Tag Archives: Bay Area

Sound the Alarm: Red Cross volunteers and partners installed more than one thousand free smoke alarms and made 462 homes safer in April

Red Cross volunteer John Gee has installed more than 2,000 free smoke alarms in homes across the region since the launch of the Sound the Alarm campaign in 2014.
Photo by Ashish “Ash” Mantri/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 five weekends in April, volunteers with the American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region, along with local fire departments and community partners, installed 1,294 free smoke alarms and made 462 homes safer as part of the annual Sound the Alarm campaign.

“A working smoke alarm can be the difference between survival and tragedy when a home fire strikes,” said Ana Romero, Red Cross Regional Preparedness Manager. “That’s why the Red Cross is teaming up with community partners to help ensure local residents, especially those most vulnerable, have these lifesaving devices.”
Sound the Alarm events are part of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign which has helped save at least 1,664 lives nationwide since launching in October 2014. Working with local fire departments and community partners, Red Cross volunteers visit high-risk neighborhoods, install free smoke alarms and provide residents with information on common causes of home fires, how to prevent them, what to do if a fire starts and how to create an escape plan.

This work is made possible thanks to generous financial donations from our regional Sound the Alarm campaign partners: Pacific Gas and Electric Company; Arista Networks; CSAA Insurance Group, State Farm; and Gloria and Mike Ipson.

For a full suite of photos from the month’s events, visit the regional Sound the Alarm Flickr album.

Bay Area Chapter

Photo by Martin Gagliano
American Red Cross

Red Cross volunteers and partners installed 396 free smoke alarms and made 190 homes safer in April across the Bay Area Chapter. More than 500 residents of San Francisco, San Bruno, Brentwood and Hayward are now better prepared to face emergencies after receiving education about home fire prevention.

“Every day, our department sees first-hand the damage and destruction that home fires can have on a community,” said Willie McDonald, Fire Chief for the Alameda County Fire Department. “This is why campaigns, like Sound the Alarm, are so important. A little home fire prevention can go a long way toward keeping families and the community safe, and a smoke alarm is one of the most effective tools we have to do that. We are proud to partner with the Red Cross for this very important event.”

Photo by Nanette Shamieh
American Red Cross

Heart of the Valley Chapter

71 homes were made safer in the Heart of the Valley Chapter after two Sound the Alarm events in Stockton and Los Banos.

Red Cross volunteers and community partners installed 169 free smoke alarms and helped 210 residents to create an escape plan and be better prepared in case of a home fire

North Bay Chapter

Photo by Nanette Shamieh
American Red Cross

Community partners and Red Crossers installed 354 free smoke alarms and made 116 homes safer in the North Bay Chapter. Over the three events in Sonoma, San Rafael and Vacaville, the teams shared home fire prevention educational information with more than 230 residents to make the community safer.

Captain Drew Kostal and his K-9 “Kepi” from the Vacaville Fire Department attended the installation event on Saturday, April 29. He spoke with the team about the importance of working smoke alarms.

Silicon Valley Chapter

Photo by Atul Trviedi
American Red Cross

Red Crossers and community partners gathered at Millpond Mobile Home Park on Saturday, April 29 to install 205 free smoke alarms in 85 homes to make more than 140 residents safer.

Red Cross Board and Tiffany Circle Members participated in Sound the Alarm events across the region to help make their community safer.

Sound the Alarm – Signature Event in Hayward (CA) – April 29, 2023
Photo by Martin Gagliano – American Red Cross

A very rewarding experience

Photo by Martin Gagliano / American Red Cross

Rohinton Palkhivala – or Ron as he likes to be called – started donating blood in the late 90s with the Canadian Red Cross. He was looking for opportunities to volunteer and help people affected by the Gulf war. Upon learning how blood donations could potentially save lives, he put aside his fear of needles and became a regular donor.

Many years later, here in the Northern California Coastal Region of the American Red Cross, he has continued with his commitment to helping others, but this time “wearing more than one hat”. Ron is not only a regular platelet donor, but he also volunteers as a Red Cross Blood Donor Ambassador in the new Oakland Blood Donation Center on College Avenue.

