd couple after home fire

When a fire broke out at Tom Phillips’s home, he worried he and his fiance, Jenny Tienter, might have to spend the night in his car.

However, a team of volunteers with the Red Cross reached out to Phillips and his fiance to ensure they had a place to stay and provided them with other forms of assistance. In times of need, countless volunteers with the Red Cross assist people like Phillips and his fiance, who have been displaced by house fires.

“Without (the volunteers) I would’ve really been in a hard spot. They helped me out considerably,” Phillips said.

The Jan. 27 fire in Brainerd, Minnesota, began when a camping stove Phillips was using to prepare breakfast blew up. Phillips managed to get his fiance out of their burning home but unfortunately wasn’t able to get out his basset hound, Delilah.

“I miss her dearly,” he said, of Delilah. “That’s one loss I’m still trying to recover from, and I’m sure I never really will.”

Family photo of Delilah

Phillips said the Red Cross volunteers, including Dana Dimit, assisted him and his fiance in getting their lives back on track. He said he’s talked with the volunteers frequently, and they answered his questions and connected him with resources, including a mental health support group to help him cope with the loss of his dog.

Dimit has been volunteering with the Red Cross for nearly five years.

“The minute I retired I joined the Red Cross,” the former technology consultant said.

Dimit said she decided to volunteer in part because she wanted to “do something completely different,” that was “more people-oriented” and didn’t involve technology.

Dimit primarily works as a disaster responder with the Red Cross, but also does orientation for new volunteers and has been assisting with setting up a new internal system for tracking house fires.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Dimit has shifted to doing intake for fires that occur in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, gathering information about the fires and talking with those who have been displaced.

Dana Dimit

Dimit makes herself available, even in the middle of the night. She recalled a recent phone call she received late at night from someone displaced by fire who said they didn’t have any shoes or a place to go, so she helped ensure they had a place to stay.

 “If I don’t know what’s going on, I worry about them,” she said.

Despite losing his house and his belongings, Phillips said he’s trying to remain optimistic. Without the Red Cross, he said, he wouldn’t be where he is today.

“I couldn’t have done it without them,” he said.

Story by Blair Emerson – Red Cross volunteer

Home Fire Relief – Rapid City, South Dakota

‘That’s just what the Red Cross does’

Since Gene Rossman lost his home in a Feb. 27 fire, a volunteer with the Red Cross has called him weekly to check on him.

Rossman said when he last saw his home in Rapid City, South Dakota, it was “a ball of flames.” The fire destroyed his home and his belongings, including items his late mother crocheted and her cookbooks. He said he was left with nothing but the clothes he “had on (his) back.”

“Other stuff I can replace. I can’t replace that stuff,” he said, of his mother’s possessions.

Despite losing his home in the fire, luckily, neither he, his 16-year-old son or his two dogs were home when the fire broke out.

Photo used with permission from Johnson Siding Volunteer Fire Department, Pennington County, South Dakota

Since the fire, Rossman said he’s thankful for the calls he’s received from a volunteer with the Red Cross.

“They’ve done a good job. I guess that’s just what the Red Cross does,” he said.

Red Cross volunteers like the one who helped Rossman and countless other volunteers respond to home and apartment fires, assisting displaced residents. Volunteers make up about 90 percent of the American Red Cross workforce, and they respond to an average of more than 60,000 disasters every year.

Rossman said he is now undertaking the difficult task of trying to build a new home, but said he’s been grateful for the “wonderful” support he’s received from the Red Cross.

Story by Blair Emerson – Red Cross volunteer

Home Fire Relief – Winner, South Dakota

Red Cross assists families affected by Jan. 31 fire in Winner, S.D.

On Jan. 31, 2021, Lorelei Mendoza awoke to news her home of four years had been destroyed by a fire.

Lorelei was among 11 people displaced by a fire that broke out in the early morning hours at a five-plex in Winner, a small rural town located in south-central South Dakota. The American Red Cross provided disaster relief to the tenants.

Lorelei and her one-year-old son and two-year-old daughter were staying at a relative’s house when the fire broke out at the complex. When Lorelei learned of the fire, she went to assess the damage.

