I remember it was right before Christmas when I received a call for a house fire. It was cold, late at night, and it had just finished sprinkling, so it was very wet out. I hesitated to go, however I knew that I had signed on so I decided to get up and answer the call.
I met another Disaster Action Team responder at the office and we picked up the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV). He immediately told me to turn the heater on in the back and make sure we had plenty of blankets, comfort kits and Mickey’s. On the way I was instructed that there were at least four small children that were affected by this fire so our focus will be on them first and then we will focus on the parents.
We arrived at this house that was in total darkness and it looked as if it had been hit by a tornado. There was debris everywhere, with furniture in the yard and the roof was gone. Even with the ERV’s lights there was a glooming darkness over the scene.
We got out and approached the front door with flashlights, and as we peeked inside the front door there was a sight that I will never forget.
I shined my light on a mother, grandmother, and four kids huddled on a wet mattress sitting in the middle of the living room wrapped in some blankets that were also wet. As we identified ourselves all the children immediately got up and ran towards us. All these kids had on were pajamas with no socks and they too were soaking wet and shivering.
We both quickly picked them up and carried them over to the ERV and wrapped them up in warm blankets and handed each one of them a Mickey Mouse. The mother was outside on the phone trying to figure out what to do next so the scene was a bit chaotic for the children. We decided to give the kids some snacks and close the doors to the ERV with the Grandmother inside with them.
We turned our attention to the mother who was distraught and had no idea what to do next. As a team we calmed her down and let her know we were there to help. Once she heard her children laughing and playing inside the ERV she understood that we were already trying to make things better. She calmed down enough for us to receive the information that we needed in order to assist her and her children.
As soon as we gave the mother her financial assistance, she started to cry, hugging us both not knowing what to say. She continued to hug us over and over with joy and finally muddled words telling us that we were angels that were sent to help her when no one else would. We decided to wait with her until a family friend came to pick them all up, so we knew the children and the grandmother could stay warm and continue to play.
This was one of the many times that volunteering with the Red Cross has allowed me to see that the work we do as volunteers is not only needed but very well appreciated.
Joaquin (Jake) Gonzales
Red Cross Volunteer
Give With Meaning This Holiday Season
Stories just like this one happen across our Central California Region every single day. Red Cross volunteers like Jake respond 24 hours a day, seven days week, to provide relief and comfort to families that have lost everything due to home fires or other disasters.
This holiday season, it’s your turn to be a part of this incredible Red Cross story of hope and compassion. You can #GiveWithMeaning and support the many urgent needs of families facing disasters big and small by making a donation to the Red Cross. Visit redcross.org/gift to learn more.
Last weekend 7-year-old Andrew George was celebrating his spiritual birthday by giving away lemonade at a lemonade stand with his family in his neighborhood by Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, California. While he was giving away lemonade, people would leave him tip money as a thank you.
While he and his family were giving away the lemonade the Whittier Fire broke and they could see the huge smoke plume from over the mountain. As the day wore on, more and more fire resources poured into the county and actually set up their basecamp at the high school near them.
Seeing all the help for the community coming in from all over the state, Andrew decided he wanted to do his part and donate the proceeds from his lemonade stand to the American Red Cross. Jason had suggested the Red Cross to donate his money to because he had taken a first aid class at the Santa Barbara office before and knew we would be the best place to donate money to help the fire victims.
So, with that, he had his dad, Jason George, drive him and his brother to the Red Cross shelter a few miles away. When they walked in they approached Red Cross shelter manager Patti Shiflet and told her that he wanted to donate his tip money to the Red Cross. He was very shy but managed to let Patti know why he was there, “I want to help people” said Andrew. “I want to give you my lemonade tip money to help the people of the fire.”
You too can support Red Cross relief efforts, just like Jason. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to, and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800 RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
It was Christmas Eve at my Grandmother’s house. Tummies were full of holiday treats, stockings were hung by the chimney with care, and the family was gathered at the kitchen table playing cards. That’s when my Dad smelled the smoke.
“Is something burning?” he asked. Everyone looked up from their cards with concern and started sniffing the air. It did smell like smoke. Dad got up from his seat and followed the scent into the living room. That’s when we heard him shout, “Get some water!”
Everyone jumped up from their seats and rushed to the living room to see what was causing the distress. There, on the table, was my grandmother’s carefully placed nativity set fully engulfed in flames.
Just days before she had so delicately placed the wooden figurines on a bed of angel hair and thoughtfully surrounded it with candles. But it didn’t take much – just a flame catching the slightest wisp of angel hair – to cause the fire to start.
Thankfully we were all home, awake, and able to quickly put the fire out. There was minimal damage, except for the nativity set itself, and we were able to laugh about it for the rest of the holiday and for years to come. But that’s not the case for many families during the holiday season.
With the holidays comes a whole host of safety hazards that often result in disaster. Last year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, the Red Cross Central California Region responded to help 373 families affected by fires, providing relief and comfort to those that had lost everything.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can help us reduce that number this year. Here’s how.
