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.
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.
“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.
By Martin Gagliano, Alex Keilty, Jenny Arrieta & Marcia Antipa
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 89Modesto residents that was provided with safety information and had free smoke alarms installed in their home during this Sound the Alarm event.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
Volunteering with the American Red Cross takes many forms. For some, volunteering means active deployment into the heart of disaster responses, where people are at their most vulnerable. Others find meaning and purpose behind the scenes, coordinating their peers from a virtual office. And then there is a family tradition, where roles pass down from one generation to the next. Gary Zellerbach is part of such a legacy.
Gary Zellerbach’s grandmother, Doris Zellerbach, served as a Donut Dolly in WWII, volunteering and working with the Red Cross her entire life. She specifically invested time and energy into youth services. Upon passing, she not only left an endowment to the Red Cross, but her son (and Gary’s father), Stephen Zellerbach, picked up the mantle in youth services. Gary retired around the same time his father died in 2011, and he readied himself for service.
“I had met Harold Brooks [the regional Chief Executive Officer for the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter from 1997-2013] at events over the years,” says Gary. So, Gary called him and asked, “Harold, are you ready for the next generation?” Harold introduced Gary to the then head of development, Michael Lawrence, who – naturally – recommended that Gary join the Youth Services Committee.
Penny Mount likes to have her hands full of projects and people for whom she cares. During a recent phone chat to talk about compassion calls she made on behalf of the American Red Cross’ Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program, she was also looking after her 11-month-old great-granddaughter, Jolene. “She’s headstrong, just like her mother,” Penny says. By the end of that same call, Jolene had “creatively decorated herself” and Penny’s counter with her lunch. “Her mother’s not going to be too happy with me,” Penny chuckled.
And that’s just how it is with Penny: breezy, light and full of gratitude.
The compassion calls were part of SAF’s month of service this past February. Volunteers from across the Northern California Coastal Region placed calls to the nearly 3,000 families served by SAF in the last 18 months. They checked on the families’ health and welfare and extended a hand of assistance should any be needed. The purpose was to deliver the Red Cross mission of providing care and comfort to service members, veterans and military families.
(l to r) Eva Marquez, Keith Hoffman, LouAnne Williams, and Jeff Airth. Photography: Kane Wong | American Red Cross _____
LouAnne Williams keeps it simple. On October 31, 2013, she began to look for ways to give back to her community. She tried to register with a local hospital but felt that they had an overwhelming number of rules and regulations. Craving something simpler and more direct, she sought counsel from friends and family. Her son-in-law suggested she try the Red Cross, so LouAnne walked into the front door of the Red Cross, literally across the street from the hospital. And she has never looked back.
LouAnne began her journey as a preparedness instructor and now leads her peers in multiple capacities. Last year, she received the San Mateo County Volunteer of the Year Award, something that came as no surprise to her colleagues.