“(The fire) pretty much got out of hand, and there was pretty much nothing they could do until the fire department showed up and put it out,” she recalled.

Family photo

Lorelei said most of her belongings at her house were damaged by water used to put out the fire. The five-plex has been deemed a total loss, she said. Lorelei said her sister, who had moved into a unit adjacent to Lorelei’s just two days prior to the fire, was also displaced by the fire.

The item Lorelei misses most that was destroyed in the fire? “My home,” she said.

Lorelei said she’s grateful for the financial support she received from the Red Cross as she moves forward with trying to find new housing suitable for her and her children.

Story by Blair Emerson – Red Cross volunteer

Five years on, Home Fire Campaign continues to save lives: 11 to date in Minnesota

Smoke alarm installation day, Federal Dam, August 17, 2016. Photo: Mike Auger

For five years, we’ve been working with our partners to install free smoke alarms in high-risk communities and help families create escape plans through our Home Fire Campaign.

Every day, seven people die in home fires in the U.S., most in homes that don’t have working smoke alarms. That’s why the Red Cross launched our national Home Fire Campaign in 2014. We would like to thank everyone for their support to help prevent these needless tragedies.

So far, the campaign has saved 11 lives (details below) in Minnesota. Across the country, the national campaign efforts have saved at least 638 lives.

Our local impact includes:

Local Lives Saved

  • In Two Harbors, two lives were saved in January, 2019.  Thanks to Red Cross volunteers Tim and John who had installed the smoke alarms before the fire as part of Home Fire Campaign activities a couple years ago.
  • In Virginia, three lives were saved on May 20, 2019. The family received notification of a fire through a Lifetone bed-shaker smoke alarm installed just three months prior. The special alarm helps alert people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Thanks to the entire Virginia Fire Department for supporting this effort.  For more, see this story by WDIO ABC News in Duluth.
  • In Federal Dam, six lives were saved on January 2, 2019. Special thanks to Red Cross volunteer Mike Auger who responded to the fire to help the family and also installed the smoke alarm in August, 2016.  Thanks to partners Federal Dam Fire Department and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. For more, see this story by KBJR NBC News in Duluth.

You Can Help
Home fires are the nation’s most frequent disaster, and while we can’t always stop them from happening, we can help ensure families are prepared. Please help us to sound the alarm about home fire safety and save lives. Visit soundthealarm.org/mn to learn how you can join us by becoming a volunteer or making a donation to support our lifesaving services.

Volunteer spotlight: Desiree Haupert

Desiree with her son, Dylan, volunteering at Home Fire Campaign event in Marshall, MN. Photo courtesy of Desiree Haupert.

“This is an excellent way to give back to the same community and with our surrounding communities.”  Desiree Haupert, Red Cross Home Fire Campaign volunteer team lead for Marshall, Minnesota 

Story by Zabiba Sameru/American Red Cross

When I listen to Desiree Haupert, a mom and volunteer, speak about her experience with the American Red Cross, I can hear the excitement in her voice as she tells her story about being fulfilled as she continues to give her time to the Red Cross.

What started out as future planning to keep busy for Desiree in April of 2018 is turned into a lifetime rewarding experience. In her time volunteering at the Red Cross, she has been involved in many activities, such as Sound the Alarm by installing home smoke alarms and sharing fire safety tips in Slayton.

Red Cross volunteers responded to flooding in southwest Minnesota during 2018. Photo: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

During the flood in Tracy, Desiree also was involved in helping residents find shelter, food and additional resources that could support them during their recovery from the flooding. She also is involved with the Pillowcase Project, campaign that teaches kids in grades 3 to 5 how to prepare for home fire emergencies and other disasters like tornadoes and blizzards.

As a duty officer, she takes calls for assistance requests, and then responds by reaching out to local Red Cross volunteers who give assistance to people who are affected by disasters. To top it all off, Desiree attends youth preparedness conferences to learn about engaging communities and provide support to them in the face of a disaster.

This year Sound the Alarm takes place April 27 – May 12.

