You’re snug in bed under the covers, fast asleep. Suddenly your ringtone jars you awake. Then you remember: You’re on call for the Red Cross. There’s been a fire. You jump into your clothes and head out into the frigid night.
You see the smoke even before you arrive at the chaotic scene. You hone in on a group in their pajamas huddled together, no coats to protect them from the winter night.
“Are you okay?” you ask. “Let’s get you into the van where you’ll be warm.” It’s the beginning of their long recovery from this life-shattering event.
That night, your job is to make sure their immediate needs are met. Do they have relatives or friends they can stay with? Do they have identification? Did they lose medications or prescriptions? When you leave, perhaps as long as several hours later, they have a place to stay, enough money to meet immediate needs, a packet of information on resources, and the assurance that a Red Cross case manager will contact them the next day.
As so often happens during the winter, a space heater is the culprit in this fire. You and your Red Cross family will double down on your efforts to get the word out about how to stay safe.
Last weekend, local Red Crossers helped 70 people begin to recover from home fires, which are the most common kind of disaster. To protect yourself from home fires and other seasonal hazards, the Red Cross recommends the following:
- If you are driving, prepare your car.
- Check the air pressure in your tires and make sure you have windshield fluid. Be well rested and alert.
- Avoid distractions such as cell phones.
- If you have car trouble, pull as far off the road as possible.
- Make sure you have blankets or sleeping bags, jumper cables, a fire extinguisher, compass, road maps, shovel, tire repair kit and pump, extra clothing, flares, and a tow rope.
- Avoid driving in a storm. Always let someone know where you are going, the route you’re taking to get there, and when you expect to arrive. If the car gets stuck along the way, help can be sent along your predetermined route.
- Prevent kitchen fires.
- Stay in the kitchen while you’re cooking that holiday dinner (or any other meal). If you leave the kitchen even for a short period of time, turn off the stove.
- The safest way to cook your turkey is in the oven, not a deep fryer.
- Keep flammable items at least three feet from any heat source, including stoves.
- When enjoying the winter wonderland, dress in layers. When it’s cold outside, layered lightweight clothing will keep you warmer than a single heavy coat. Gloves and a hat will prevent loss of body heat. Cover your mouth to protect your lungs.
- Use indoor heating safely.
- Get your furnace cleaned and change the filters. Make sure your furniture isn’t blocking the heat vents. Never use a stove or an oven to heat your home.
- Never leave portable heaters or fireplaces unattended, and make sure all embers in a fireplace are extinguished before leaving the room. Have the fireplace chimney cleaned regularly.
- Make sure you have smoke alarms on every level of your home and outside all sleeping areas. Test the batteries once per month.
DOWNLOAD RED CROSS APPS The Red Cross Emergency App contains information on how to prevent home fires and what to do if one occurs. Children can learn about fire prevention and safety through gaming with the Monster Guard: Prepare for Emergencies App. Designed for 7 to 11-year-olds, the app teaches them safety tips for a variety of disasters by having them role-play as different monster characters. Both apps are available to download for free in app stores or at redcross.org/apps. Additional fire safety tips and resources are available at redcross.org/homefires.