Get Red Cross Ready
Following a few Red Cross fire safety tips goes a long way to stopping preventable tragedies. Holiday mishaps can happen to anyone, including you and me. So put the odds in your favor by being extra cautious.
This video shows just how quickly a Christmas tree can go up in flames:
Don’t let this be your home this winter. Place Christmas trees, candles, and other holiday decorations at least three feet away from heat sources like fireplaces, portable heaters, radiators, heat vents and candles.
Always unplug the tree and holiday lights before leaving home or going to bed.
Smoke alarms save lives. Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen, on each level of your home, near sleeping areas, and inside and outside bedrooms if you sleep with doors closed. Use the test button to check it each month. Replace all batteries at least once a year.
Find even more holiday fire safety tips from the Red Cross here.
Be a Social Butterfly
Share your favorite tips with your social networks. Share this blog post on social media along with your own holiday hazard story to illustrate the importance of fire safety. Social media users are far more likely to listen to a plea of safety from their own friends and family. So share the love!
Give With Meaning
Make a donation to your local Red Cross and #GiveWithMeaning this year. Stuck on gift ideas for that person who has everything? A gift to the Red Cross in their honor helps to educate families on the importance of fire safety and installs free smoke alarms in local neighborhoods. Plus it provides your loved one with a unique holiday present that they’ll remember for a lifetime.
On January 14, 2017, we’re hosting three different Home Fire Campaign events in Bakersfield, Fresno, and Oxnard. We’re looking for passionate citizens like you to help build stronger communities by installing free smoke alarms. You don’t have to be an existing Red Cross volunteer to help! Visit redcross.org/cencalhfc to sign up and learn more.
If we all just commit to one of these four opportunities for fire safety, our beautiful Central California community will be a much stronger, more resilient place!
From all of us at the Red Cross, have a safe and happy holiday season!
Regional Director of Communications
Local volunteer Michele Maki is currently on deployment in Gatlinburg, Tennessee as part of the Red Cross response to the deadly wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced thousands. Here is one of many heartbreaking stories Michele has experienced on her journey so far.
“We bought this home……one year ago-yesterday….. just one year….”, his voice trails off. Brian Myers, young husband and father of two, struggles to maintain his composure after arriving and viewing the ashes of what was once his family’s home.
“It’s gone now….all of it.” Myers pauses a moment, and choking back tears continues, “But we got out. All of us, and we’re safe.”
Myers is the general manager of the Mountain Mall in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Five days ago, he had been watching the press conference about the local fire on the television at work.
“It was the afternoon and everything was okay in our neighborhood, but within 30 or 40 minutes, that all changed. I ran home. My wife and I grabbed our kids and pets, piled them into the car and fled. It all happened just so fast!”
Myers pauses in his conversation starts walking around the rubble of his property, very slowly, kicking aside charred debris and ashes, then suddenly stops. He stoops down and finds a ceramic mug in the ashes. He wipes the ash away and cradles this treasure as tenderly as if he were holding the most fragile flower. He then looks over to what is left of the swing-set belonging to his 4 year old daughter and 12 year old son. The heat from the fire has melted the plastic slide.
It’s a painful reminder of how he and his family’s lives have changed since that afternoon. The holidays are upon us, and one wonders how this family will cope. But Myers instead, thinks of others in his community and adds, “We got ou and we’re all safe. I’m so thankful for that. But there are folks in worse shape than us, and they need a lot of help right now. Thank you to the American Red Cross and to everyone who’s helping us, truly. Thank you.
Red Cross Volunteer
Assisting people affected by the wildfires is the latest relief response in what has been a very busy year for the Red Cross, which responded to 15 large disasters across the country this year, 50 percent more than in 2015. More than 24,000 Red Cross disaster volunteers from all over the country provided the following this year:
More than 200,000 overnight stays in more than 600 shelters
Served more than 3.6 million meals and snacks with the help of partners
Distributed more than 1.8 million relief items to people affected by these disasters.
This holiday season you can #GiveWithMeaning to provide relief to people affected by disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, floods and countless other crises by making a donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small across the United States. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
There are 19.3 million military veterans in the United States as of 2014, and California is home to the largest veteran population in the nation with nearly two million. That means there are countless people and organizations like the Red Cross working hard every day to support our local veterans and their families.
Two of those people have been honored as this year’s Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces Heroes: Sandra Gould and Pete Pepper.
Sandra Gould accepts her Heroes honor from PG&E Rep and Red Cross Board Chair Mike Meko
Pete Pepper accepts her Heroes honor from PG&E Rep and Red Cross Board Chair Mike Meko
Sandra plays an important dual role, serving as both a Case Manager with Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) through CAPSLO and also as a Veteran’s Service Representative with SLO County Veterans Services. With her support, the SSVF program has assisted 143 veterans and their families.
