Just how important is the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign that educates people about fire safety?
During a recent visit to a small home in Northeast Ohio to install smoke detectors, Red Cross members discovered an alarming situation. Three dangerous space heaters were precariously perched atop cardboard boxes in a bedroom with highly flammable shag carpeting. The heaters were used to create a balmy, 95 F environment in the room that housed a pet boa constrictor. Not a good idea.
According to the American Red Cross, every day seven people die in a home fire, most in homes without working smoke detectors. But through Sound the Alarm, a series of free smoke alarm installation events across the country, lives are being saved. More than a million free smoke alarms in 100 cities have been installed.
The national event was modeled after Operation Save-A-Life (OSAL), a smoke alarm installation program that began in Cleveland in 1992. It was established by the Greater Cleveland Chapter of the American Red Cross, the City of Cleveland Division of Fire Services and several philanthropists, including Clevelander Sam Miller. OSAL was responsible for installing more than 150,000 smoke alarms in 25 years.
“I can’t tell you that installing those smoke alarms was the only reason lives were saved, but that was certainly a significant part of it,” says Rear Admiral Michael Parks, now regional CEO, Northeast Ohio Region of the American Red Cross. Parks retired after 35 years in the U.S. Coast Guard as the Commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District, responsible for all Coast Guard operations throughout the eight-state Great Lakes region. He joined the Red Cross in 2015.
Sound the Alarm was established in 2014, and since that time Parks says there have been almost 500 documented lives saved after fire alarms had been installed. He recalls one incident in particular where Red Cross volunteers installed smoke alarms in a home in Lorain in 2016. The day after Christmas, a fire started because of a stack of laundry was too close to a furnace. The alarms went off. Ten children, a mother and grandmother were able to escape the fire.
“The Red Cross has made Sound the Alarm an annual signature event. During the last two weeks of April and the first two weeks of May, smoke alarms are installed across the country in conjunction with fire departments and other organizations,” says Parks.
It is a goal of the Red Cross to reduce death and injury from home fires by 25 percent over the next five years.
The Red Cross receives no government funding, but relies on foundations (including the Cleveland Foundation) and corporate help (KeyBank, Lincoln Electric and others), plus individual and nonprofit support for its operating budget and for often providing volunteers, according to Parks.
“The Red Cross is a premier humanitarian organization in America. It responds to a home fire or other disaster every eight minutes,” says Parks. “It has 20,000 employees in the United States, but 320,000 to 330,000 volunteers. Ninety percent of what is done every day by the Red Cross is done by volunteers. There is no other organization I know that can set up a multimillion ‘business’ in two or three days at the scene of a disaster, provide immediate impact to those affected and be manned mostly by volunteers.”
Parks says the Red Cross (which responds to an average of three home fires a day in Northeast Ohio) is known as a “mud and blood” organization. “Mud” for natural disasters and “blood,” of course, for its well-known blood procurement and donations programs. The Red Cross supplies 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply. Because there are about 50 hospitals and medical facilities in Northeast Ohio, not enough blood can be collected locally to meet the demand. Safe and secure blood must be brought in from Columbus and other large cities, according to Parks. That sharing is another example of how Red Cross chapters network, he says.
“Less than 40 percent of the population in our country can donate blood because of restrictions from medications, medical conditions, travel concerns or other reasons,” explains Parks. “But the biggest challenge is that less than 10 percent of those who can donate do because of misconceptions and other reasons. We need to move that number. Remember, every pint of blood helps [up to] three people and you can donate blood every 56 days.”
The American Red Cross partners with many cities, organizations and nonprofits to provide myriad programs for people of all ages, and especially to the armed services. In addition, the Red Cross provides training in swimming (Parks proudly says he got his YMCA/Red Cross swim badge when he was 7 years old), babysitting, occupational safety, CPR, workplace safety and other activities.
“The Red Cross is a trusted organization in this country,” says Parks. “My Coast Guard background, having experienced search and rescue, recovery and relief operations, is certainly a helpful advantage to bring to my Red Cross experience. The Coast Guard is built on honor, respect and devotion to duty. I am proud to serve where the core values are similar; the Red Cross’s being compassion, collaboration, creativity, credibility and commitment.
“One of the most rewarding parts of this job is when you see something like a single mother come in with brownies to thank our volunteers for some help they have given her. ”
The American Red Cross,
Greater Cleveland Chapter,
3747 Euclid Ave., Cleveland 44114 216-431-3010, redcross.org