Tag Archives: Clients

Santa Clara County home fire illustrates value of smoke-alarm installations

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Mo Ghandehari, left, and Gordon Sakai visited the same Gilroy home twice: once to install two smoke alarms; a second time when the same alarms were activated by a fire in the attic.
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Summoned to the scene of a house fire in Gilroy this past November, American Red Cross volunteers Mo Ghandehari and Gordon Sakai thought the residence — badly damaged — seemed eerily familiar to each of them. That’s because it was.

The two Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) members for South Santa Clara County had been there before; in fact, just seven months before as installers on a Red Cross smoke-alarm installation team.

“We had installed two alarms in the very same home as part of our Red Cross Home Fire Campaign,” Ghandehari says.

In this case, the eight occupants of the home were alerted to the fire by a neighbor who, seeing smoke billowing from the attic of the Lewis Street house, had knocked loudly on the door. But if the neighbor hadn’t happen to see the smoke, the recently installed Red Cross smoke alarms — also sounding a warning — might have been the only thing separating the home’s two adults and six children from almost certain tragedy.

“The incident really underscored for us the value of our smoke-alarm installation program,” Ghandehari says.

On average, home fires kill 7 people and injure another 36 — every single day in the United States. That’s why the Red Cross launched its nationwide Home Fire Campaign in 2014 with the goal of reducing the number of home fire deaths and injuries.

A key component of the campaign is a series of Sound the Alarm – Save a Life smoke alarm installation events in which Red Cross volunteers, working with local fire departments and other partners, visit neighborhoods to offer to install free 10-year smoke alarms, replace batteries in existing alarms, and help families create escape plans. It is believed that the Sound the Alarm neighborhood visits, in which more than 1.5 million alarms have been installed, have already saved more than 550 lives throughout the United States since the Home Fire Campaign began.

In addition to neighborhood-wide Sound the Alarm efforts, the Red Cross also works with its partners to promote appointment-based home visits. And the South Santa Clara County team, which also consists of volunteers Terrie Berry and Gilbert Dalit, has diligently scheduled and followed up on those individual home visits.

“In fact, it was an appointment that brought Gordon and me to the Lewis Street residence,” Ghandehari says. “We had announced the program at the Gilroy Senior Center, and that particular home visit resulted from our Senior Center outreach.”

Once the fire occurred at the residence, Ghandehari and Sakai offered the occupants Red Cross financial assistance to help them with short-term emergency lodging, as well as “comfort kits” containing personal hygiene items.

But it was the sound of two smoke alarms, installed just seven months earlier, that could have very easily been the most important assistance the Gilroy family received from the American Red Cross.

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For more information about the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign in this region, please go to: soundthealarm.org/NorCalCoastal. The page includes information about:

  • How people can volunteer to help or sign up to have free smoke alarms installed.
  • The generous donors who have made this lifesaving work possible!

Read about the great work our regional Sound the Alarm teams did during a special spring push in April and May.

Free Smoke Alarms Provide Peace of Mind

Blog main logo_StackedAt age 70, Elizabeth K. isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Her schedule includes regular Zumba classes and volunteering at an equine therapy center for people with mental and physical challenges.

“I try to stay busy,” says the Contra Costa resident, whose partner Fred passed away from cancer a few years ago.

“When Fred was alive, he was able to reach things around the house that I couldn’t. After he died, the smoke alarms in our house started beeping and I couldn’t get to them,” explains Elizabeth, who is 5-feet-tall and afraid of falling from a ladder.

That’s why she was so relieved when a friend told her that the Red Cross installs smoke detectors and provides fire safety education to seniors for free.

“It was a huge relief since I had nobody to help me,” she says.

Fire safety education is particularly important for seniors, who can experience a decline in cognitive and physical abilities, affecting their ability to change smoke detectors and evacuate during an emergency. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, older adults are 2.7 times more likely to die in a home fire than the total population.

