Tag Archives: Bay Area

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.

Disaster Response: From Behind the Scenes to the Front Lines

By Alex Keilty

Cameron with an Emergency Response Vehicle in New York City in 2019, which is used to deliver food and water to the site of a disaster.

When Cameron Bochman was completing his accounting degree in North Carolina, did he ever imagine his work would take him to a meeting with FBI agents who were investigating a helicopter crash in New York City? No he didn’t, because his career path has been anything but predictable.  

Cameron, an American Red Cross employee, studied accounting because he had a natural talent for it. He says, “I took accounting because it clicked with me. But I didn’t really feel it was my passion.”

He found that passion after a two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English in China.

“I knew I wanted to do something in humanitarian work,” he says. “And the Red Cross really stood out.” And so this Boston hometown boy packed his bags for New York City three and a half years ago to start his job as a Disaster Response Manager working the overnight shift from midnight to 8 a.m.

Part of a Disaster Action Team – a group of employees and volunteers who are the first, on-the-scene, Red Cross contacts at the site of disasters – Cameron observed the “power of volunteers,” as he calls it. His volunteers responded to countless home fires within an hour of getting a call from the fire department. On site, they provided a shoulder to cry on for those displaced by the fire, and financial assistance in the form of a prepaid debit card that residents could use for shelter at a hotel, groceries, replacing clothing or any other expenses. Then the residents would be referred to Red Cross caseworkers for help with further recovery. 

But back to that meeting with the FBI agents… In addition to home fires, there were unexpected emergencies like when a helicopter crash landed on the roof of a Manhattan building, tragically killing the pilot and erupting in flames.

Cameron at the site of one of his first Disaster Action Team responses in New York City, responding to a multi-family fire in Brooklyn. 

On that freezing cold day, Cameron and his team brought a van loaded with meals, snacks and water to feed first responders as they worked at the site. Cameron also attended meetings with the intelligence agents who were investigating the crash to determine if it was a terrorist act.

Working in New York was never boring, but after a year Cameron wanted to work with the community in a different way. Running public engagement events and prevention programs appealed to him. And so did the sunny skies of California!  

So he moved to Alameda County, to become a Disaster Program Manager, where he helps organize the Home Fire Campaign including the Sound the Alarm program to install free smoke alarms in homes across the county, and the nation.

Cameron and his team of employees and volunteers are also ready to respond to small and large scale tragedies, like when a lightning storm in the summer of 2020 sparked fires across Northern California. Cameron’s team facilitated the opening of an evacuation center and set up a shelter where evacuees from Livermore could sleep, get hot meals, access mental health support and receive the latest information from emergency responders.

Not predictable but definitely rewarding, Cameron says of his work: “You walk away feeling like you did something good.”

A Welcoming Presence

Ebony Jean Daniel has served as a Red Cross Blood Donor Ambassador – and friendly face – at the Oakland Blood Center for two and a half years, much of that time spent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When looking at the good that is done through this role – every two seconds, someone needs blood,” she said. “That’s why I choose to give the time that I have given at the Red Cross, especially during the pandemic. I had the free time and felt that it was worth it to give the hours I give every week – to take the burden off others.”

As a Blood Donor Ambassador, Ebony Jean helps donors check in for their appointments, ensures COVID-19 health and safety guidelines are being followed and keeps the waiting area and canteen tidy. Perhaps most importantly, she is a welcoming presence and the first and last person donors see at their appointments, thanking them for their time and their lifesaving gift.

“People don’t really understand how vital blood products are for women giving birth. When people deal with terminal illnesses on a daily basis, the blood products they require are so important. These are some of the multiple different reasons why I chose to volunteer with the Red Cross.”

Prior to the pandemic, Ebony Jean was also a Red Cross Humanitarian Services volunteer, navigating the disaster recovery casework process in order to support families affected by disasters big and small, and helping local youth prepare for emergencies through The Pillowcase Project.

Ebony Jean Daniel, Blood Donor Ambassador at the Red Cross Blood, Platelet and Plasma Donation Center in Oakland.

“Under the umbrella of the Red Cross, there is so much good that takes place,” she said. But eventually, Red Cross Blood Services is where Ebony Jean decided to focus her time and talent.

“As far as Blood Services – people just don’t realize that in the time it takes to snap your fingers, that’s how often people require blood for survival. I never know what could come down the line in my future – I might need to be a recipient someday. We knock on wood that this kind of thing doesn’t happen, but you just never know.”

The Red Cross collects about 40% of the nation’s blood, which is precisely why volunteers like Ebony Jean are so critically important to the overall donation process.

“Looking at the whole picture – coming in, giving my time, taking the burden off other Red Cross workers so they can concentrate on their jobs and we can gather more donations – I focus on customer service, so donors have a pleasant experience. I feel there is a personal obligation, but also it is a pleasant experience for me. I have had a lot of positive interactions, and I definitely enjoy that.”