The need for blood is constant. Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood and the Red Cross provides about 40% of the nation’s blood supply. Regular donors like Ron are needed every day to help ensure new moms, premature babies, cancer patients and accident victims have access to safe, lifesaving blood products.

Photo courtesy of Ron Palkhivala

 “It is indeed a very rewarding experience,” he says about his role as a platelet donor. “One leaves the donation center feeling great about having done something to help others. You walk away knowing you have just potentially saved someone’s life and given them a second chance. This is just incredible and very motivating as well.”

After retiring a year ago from his specialty food business, Ron feels that “life has definitely become more relaxing” for him and he is determined to “do something significantly more valuable” with his time, whereupon he decided to take volunteer shifts at the front desk of the Oakland Blood Donation Center once every couple of weeks. He is the friendly face who helps donors with the check-in process and ensures that they have a pleasant experience from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave.

Ron is committed to making all donors feel welcome and appreciated. “You must make them feel special because they are doing something special. They are not only giving their blood, or plasma, or platelets, but also their time. While you are at the front desk or working at the refreshment tables, you meet people with the same mindset as yours, strike up a conversation and make friendships.  It is a very rewarding experience,” he says.

More than 25,000 volunteers support Red Cross Blood Services. Besides being a Blood Donor Ambassador, volunteers can also serve as transportation specialists, playing a vital role in delivering lifesaving blood products to nearby hospitals. If you’d like more information about volunteering opportunities near you, visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.

When Ron is asked about his overall experience as a volunteer he proudly says: “It is always a privilege to be a Red Cross volunteer, particularly because it’s a non-political organization. It is there to serve all humanity. I like the idea to serve anybody and everybody.”

The Difference Between Life and Death. San Francisco Office Workers Learn Lifesaving Red Cross Skills 

Jen Bottalico, Manager at Alex. Brown San Francisco, practices chest compressions.
Photo by Marcia Antipa / American Red Cross

One recent afternoon high up inside a San Francisco skyscraper, the sounds of “Are you alright?” and “Clear!” rang out.  Red Cross CPR manikins lay between the office desks, with a dozen office workers kneeling beside them practicing chest compressions. These employees of Alex.Brown, a division of Raymond James*, were learning the basics of lifesaving first aid measures. 

Officer Manager Jennifer Bottalico and Branch Administrative Manager Cheryl Fox arranged the training through the local Red Cross office. “We decided we wanted to try to do everything we could to kind of protect our employees because we view them as family.  So, for us, it’s just that we wanted to be able to go back to them and say if we ever had an incident that we did everything that we absolutely could,” they said. 

Cheryl Fox said she and Bottalico were inspired to take steps after a colleague in another office suffered a medical emergency.  The frightening on-field cardiac arrest of Buffalo Bills football player Damar Hamlin also drove home the need to be prepared. 

“It was scary, because I don’t think you ever think somebody of his age, that that’s going to happen to somebody that’s 20-something years old. Very scary,” she said.  

Instructor Thom Volz of VCT services, a strategic partner with the Red Cross, started the class with a pep talk.  

“Know where the first aid kits are in the places we travel to regularly, so we can get this response going, know where the AED kits are,” he said. Volz also told the class it can typically take ten minutes for first responders to arrive, so it’s important to be prepared with the equipment and skills needed to save a life. 

Volz divided the class into teams of three people, who practiced CPR on the manikins. 
“We’re trying to build habits right now,” Volz told the class, “So arms locked out, lean over the person to give compressions; one cycle of CPR for adults.” 

The team of Alex.Brown in San Francisco practicing CPR and AED use. Photo by Marcia Antipa / American Red Cross

Then the teams learned to use an AED, or automated external defibrillator, a device that analyzes the victim’s heart rhythm, and, if needed, delivers a shock to restore the normal heartbeat. 

Office Manager Bottalico says after she took a Red Cross training class, she received approval from their head office to buy an AED for the San Francisco branch. 

“If somebody’s not breathing it’s a matter of seconds, so I think the investment into an AED for the office – hopefully we never have to use it – the investment is worth it. We worked with our counterparts at Raymond James …and they didn’t hesitate.” 