Elizabeth scheduled an appointment and in February, two volunteers visited her home, where they installed four smoke alarms in 15 minutes.

“It was very quick and the size of the smoke alarms was the same as the old ones, so I didn’t have to worry about [unsightly] paint on the ceiling,” she says.

The new state-mandated devices have extended life batteries, which means she won’t have to worry about replacing them for another 10 years. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends replacing smoke alarms 10 years from the date of manufacture, which can be found on the back of the alarm.

“It’s been a huge relief to me because the hardest part was when the batteries would go out and I couldn’t figure out which one was beeping, or how to replace it,” Elizabeth says.

The volunteers also provided her with information about creating a fire escape plan, which includes identifying multiple ways to exit your home and designating a meeting point with others where first responders can find you. “I hadn’t really thought about it but it makes sense,” she says.

Elizabeth was so pleased with the program, she’s already shared the information with a senior friend.

“The peace of mind alone is worth it,” she says.

About the author: Arianne Aryanpur is a Red Cross volunteer writer with our California Northwest Chapter.

I’m still useful

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Ki Daniels poses in front of the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, where she was staying in an American Red Cross evacuation shelter after flood waters from the Russian River inundated her home on February 26, 2019. (Photo: Barbara Wood)

By Barbara Wood

Ki Daniels, who has been living in an American Red Cross evacuation shelter since February 26, 2019 when forced to flee as the Russian River overtopped its banks, knows what it takes to recover from a disaster. That’s because in October 2017, Ki lost her home and all she owned in the Tubbs Fire, a loss from which she only recently had begun to feel she’d recovered.

Nonetheless, Ki, who had just recently completed renovating a home she thought would give her a fresh start on the banks of the Russian River, is upbeat about her future. She says her second loss of a home and most of her belongings in less than two years is “another opportunity for re-creation.” And she credits the Red Cross – which helped her recover after the Tubbs Fire and in the Sebastopol shelter gave her a safe, warm place to sleep, medical care, emotional support and meals – with helping to make that “re-creation” possible.

“The services that the Red Cross provides to those fleeing disaster is the foundation for their tomorrow,” Ki says. “I’ve been so well cared for.” She credits the Red Cross for helping her to manage her medical problems, as well as providing medication and medical supplies and providing a special adjustable, heavy-duty medical cot on which to sleep.

“It’s little things like that that make the world look different for someone who has medical problems,” she said.

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Ki Daniels shares the story of her recent escape from Russian River flood waters with a news reporter in front of the evacuation shelter in Sebastopol that the American Red Cross opened on February 26, 2019. (Photo: Barbara Wood)

Ki, who has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a business as a Feng Shui consultant, said she arrived at her Russian River home after an out-of-town trip only to learn the area was being evacuated. “I just grabbed a trash bag,” she recalls. She filled it with her medications, a blanket and pillow, and a few papers. A sheriff’s deputy took off his jacket and gave it to her. “I was freezing,” she remembers.

After arriving at the shelter in the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, “the Red Cross absolutely gave me all the additional support I needed,” Ki says. Red Cross volunteers helped her find a change of clothing and other necessities. “My heart’s not broken – it may be cracked, but it’s not broken,” Ki says. She also says that her attitude about the future changed while she was in the shelter, especially after she volunteered to help the Red Cross assist some of the shelter residents.

“Being here really shifted my mind. I’m still useful,” she smiled.

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About the author: Barbara Wood is a Red Cross volunteer writer with our Silicon Valley Chapter.

Community togetherness in times of need

By Lindsay R. Peak

rc420 x 279Having survived the Valley Fire that decimated so much of Lake County in 2015, the mother/daughter duo of Kathleen Connors, 66, and Kelly Grimsley, 33, moved to Santa Rosa in August 2016 to make a “fresh start.” They had barely settled there when they heard the astonishing news in October 2017 of the threatening Tubbs Fire near their new home.