Thank you, Ebony Jean, for all you’ve done and continue to do for the Red Cross and the community. We are lucky to have you as a volunteer and we know countless blood recipients are grateful for the part you play in the blood donation process.

Looking back on 2021

Please join us as we say goodbye to 2021 with a look back at some of our favorite stories of the year from all of our lines of service.

Service to the Armed Forces

Lisa Ann Rohr was one of nine Red Cross SAF Mobile personnel who left the U.S. for overseas duty from August 2020 to April 2021. Lisa Ann was one of two Red Crossers initially stationed in Iraq, at the diplomatic post Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC).

She says: “My entire ‘boots on the ground’ experience providing virtual services in Emergency Communications Messaging Delivery and Service Member follow-up with my peers, to creative ‘no contact’ distribution of incoming holiday donations, gifts and personal care items, to organizing cooking classes, language classes, and cultural history classes for U.S. and Coalition military forces serving their deployment rotation at BDSC, was a dream come true!”

You can read more about Lisa’s experiences here.


Lifesaving Blood

Blood donor Jennifer Sahni credits the Red Cross for saving her life after a challenging childbirth. After delivery, Jennifer’s cesarean incision would not stop bleeding. She received two units of blood, which stabilized her. Two days later, she had to receive a second transfusion with an additional two units of blood. She was able to go home the next day.

“I am so grateful to the people who donated the blood I received,” Jennifer said. “Because of them, I was able to go home and be with my kids. You can read more about Jennifer’s story here.


Training Services

On Tuesday, March 16, two local residents were honored with American Red Cross commendations in a virtual ceremony hosted by the organization’s Central Coast Chapter.

“These two individuals exemplify the mission of the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies and are to be commended for their willingness to help others in distress.” – Michele Averill, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Central Coast Chapter. You can read more about Linda and Robert here.


International Services

Red Crossers and the public at large were invited to a speaker series to learn how the American Red Cross International Services team provides relief and hope in communities around the globe by reconnecting families separated by crises, helping rebuild communities devastated by disasters and working alongside health organizations to eliminated global disease. 

Featured panelists included Chris Losavio, Executive Director, Heart of the Valley Chapter American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region; Patrick Hamilton, Head of Delegation for the United States and Canada International Committee of the Red Cross; Koby J. Langley, Senior Vice President, Service to the Armed Forces and International Services American Red Cross; Christine Medeiros, Pacific Division Lead, Restoring Family Links American Red Cross. You can view a recording of the discussion here.


Disaster Services

Navy veteran Michael Ocaranza awoke earlier this year to flames engulfing his apartment. He had just enough time to grab his dog, Sparky, and race out the door as fire licked around his head.

American Red Cross volunteers and case managers, Betsy Witthohn and Cindy Jones, first contacted Mike during his hospitalization and began to put together resources for his welfare following his stay. During the recovery process, Mike says they became “like friends from the past that I never had before – it’s a good feeling all over.”

You can read more about Mike’s story here.


From all of us in Communications, Happy Holidays and best wishes for the New Year!

If you have a story lead for any one of our writers, please email us at NCCRPublicAffairs@redcross.org.

“I’m here to help, and I care.”

Margot Simpson, Alameda County Volunteer of the Year

By Marcia Antipa

Margot during the Lake County fires of 2015

Margot Simpson has responded to hundreds of house and apartment fires in more than a dozen years as a Red Cross volunteer. One of those Disaster Action Team (DAT) calls happened on a summer day at a 12-unit apartment building in Oakland.

“The residents were all standing outside; they were not all friendly with each other, so it was kind of a tense situation.”

Margot acted quickly, rallying her Red Cross trainees to gather information and hand out comfort kits filled with toiletries.

“It got interesting because two of the residents almost came to blows arguing out in front of the building. I had to step up to them and say ‘Look, we’ll leave and nobody gets help if you two don’t stop.’ So they did.”

Read more

Volunteer lifts morale of all around her

Deborah Torres knew she wanted to volunteer for the Red Cross even before she retired from San Mateo County, where she ended a long career in social services and public mental health in 2013. Not long before her retirement, Torres found herself partnering with the Red Cross after two large fires destroyed two apartment buildings in Redwood City. The Red Cross had opened a shelter at the armory near Red Morton Park for people displaced by the fires and was helping them figure out their paths to recovery. “I got to see [the Red Cross] in action,” Torres said.

“I told myself when I started working with Red Cross, that when I retire that’s what I’m going to do,” she said.

Just three months after her September 2013 retirement, Torres became a Red Cross volunteer.

And this year, Torres was named the Red Cross Volunteer of the Year for San Mateo County.

“I was totally surprised [to receive the award],” Torres said. However, her fellow volunteers were not surprised. Torres’s background in social services and mental health and as a bilingual Latina with decades of experience working in the county make her invaluable.

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