Author Archives: martingagliano

Sound the Alarm: Red Crossers make hundreds of local homes safer throughout the month of May

By Martin Gagliano, Alex Keilty, Jenny Arrieta & Marcia Antipa

Photo by Jenny Arrieta/American Red Cross

Home fires claim seven lives every day in the U.S. and remain one of the most frequent disasters across the region — but having working smoke alarms can cut the risk of death by half. That’s why over three weekends in May, American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region volunteers and partners installed 1,217 free smoke alarms and made 450 homes safer as part of the Sound the Alarm program.

Launched in October 2014, the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign aims to prevent deaths and injuries from home fires. Sound the Alarm is a critical part of this campaign. Working with local fire departments and other community partners, Red Cross volunteers visit high-risk neighborhoods, install free smoke alarms and provide residents with safety education on how to prevent home fires, what to do if a fire starts and how to create an evacuation plan.

“Sound the Alarm is a meaningful way to be part of a larger movement while directly helping local families,” said Ana Romero, Red Cross Regional Preparedness Manager. “In just one day, our teams could help save a neighbor’s life.”  

Richmond, Calif. 05.07.22.
Photo by Brenda Dawson Dove/American Red Cross

Bay Area Chapter

Isabel Oliva and Julio Hernandez are two of many Richmond residents who received a visit from Red Cross volunteers and the Richmond Fire Department on a Saturday morning in early May.

With the help of local volunteer Yvette Cuellar, Isabel and Julio learned how to prevent home fires and create an evacuation plan to keep their family safe.

Volunteers like Yvette are the heart and soul of this lifesaving program. After four successful Sound the Alarm events across the Bay Area Chapter in May, 396 free smoke alarms were installed, making 132 homes and 392 residents safer in Richmond, Oakland, San Bruno and San Francisco.

Oakland, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Kane Wong/American Red Cross

North Bay Chapter

Novato, Calif. 05.21.22 – Photo by Marcia Antipa/American Red Cross

Marin County sisters Angel and Alisa Zhou are two of the dozen Red Cross volunteers who gifted their time to help install smoke alarms and share safety information at the Novato Sound the Alarm event on May 21 in the North Bay Chapter.

“It’s important that for their own safety, and the safety of the children as well, that there are alarms installed,” Angel said.

Alisa chimed in, “It was so much fun meeting these people and getting to know more about our local community.”

Across the chapter in May, Red Crossers made 118 homes and 251 residents of Santa Rosa, Fairfield and Novato safer by installing 270 free smoke alarms.

Fairfield, Calif. 05.14.22 – Video produced by Nanette Shamieh/American Red Cross

Central Coast Chapter

Las Lomas, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Jenny Arrieta/American Red Cross
Las Lomas, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Jenny Arrieta/American Red Cross

On May 14, Red Cross volunteers, local Seaside High School Students and partners from the Monterey County Fire Department came together on a bright, sunny morning in Las Lomas, Calif.

After briefings by the Fire Department, Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Patsy Gasca, and remarks by Monterey County Supervisor Phillips, the teams spread out into the neighborhood to install free smoke alarms and share home fire safety information.

During two weekends of Sound the Alarm events in the Central Coast Chapter, 78 homes and 339 residents from Las Lomas and Watsonville were made safer with the installation of 229 free smoke alarms by our volunteers and partners.

Heart of the Valley Chapter

Modesto, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Martin Gagliano/American Red Cross

The Heart of the Valley Chapter had a busy Saturday morning on May 14 when Red Cross volunteers and staff gathered at the Modesto Mobile Home Park for a Sound the Alarm event alongside the Modesto Fire Department and local community partners.

In this community, Red Crossers, including long-time volunteer Tracey Singh, visited 23 homes and installed 48 free smoke alarms. Tracey is an experienced volunteer who enjoys helping equip residents like Martha Guerrero with the knowledge needed to keep her family safe in event of a home fire.

Martha is one of the 89 Modesto residents that was provided with safety information and had free smoke alarms installed in their home during this Sound the Alarm event.

Silicon Valley Chapter

“I dealt with people who have been through fires or floods in their homes and these fires are really fast,” said German Barajas, who used to work at a restoration company. “With a plan in hand already, everyone gets out safely and nothing really bad happens, besides the property being damaged, and that’s always replaceable.”