The two quickly fled, traveling toward Healdsburg in search of safety. A wrong turn landed them in Guerneville. Realizing their mistake, they looped back toward the freeway, eventually arriving at the emergency Red Cross shelter at Windsor High School in the early morning hours.

Remembering the feeling of being displaced with her daughter and a just a few important papers, fire survivor Connors pensively jests, “This was as ‘fresh’ as it gets.”

Night one, the pair slept on wrestling mats on the shelter’s floor. Night two, there were cots. “That was a really welcome thing. We could really rest a little bit,” says Connors.

In the days to come, community donations began to pour in. Connors and her daughter recounted the large mountain of available items piling up in the center of the gymnasium, including bedding. Padding their cots with layers of sheets, blankets, and warm comforters made their unthinkable situation feel a little more like home.

“All of our immediate needs were met,” says Connors.

Connors had limited experience with the American Red Cross prior to staying in the shelter. She recalls participating in basic training decades before while volunteering as a candy striper, but not much more.

No strangers to giving, Grimsley and Connors had regularly volunteered with local charities and non-profit organizations. Grimsley, diagnosed with autism and with other medical challenges, enjoys donating her time to help benefit others. Most of the projects Grimsley and her mother had choosen to work on are geared toward fundraising for or increasing awareness of a particular cause.

But this experience was different, as the first-time shelter clients were receivers instead of givers of volunteer services.

“What an extraordinary compassion [it is] to receive,” says Connors. “I never gave it a second thought when on the other side. It’s just what you did. Being on the receiving side, you see that these people are really extraordinary. The compassion was extraordinary. To receive that was just amazing.”

Connors further explains, “All the resources were organized. We saw everyone working with law enforcement. We had food. Medical care was available. A hug was there if we needed a hug.”

Commencing the long process of rebuilding, Grimsley took to the Internet. Online, she discovered that a beloved local chapel was among the structural fire victims. Once praised for its exquisite mosaic wall, only the tiles survived. A handful of individuals sought volunteers for an art project aimed at making trinkets from these recovered tiles.

Mother and daughter had frequently taken art classes, so the project seemed like a perfect fit.

With their spirits down, the creative process was a welcome distraction. It was a way to occupy their minds, bring them together with the community, and use their talents in a positive way while going through the many stages of grief.

Over a period of three months, this mother and daughter worked roughly 200 hours on the project. After the tiles were cleaned, tumbled, and polished, they were crafted into crosses, ornaments, garden accents, and tie tacks, among other things. In all, the pair and others involved created over 1,000 unique keepsakes.

The tile creations were given away at a variety of events aimed at community togetherness. They served as a sign of strength, symbolic rebuilding, and comfort in times of need. Some mementos were sent to the Camp Fire this past fall. Others were distributed to local churches.

By word of mouth, more and more volunteers participated in the project. And, it is not over.

“There are still projects to do. There are still tiles,” says Connors.

Connors and Grimsley presented each Red Cross volunteer with one of their masterpieces as a token of appreciation at the California Northwest Chapter’s September BBQ celebration.

Connors has many human-interest stories and positive experiences to share, including a misunderstanding about the comfort level of a standard-issue cot.

After leaving the shelter, she and her daughter were briefly displaced again. Connors marched into the local Red Cross office to seek assistance one more time. Connors asked a Red Cross representative if she could borrow one of the cots she got so familiar with over the course of a few weeks in the shelter. The Red Cross representative looked at Connors with a confused look and said, “You want to borrow… a cot?” Connors confidently replied, “Yes. We were in a shelter. We slept really good on the cots. I will bring it back. I want to borrow it just for a few days.” The woman left momentarily and returned, visibly concerned. Without saying yes or no to the request, the representative compassionately stated, “Ma’am, I think you need a pysch evaluation.”

Connors, taken aback, then explained how the community donations and experience with the Red Cross made the standard-issue cot more than a cot to her and her daughter in their time of need.