The teams also learned how to save the life of a person who is choking.  Office members Renee Sessa and Samantha Hsu teamed up to practice chest thrusts. For Sessa, a frightening incident that almost took a friend’s life convinced her to take this class. 

“He was 60 and he went into cardiac arrest and luckily there was somebody that was trained and was able to immediately administer CPR to him and saved his life.” 

Renee says she wants to be able to do the same for a family member or co-worker. “I hope to be able to…save someone’s life or help save someone’s life in the event of an emergency.” 

Office Manager Bottalico says the class was a success. “We can always tell by the level of questions that are asked by the team how much they are paying attention,” she says, laughing. “They all were engaged today so I think everyone realizes the value of it. People realize that sometimes it’s going to be up to them.” 

If you would like to learn lifesaving skills, or to arrange a class for your office or organization, visit https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class   


*Raymond James & Associates, Inc., member New York Stock Exchange/SIPC 
*Raymond James & Associates, Inc., is not affiliated with any of the above outside organizations. 

When they needed shelter, the Red Cross was there 

Photos and reporting by Barbara Wood/Red Cross volunteer 

Red Cross volunteer Debbie Torres of San Mateo, California, talks to Jose Galvan Alvarez and his grandson Kingston in a Red Cross shelter.
Photo by Barbara Wood/Red Cross volunteer 

The Galvan Alvarez family was sound asleep in their South San Francisco apartment in the early hours of January 10 when they were jolted awake as the entire roof blew off their apartment building.  

“At first we thought it was an earthquake,” Jose Galvan Alvarez said, holding his nine-month-old grandson, Kingston, in a Red Cross shelter at the San Mateo County Event Center. Water from one of the series of major storms that have been pounding California started pouring in through ceiling light fixtures, he said. 

The family called the fire department, which quickly responded and referred them to the nearby Red Cross shelter that had been opened to provide refuge from the storm for all who needed it. The family arrived at about 4 a.m. and were provided supplies, such as diapers, food and toiletries, as well as a portable cot for Kingston and warm beds for the rest of the family. In the morning they had warm showers and breakfast.  

“The Red Cross has been excellent,” Jose said. “I’ve got nothing but nice things to say about the Red Cross.” Jose said he had also been helped by the Red Cross years ago, when he had a fire in his apartment. Jose then excused himself to grab a broom and dustpan and clean up around his family’s cots. “The Red Cross is helping, so I can help, too,” he said. 

The atmospheric rivers that pounded California for weeks, with floodwaters and damage remaining long after the storms have subsided. At one point there were as many as 100,000 people in California under evacuation orders or warnings.

Now that the skies have cleared, individuals and families are returning home to evaluate their path back towards recovery. Hundreds of Red Cross disaster workers are continuing to safely shelter those in need, deliver hot food and relief supplies to impacted neighborhoods, and provide much-needed emotional support.

For many, the road to recovery will be long – and the Red Cross will stand with survivors in the weeks and months ahead as they begin to rebuild their lives. You can help people by:

  • Making a financial gift to California Storms and Floods. Donations for Disaster Relief enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
  • Sharing Red Cross updates through your social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn).
  • Becoming a Red Cross volunteer: http://tinyurl.com/ARC2023FloodsApplication

Red Cross Responds as Bomb Cyclone Impacts California

This information was last updated on Tuesday, January 31 at 11:00 a.m. Please check back regularly for updates.

American Red Cross volunteer Diana giving an update to Shelter Supervisor Peggy at the Seven Trees shelter in San Jose. Photo by Alex Keilty / American Red Cross

As Californians continue cleaning up after the weeks of severe weather at the beginning of January, the American Red Cross is helping and will also be there in the days and weeks to come, supporting people as they move towards recovery.

This online story map offers a look at the ongoing response to the California floods. Since New Year’s eve:

  • Almost 800 trained Red Cross disaster workers are supporting people in California.
  • The Red Cross and partners have provided more than 9,300 stays in more than 80 shelters, more than 62,400 meals and snacks, and distributed more than 14,700 relief items such as comfort kits and other relief supplies.
  • Trained Red Cross volunteers are helping families cope during this challenging time and replacing prescription medications, eyeglasses or critical medical equipment like canes and wheelchairs.
  • Teams on the ground are also conducting damage assessments to determine the impact of these storms and which communities will need additional support moving forward. Preliminary damage reports indicate that of the 5879 total assessments done to date, 134 homes were either destroyed or suffered major damage.