German was happy to receive a visit from Red Cross volunteers at his home in San Jose on May 21 as part of the region’s signature Sound the Alarm event. In just one day, Red Cross volunteers from the Silicon Valley Chapter installed 274 free smoke alarms, making 99 homes safer and helping 329 residents.

San Jose, Calif. 05.21.22 – Video produced by Alex Keilty/American Red Cross

“My stepdad has been a fireman for 27 years, so we have always talked about fire preparedness, prevention, escape plans and what to do in case of emergencies. It’s definitely been drilled into me from a young age how important these things are,” says Megan, a volunteer for the Red Cross Sound the Alarm program.

San Jose, Calif. 05.21.22
Photo by Alex Keilty/American Red Cross

Megan was one of 297 local Red Cross volunteers that helped with the Sound the Alarm events across the Northern California Coastal Region this May.

In addition to these larger Sound the Alarm events, the Red Cross will continue this work across the region throughout the year, installing free smoke alarms and conducting home fire safety educational visits with individuals and families on an appointment basis. Residents who need assistance or would like to schedule a visit with Red Cross volunteers can sign up at SoundTheAlarm.org/NorCalCoastal.

The Red Cross Home Fire Campaign has helped save at least 1,275 lives across the U.S. since its launch, including 24 lives saved right here in the Northern California Coastal Region. As part of the campaign, the Red Cross, along with partners, has installed more than 2.3 million free smoke alarms and made 982,369 households safer nationwide.

This work is made possible thanks to generous financial donations from regional partners: Pacific Gas and Electric Company; E. & J. Gallo Winery; Arista Networks; Silicon Valley Bank; and State Farm.

For a full suite of photos from the month’s events, visit the full Northern California Coastal Region album. To watch additional videos from the month’s events, visit YouTube.

Service to the Armed Forces Volunteers Support ‘Wings Over Solano’ at Travis Air Force Base

By Larry Dietz, Public Affairs Officer

Photo by Samar Salma/American Red Cross

The U.S. Air Force hosted their annual Wings Over Solano Air Show at Travis Air Force Base on May 14 and 15. The show was open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on both days and featured a wide range of aircraft from the Pitts Special S13, right on through to state-of-the-art aircraft such has the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber and the F-35 Lighting multirole combat aircraft.

Red Cross volunteers converged on Travis from all of the Northern California Coast Region Chapters – Silicon Valley, Bay Area, Central Coast, Heart of the Valley and North Bay. Under the leadership of Liz Dietz and Marilyn Byington, volunteers offered training, minor first aid supplies such as band aids, water and ear plugs. They also informed show goers about the Red Cross mission and spoke to service members about services the Red Cross offers to them and their families.

Volunteer Stuart Chessen managed logistics for the effort. More than a dozen additional Red Cross volunteers supported the event, and volunteer Salma Samar took great photos and videos.

Mary Ann “Stormy” Reilly and Stuart Chessen taught hands-only CPR, which is a relatively new technique introduced to help save lives through CPR where people are reluctant to give rescue breaths, especially in the COVID-19 era. On these two wonderfully warm days, there were kids aged 7-14 years old and some older adults who stopped by to observe, practice and learn about ‘Hands Only CPR’ and what to do if someone is choking on something. These people got down on their knees to practice, and worked hard to do what they needed, to help save someone’s life. 

Photo by Samar Salma/American Red Cross

Peg Geringer taught ‘Stop the Bleed.’ If you are involved in an incident where there is a severe, bleeding wound, the first thing to do is to call ‘911’. After that, Peg explained that you use direct pressure to stop the bleeding by putting your two hands over the wound and pressing down hard with your upper body.  If you have a roller gauze, take the end of it and start stuffing the injury with as much gauze as you can. Tie off the roll over the wound and if you have a tourniquet handy, apply it 2-3 inches above or below the wound, but NOT over a joint.  Turn the stick or windlass as tight as you can to stop the bleeding. Tourniquets are used as a LAST resort to stop the bleeding.  Cover them to prevent shock.  You may put a large ‘T’ on their forehead with a Sharpie, so the medics know the person has a tourniquet on their body.

Together these two seasoned volunteers trained about 60 people during the weekend event.

The Red Cross presence at Wings over Solano was another example of Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces support. The Red Cross provides the military services with emergency communications services, support to Military Hospitals and Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Facilities as well as by building strong families and resilient communities.

