Home fires are the biggest disaster threat to people in this country — bigger than blizzards, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. Every day, the American Red Cross responds to as many as 170 home fires, or one every nine minutes. In Cayuga County, the Red Cross responds to an average of two home fires per month, or 24 each year.
When families experience a life-changing emergency, the American Red Cross responds immediately. And once on the scene, the focus is on helping the victims come to grips with the tragedy.
“When there’s a fire, we do a damage assessment, we interview the people affected and see what kind of assistance they need,” said Kevin Carpenter, American Red Cross emergency services director for Cayuga County.
“Every fire is wildly different,” Carpenter added, “and that means different outcomes for each family. Whether someone is a renter, a homeowner, has insurance or no insurance, we will help.”
The Red Cross responders determine what the needs are: a warm, safe place to stay, clothing for the kids, or nutritious meals for the entire family. This is just the beginning of the response; the local Red Cross will stay at the victim’s side until their immediate emergency needs are met.
“People in our community need to know that we are there for them,” Carpenter said. “When they need it the most, the Red Cross is there.”
Maria, a single mother of three, lost her home in a fire this past month in town of Moravia.
“The Red Cross was very helpful to me and my children,” Maria said. “They made sure we had money for food, clothing, and shoes. I don't know what we would have done without their assistance.”
How to prevent a fire and react to one
The most effective way to protect yourself and your home from fire is to identify and remove hazards. During a home fire, working smoke alarms and a fire escape plan that has been practiced regularly can save lives.
Here are important fire safety tips:
• Install a smoke alarm on every level of your home and outside of sleeping areas.
• Test smoke alarm batteries monthly and change them at least once a year.
• Make sure everyone in your family knows at least two ways to escape from every room.
• Practice your fire escape plan at least twice a year. Designate a family meeting spot outside a safe distance from your home.
• Consider escape ladders for sleeping areas on the second or third floor. Make sure everyone in your home learns how to use them ahead of time. Store them near the window where they will be used.
• Once you get out of your home, stay out under all circumstances, until a fire official gives you permission to go back inside.
• Never open doors that are warm to the touch.
• If smoke, heat or flames block your exit routes, stay in the room with the door closed. If possible, place a towel under the door and call the fire department to alert them to your location in the home. Go to the window and signal for help by waving a bright-colored cloth or a flashlight. Do not break the window, but open it from the top and bottom.
• Visit www.redcross.org/homefires for more information on creating home fire escape plans.
How you can help
In Cayuga County, the average cost of fire assistance for a single-family home fire is about $500 per person. With roughly 24 fires a year and an average family size of four, it costs about $48,000 a year for the Cayuga County Red Cross to meet the needs of people displaced from their homes by fires.
Businesses, restaurants, schools, fire departments and towns and villages throughout Cayuga County are teaming with the American Red Cross in support of “Heroes of the American Red Cross: Dollars for Disaster,” a campaign to help raise money for victims of local disasters such as home fires. The campaign runs through May 30; look for donation cans, Red Cross squares and dining-out opportunities throughout the county this month.
You may have been surprised to learn how often families in our area are devastated by a house fire. By participating in the “Dollars for Disaster” campaign, you are standing side-by-side with the American Red Cross, providing help and hope to families who have lost everything without warning.
For more information on prevention, volunteering or donating, please contact me at the Cayuga County Red Cross office at 252-9596.
Pamela Baker Gratton is the branch manager of the American Red Cross Cayuga County office. The Cayuga County branch, at 11 State St., Auburn, is part of the Central New York Chapter, which covers Cayuga, Onondaga, Madison and Oswego counties. For more information, call 252-9596.