Understanding her experience more completely, the two shared a good laugh.

“It was a fun moment,” says Connors.

Rising from the ashes, this mother-daughter twosome remain positive as they continue to search for permanent housing. They have slept in numerous places including an office and at Red Cross volunteer Peggy Goebel’s home.

Uprooted twice by natural disaster, Connors has learned and shares a mantra about one’s home:

“Home and sacred ground is where you are whatever moment in time it is.

“The fire was the fire,” she says. “We have to choose to appreciate things that came out of the fire that were amazing. There were a lot of people we wouldn’t have met or known had it not been for the fire. It has its moments. There is a little silver lining.”

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About the author: Lindsay Peak is a volunteer writer for the California Northwest Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Red Cross provides support following gas line explosion in San Francisco

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See full-size photo and the incident photo album.

A gas line explosion in San Francisco on Wednesday, February 6, resulted in a three-alarm fire and displaced residents and workers. The explosion occurred around 1 p.m. at the corner of Geary Blvd. and Parker Ave. in the city’s Jordan Park neighborhood; the ensuing fire was brought under control about three hour later.

Six mixed-use commercial/residential buildings have been red- or yellow-tagged as a result of the incident.

An evacuation center was opened at Saint Mary’s Cathedral at 1111 Gough St. for individuals in need of shelter or impacted by PG&E’s need to shut off power to the affected area.

Red Cross volunteers also responded with an Emergency Response Vehicle to provide water and food to first responders and evacuated residents at Mel’s Diner. Two muni buses were requested as additional warm spaces for evacuees. Dinner was ordered for first responders and residents at the evacuation site and for the shelter.

The volunteers have collected information at the evacuation site from six families whose residences were affected by the fire. All other impacted individuals or families have found their own lodging.

Red Cross personnel closed the shelter today (Thursday, February 7) and are continuing with traditional casework and referrals to our partners.

Residents displaced by the gas line explosion and fire may call 415-427-8010 to register for Red Cross assistance and referrals.

Turning White Elephants Into Angels

By Larry Dietz, Public Affairs Officer

All of us have been to the Holiday Party where you are asked to bring a “White Elephant” or modestly priced gift to exchange. When your number is called, you dread walking over to the pile of gifts and picking what you are sure will be something you would never buy for yourself and would more than likely end up at your local second-hand store.

Dr. Charles Renner and his wife, Susan, of Concord decided to do something different this year. They had been following reports of the devastation of the Camp Fire. While neither they nor their families were personally affected, they felt a kinship with those who were. “I just imagined myself in their shoes,” Susanne said.

Recognizing that those impacted by the fire needed flexible financial support, the Renners, their family, and extended friends pooled their resources and drove to the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds on Christmas Day. They hoped to be able to personally present their gifts along with a supportive hug to the people at the Silver Dollar complex, but quickly realized that this would be impossible because of the large number of people there.

Their generous donation was given to the Red Cross, which in turn will be working with St. Vincent DePaul to ensure that Renner’s generosity will benefit those who needed the help.

The Red Cross thanks Dr. and Mrs. Renner for their kindness and generosity.

Red Cross supports Fleet Week Humanitarian Village

By Larry Dietz

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The Red Cross set up a station in “Humanitarian Assistance Village” at Fleet Week. Fleet Week is an important event for the Red Cross as it helps to fulfill our mission for community readiness and preparedness for disasters, to connect and support our armed forces, and increase access to lifesaving blood and blood products. (Photo by: Albert Becker, American Red Cross)

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San Francisco has always had a special relationship with the US Navy. One example of that is San Francisco Fleet Week (SFFW), which began in 1981. The annual celebration of America’s sea services takes place over Italian Heritage Weekend in October on the Marina Green.

Through its core mission of Support to Armed Forces (SAF), the American Red Cross has been a consistent and strong supporter of Fleet Week. Read more

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