We Need You!

  • While trained Red Cross volunteers and staff continue to manage the response efforts, we are looking for additional volunteers to help with disaster response and recovery activities, including feeding, supply distribution, clean-up kit building and more. Apply online to become a Red Cross volunteer by visiting tinyurl.com/ARC2023FloodsApplication if you are interested in helping with this response or responses like this in the future.

Blood During Disasters

  • The Red Cross is working to maintain a stable blood supply amid the threat of storms and winter weather across the country, as severe weather often causes widespread blood drive cancellations. Where it is safe to do so, we encourage donors to make and keep blood donation appointments by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Help Those in Need

  • You can help people affected by disasters like floods, fires and countless other crises by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief.Donations for Disaster Relief enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation..

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Full Circle: Red Cross Home Fire Campaign

Red Cross volunteers Don Powell (left) and Ron Redmond (right) install smoke alarms in Burnie Gipson’s home in Martinez, Calif. on August 2, 2022.
Photo by Marcie Wright-Powell/American Red Cross

On August 2, 2022, American Red Cross volunteers Ron Redmond and Don Powell visited the home of Martinez, California resident, Burnie Gipson, to install smoke alarms.

Burnie, who is deaf, recently moved to the area after suffering a home fire at his previous residence in San Francisco. Following the fire, which damaged multiple homes in Burnie’s residential complex, Red Cross Disaster Action Team volunteers responded to provide comfort, care and financial assistance to help impacted residents meet their immediate needs.

With an average of 60,000 disaster responses a year, the majority of these home fires, the Red Cross and our partners are every bit as focused on disaster prevention as we are on disaster response.

Red Cross volunteers Don Powell (left) and Ron Redmond (right) install smoke alarms in Burnie Gipson’s home in Martinez, Calif. on August 2, 2022.
Photo by Marcie Wright-Powell/American Red Cross

Enter the Home Fire Campaign: a year-round effort aimed at home fire prevention through free smoke alarm installations and preparedness education. To date, the campaign’s efforts have saved at least 1,366 lives since 2014. 

One component of the Home Fire Campaign is the ability for the Red Cross to provide specialized smoke alarms to alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing in the event of a fire. After moving to Martinez, Burnie reached back out to the Red Cross to set up a free installation in his new home. 

People who are deaf or hard of hearing are particularly vulnerable to home fires because they may not be able to hear a traditional smoke alarm. The specialized alarm, frequently referred to as a ‘Bed Shaker,’ is typically installed next to the bed, and alerts residents using a strobe light and vibrating pad that can be placed under the mattress or pillow. It is activated when an accompanying traditional smoke alarm is triggered during a fire.

Red Cross volunteers Don Powell (left) and Ron Redmond (right) install smoke alarms in Burnie Gipson’s home in Martinez, Calif. on August 2, 2022.
Photo by Marcie Wright-Powell/American Red Cross

“Every day, people’s lives are devastated by home fires,” said Natalie Manier, Red Cross Disaster Program Manager for Contra Costa County. “We are proud to play an important role in the prevention of home fire-related injuries in our communities, while at the same time, we’re also able to play an important role in the response process when a fire unfortunately does occur. Our volunteers ensure our services are available full circle if they are needed, and that we’re here for our community members – ensuring they do not have to face life’s emergencies alone.”

Burnie’s home now has an added element of protection thanks to his preparedness mindset and the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign.

All Red Cross services, including smoke alarm installations, are free of charge thanks to our generous partners. During short home visits, Red Cross volunteers and partners install free smoke alarms, and share information on common home fire causes, how to prevent them, what to do if a fire starts, and how to create an escape plan. If you or someone you know needs smoke alarms in their home, visit SoundTheAlarm.org/NorCalCoastal to schedule an installation appointment.

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