Missing But Never Forgotten: Red Cross Program Reconnects Families

By Alex Keilty

After retiring, some people play golf and some people play bridge, but Christine Medeiros plays amateur detective. 

Christine is a volunteer caseworker and Pacific Division Lead for Restoring Family Links – a program of the Red Cross and Red Crescent networks that reconnects loved ones separated by international crises. Tracking down missing people here and overseas takes lots of old fashioned detective work plus some technical savvy – and Christine has both.

Christine started volunteering for the American Red Cross in 2018. Her first case (before the COVID-19 pandemic) called for her and a teammate to go door to door in San Francisco searching for an elderly gentleman whose last known address was in the Tenderloin neighborhood and whose family in Ukraine had no word from him.

“We found him!” she says. And that’s a pretty typical result for Christine. After working 40 cases locally and consulting on approximately 30 cases in other Red Cross regions around the country, she is confident about her ability to find people whose last known whereabouts is the West Coast of the United States. As she says, “When they are here [on the West Coast], I can usually find them.”

Once COVID-19 hit, all her work went remote and she became “an online detective,” as she calls it. Nowadays she works from home in Marin County at any time of the day, evening or weekend that suits her schedule. 

Although it may seem unrelated, her professional background (she retired from the technology industry where she worked in marketing and partnerships) has actually been an asset to her part-time sleuthing work as a Restoring Family Links caseworker. Being comfortable doing computer searches, completing online forms, writing letters, being organized, speaking in front of audiences – these are all skills she honed in her previous work life. She says speaking languages in addition to English can be an asset to the role as well. Caseworkers must also be compassionate and offer comfort to family members who may be distressed.

“It takes a little bit of social work because people can be very upset, even angry,” she says.

Christine Medeiros

Families seeking a missing relative can submit requests to the Restoring Family Links program online or by phone. When a Red Cross caseworker is assigned, they gather as much information as possible about the sought person – including full name, date of birth, names of parents, last known address, last known contact location, past telephone numbers, email addresses, any languages spoken, occupation, religion, and a photograph. This information is uploaded to an international case management system that is accessible to the Red Cross and Red Crescent network worldwide. And then the case will be assigned to another volunteer caseworker who is in the country where the individual is being sought.

So Christine may be gathering information from a family member who lives here, or she may be looking for a missing individual who was last seen in this area. 

When the missing person’s last known location is here, Christine will use the information provided by the family overseas to begin a search. She will call all previous phone numbers, send letters to all previous addresses, reach out to former employers, and connect with religious and immigrant groups to see if they know this person. She will also look for Facebook accounts and use Google Earth maps to look for and eliminate addresses and mailboxes. The Red Cross also has access to databases which can provide consumer information and public records. Caseworkers may also do some cultural and historical research to put the missing person’s experience in context and provide more leads as to their current whereabouts.

So who are these missing people? Some cases go back as far as World War II. A majority of the cases come from Central America and Africa, though globally there are 100 armed conflicts and 90 million people displaced due to war, climate change, persecution, violence and poverty.

To protect these vulnerable people, the program is totally confidential and the only people who can initiate requests are family members, not government or other organizations. Once the individual is located by a Red Cross caseworker, they can choose if they want to reconnect with their family or provide no information at all – not even a message that they were found. The American Red Cross respects their privacy. 

To access the Restoring Family Links program, the family member must have been separated internationally as a result of conflict, disaster, migration or other humanitarian emergency; must have already tried normal channels of communication to reconnect; be able to provide essential information about the sought person, and must have been in direct contact with the sought person before the crisis occurred.

Some cases are resolved quickly and happily; perhaps an individual in a war zone is able to send word to family overseas, or the person is located through the dogged investigative work of the caseworkers. But sometimes the result is sad news that the person has died or is unable to be found.

“Searches can go on for years,” says Christine. And while all cases are important, some haunt her and can’t be forgotten. Like one case she had years ago where she was seeking a person who had fled from South Vietnam.

“The Canadian Red Cross could not find him, but I still look every once in awhile,” she says.  To learn more about the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program visit your local Red Cross chapter, call 844-782-9441 or complete the online form at https://www.redcross.org/about-us/our-work/international-services/reconnecting-families.html.