It’s important and rewarding for Desiree to give back to her community and be an example for her kids with all the work that she’s doing with the Red Cross. Being a Red Cross volunteer gives you an opportunity to help your local community, says Desiree. “It gives me the opportunity to take ownership of something and grow in a way that I didn’t know I was needing. It’s amazing.”

On Saturday May 4, 2019, Red Cross volunteers and their partners will be installing free smoke alarms in Worthington.  Join us! Click here to learn more about the campaign. Click here to become a Red Cross volunteer. 

Smoke alarms are first line of defense to fight fires

By Kathleen Todd for the American Red Cross Minnesota Region

American Red Cross Minnesota Region smoke alarm installation, 2015.

When Suzie Olson of Saint Paul had a recent American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign visit, she had a big surprise.

“None of my smoke alarms actually worked. While I thought I had been on top of changing the batteries, my smoke detectors were so old that the smoke alarm itself was completely nonfunctional,” Olson says.  “I thought I had been so responsible about it.”

Olson took the first step to detecting a fire and now she wants others to take action. And the Red Cross wants to ensure that every household has working smoke alarms.

Please check the alarms in your home to see if they’re working. If not, replace the batteries or the alarms. The Red Cross can help you do this. Our Home Fire Campaign makes it possible for the Red Cross to install free smoke alarms that will help save lives during home fires.

Multi-unit apartment building fire, Robbinsdale, MN, 2016. Photo by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

The American Red Cross responds on average 60,000 disasters each year in the United Sates – and the vast majority of these are home fires. Since 2014, the Red Cross, in partnership with fire departments and other local groups, has visited homes and installed over a million free smoke alarms nationwide. Through these efforts, the Red Cross has saved over 250 lives.

In 2016, 43 Minnesotans lost their lives in fires. In 33 percent of the residential casualties, smoke alarms were absent or non-operating.

To request a smoke alarm installation for your home, community members can call 612-871-7676 or visit getasmokealarm.org. Appointments typically take 20-30 minutes.

Minnesota fire statistics provided by Minnesota State Fire Marshal

Sound the Alarm with the Red Cross

Most fire deaths are preventable. One major tool for prevention is a working smoke alarm. Yet, last year in Minnesota seven people died in fires in homes without working smoke alarms. And fire deaths are up 36 percent over this same time last year. To reduce home fire deaths and injuries volunteers and partners with the American Red Cross Minnesota Region will participate in Sound the Alarm.

“We need the public’s help to keep the number of fire deaths from climbing.” Bruce West, Minnesota State Fire Marshal

Between September 23 and October 15, 2017, the American Red Cross will install 100,000 free smoke alarms in more than 100 high-risk neighborhoods nationwide. During this period, the Red Cross will install its one-millionth free smoke alarm. This includes installing 1,525 alarms in the Minnesota Region of the American Red Cross. This surge expands the Home Fire Campaign, which the Red Cross launched in 2014. Since then, the Red Cross and its partners have made 368,000 households safer through smoke alarm installation.

“Having those smoke alarms was a blessing… we probably would have burned to death.” Crystal Parkinson, a home fire survivor thanks to a smoke alarm installed by Red Cross volunteers

Already the smoke alarms have saved 258 lives in the country. In the Minnesota Region, the Red Cross and partners have made 3,283 homes safer through installation of nearly 10,000 free smoke alarms. To further this effort, the Red Cross is asking people in the Minnesota Region to support Sound the Alarm home fire safety events this fall.

“This million-alarm milestone will focus the nation on the importance of having working smoke alarms in homes.” Phil Hansen, CEO of the American Red Cross Minnesota Region

Installation events will happen in 7 locations, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Melrose, Goodhue, Rochester and McLeod County in Minnesota, and in Superior, Wisconsin. People can volunteer to install free smoke alarms in local communities. They also can raise money, or make a donation to support Sound the Alarm. Learn more today. Watch the new Sound the Alarm video and then visit soundthealarm.org/mn.

Story by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross. Minnesota fire statistics provided by Minnesota State Fire Marshal

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