11-year-old who alerted her family to a fire is honored as Red Cross hero

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Berlin Gomez-Muniz, 11, received a Red Cross “Hero” medal for alerting her family to a Dec. 19 fire in San Jose. Her mother, Frankie, and Silicon Valley Red Cross chapter board chair Terry Unter look on. Photo: Mark Butler/American Red Cross

Berlin Gomez-Muniz stood quietly as a 3-inch diameter “Hero” medal was draped around her neck at the Jan. 16 Silicon Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross board meeting, but when it was the most important, the 11-year-old says, she yelled so loud her throat hurt after she alerted her extended family to a fire just before Christmas.

Berlin let a recorded television interview done with KPIX 5 on the day of the Dec. 19 San Jose fire speak for her at the board meeting. She told KPIX that after her alarm had gone off at 5:30 a.m., she went to check on her Elf on the Shelf before heading back to her room to get dressed.

“I saw black smoke and immediately just started yelling and screaming” at the top of her lungs for her father, pounding on the door and bedroom wall, Berlin said. “My dad opened the door right away. He saw the black smoke and he got us out safely,” she told KPIX.

When asked by KPIX what she’d tell other kids to do in a similar situation, Berlin said: “If there’s ever a house fire, the best thing to do is either scream for help or run out of the house.”

Board chair Terry Unter said Berlin’s message is exactly what the Red Cross teaches students about fire safety. “Scream, get out, and call the fire department,” he said.

While Berlin’s family all escaped the fire safely, their cat lost its life and almost all their belongings were destroyed.

But the Silicon Valley chapter’s Disaster Action Team, which responds to local disasters such as home fires, was there to help. Arriving on the scene soon after the fire, the team gave the family financial assistance to help with their needs for short term lodging, food and clothing.

Most of the team who responded to the call — dispatcher Shari Ward, team lead Neil Katin, responder Mark Bettelheim and health services volunteer Anna Likens — were there to watch Berlin be honored with the over-sized “Hero” medal.  Also on hand were a crew of San Jose firefighters, Deputy Fire Chief Reginald Williams, department spokeswoman Erica Ray, Red Cross regional executive Jennifer Andrio and many of Berlin’s family members.

Also, there were most of a team of Red Cross recovery volunteers who had helped Berlin’s family: Linda Powers, Anna Likens and Jany Santiago. The volunteers follow up DAT responses, making sure those affected by local disasters have all the available Red Cross assistance they need, including replacement of lost medications and prescription eyeglasses or other medical equipment, and crisis counseling. They also make referrals to other agencies for needs the Red Cross can’t directly help with.

“Thank you for all your support during this time,” Berlin’s mother, Frankie Gomez, said after the ceremony. “It means a lot to us.”

Barbara Wood is a volunteer writer with the Northern California Coastal Region.