Full Circle: How the Sound the Alarm Campaign Saved the Lives of a Family in Northern California

By Marcia Antipa

Next month, Ashley Koenig of Seaside, California is set to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. Recently, she was stunned to learn that her American Red Cross volunteer work as a teenager helped save the lives of a family of six.

Ashley Koenig

“No, ma’am…I did not at all expect that would be something I’d hear.”

In September of 2016, Ashley was 16 years old and a newly-licensed driver. She laughs as she remembers getting lost in a rural area of the city of Hollister. Ashley and several other teens were on their way to an apartment complex,  as part of a Red Cross team that was installing smoke alarms in homes.

Along with Hollister fire fighters and adult volunteers, the teens installed free alarms and taught families about fire safety and emergency preparedness.

Ashley says, “I think it was a really rewarding experience for me, because I was able to get really quick training from the fire department and the Red Cross staff and then go and relay that information to a lot of families who didn’t have smoke alarms in their houses.”

Now those efforts have paid off by saving six lives. On June 6, 2020, a fire broke out at one of the apartments where the team installed alarms. A father, a mother, and four children – were able to escape safely after their smoke alarms alerted them to get out. 

 “Four years later, to see how I actually had an impact is really kind of humbling,” Ashley said.

Hollister Fire Department officials say the home was left uninhabitable.  That’s where this story comes full circle. Just as the American Red Cross was there for this family with smoke alarms and fire safety information – four years later it was the Red Cross that came to their aid that night last June.

John Crepeau and Sal Duran have been volunteering together for the Red Cross for several years. One of their roles is to be on-call as part of a Disaster Action Team, or DAT. On the night of June 16, 2020, John and Sal received the call to respond to an apartment on Nash Road in Hollister, to help a family displaced by a fire.

John Crepeau pictured in an Emergency Response Vehicle

John remembers, “It was completely dark.  We had trouble finding the place, I recall that; there was no lighting out there.”

Sal and John met the mother of the family partway up the dirt driveway. This was during the COVID-19 pandemic, so both men were safely masked and social distancing. They quickly determined the family needed emergency help, and gave them a debit card carrying funds for food and temporary housing.

John says, “Any kind of relief I’m sure she was very, very happy to get it.  They were out there by themselves with no place to go.”

This fire is not the first time that the Red Cross has saved lives through the Home Fire Campaign. As of March 2021, more than 836 lives have been saved through the efforts of the American Red Cross and its partners.

John and Sal have both installed smoke alarms in homes as part of a Red Cross team. Now, the Sound the Alarm program – which is just one part of the Home Fire Campaign – continues, but with a different approach due to the pandemic.

 “It’s going to be virtual,” says Sal. “What happens is the fire department is going to do the installation but then we do the other part, the training end of it.” 

But whether virtual or in person, Sal and John say they will be part of the volunteer team. 

Sal Duran

John says, “Some training will be offered on what kind of information we need to educate people with, so once we do that, I’ll be willing to do that.”

As for Ashley Koenig, who helped install those fire alarms four years ago,  she has big plans after graduation. She will report to the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in South Carolina and train to become a submarine officer.

Even as she sets her sites high, Ashley remains humbled by the impact of her Red Cross Volunteer work.

“I just want to say how thankful I am for the Red Cross for setting up this campaign … because it definitely did help my confidence and my understanding of fire safety. The fact that lives were saved four years later that’s not my doing, that is the Red Cross’s doing. I was just a small player in that huge campaign.”

Hats off to Ashley, John and Sal, for their roles in the Sound the Alarm campaign, and for helping the American Red Cross save lives!

Marcia Antipa is a volunteer writer with the Northern California Coastal Region.