Watch her story:
Pete Pepper is the founder of Central Coast Veterans Helping Veterans and serves as the Co-Mentor Coordinator for the San Luis Obispo Veterans Treatment Court. He has also made multiple trips to Vietnam with fellow veterans, creating an award winning documentary, Killing Memories, about their healing journey.
Watch his story:
Both Sandra and Pete were nominated by their peers and community for these awards, because of their compassion and dedication to serving military veterans.
“What Sandra has done for the homeless veterans in our county is nothing short of amazing,” said nominator Robert Ellis, “Sandra has played a most significant role in this success by connecting these veterans with the benefits they deserved, and were not getting, that enabled them to move out of the creek or off the street and into permanent housing.”
“Pete is an outstanding example of a vet advocating for vets,” said Sr. Theresa Harpin. His advocacy for local veterans has made the Veteran’s Mentor Program “one of the finest in the country.”
The work of everyday heroes like Sandra and Pete can often go unsung, but the Red Cross is proud to honor their selfless acts of compassion and courage. Learn more about the Heroes for the American Red Cross program at redcross.org/sloheroes.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company is proud to present this year’s Service to the Armed Forces Hero awards. The Red Cross is proud to be celebrating a 40-year safety partnership with PG&E.
The following blog post is written by guest writer Brian Bullock and was originally published by Pacific Gas & Electric Company. The Red Cross is proud to be celebrating a 40-year safety partnership with PG&E.
Like a lot of PG&E employees, Beverly Jones has sat through her share of Safety Minutes prior to meetings where the facilitator assigns someone to phone 9-1-1 in case of an emergency, someone to chase down the closest automatic external defibrillator and then finds someone who is certified in cardio pulmonary resuscitation. Even though she was certified to perform CPR, she admits she was reluctant to volunteer to use it, at least until Oct. 22 when she had to use it to save her husband Michael’s life.
Beverly, who started working at Diablo Canyon Power Plant as a contractor with Pullman Construction 32 years ago and now is an administrative specialist at the Old Santa Fe Road warehouse, was sitting with Michael, whom she met when they were both working in the General Construction Mechanical department over 30 years ago, watching the San Francisco 49ers get soundly thrashed by the Seattle Seahawks when Michael, after several days of not feeling well, went into convulsions and slumped lifelessly onto the couch next to her.
“We thought he had flu symptoms. Started on a Tuesday. He just couldn’t keep any food down,” Beverly said, recalling what led up to her husband’s collapse. “It just seemed like what people have when they get the flu.
“We were starting to watch football and he said I’m feeling a little dizzy. About the third time he said that, he just started convulsing. Sitting on the couch, he just started convulsing and then slumped over. All that fast.”
Just that quickly, Beverly pulled Michael onto the floor of their San Luis Obispo home and started chest compressions to keep him alive. She said she was lucky that she had been recertified in CPR in a class at PG&E’s warehouse organized by coworker Karen Reitzke, a buyer in the company’s supply chain, on Oct. 2. She had taken a similar class to be certified some 20 years earlier at Diablo Canyon.
In the heat of the moment, though, she got confused about exactly what to do. CPR training has changed since she first took the class, going from both chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing, to just solely chest compressions.
“It was kind of weird to me, I remembered I had to do compressions and I knew I needed to breathe, but I forgot to start counting. Then it was like ‘Oh wait, I don’t have to breathe,’” she explained. “I was by myself and so I knew I had to call 911, but I still had to do the compressions. I called 911 and I was trying to hold the phone and trying to do compressions and (the operator) told me to put the phone down but don’t hang up.
“We live maybe a half-mile, if that, from the fire department. So I could hear the sirens coming. So I calmed down and just started the CPR again.”
Eight firefighters from the San Luis Obispo Fire Department and a San Luis Ambulance crew all converged on the Jones’ home. After Beverly left Michael long enough to let them in, they went to work and had to use an AED three times on Michael to get his heart started again.
“I heard them have to put the paddles on him and do the “clear” three times. So essentially in my brain, I think he died three times. I heard one of them say ‘Go check on the wife,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Oh no! That’s me,” she continued, adding she was downstairs trying to calm their dog, Bella, a protective Weimaraner who had been frantically barking when the responders invaded her home.
By that time, she was sequestered downstairs as the EMS people worked to revive her husband. It wasn’t until she heard Michael moaning that she knew he was alive. He was taken to French Hospital Medical Center where he spent 11 days in the Intensive Care Unit, part of it in an induced coma-like state. Beverly learned from the doctors that her 59-year-old husband actually had developed pneumonia and had aspirated which caused sepsis, a blood infection, which led to his cardiac arrest.
Over the next several days, Michael and Beverly were visited by three of the eight firefighters and the ambulance driver who responded to their emergency. It turned out that firefighters from Station 1 and Station 4, along with an ambulance crew all responded to Beverly’s 911 call, and it was a good thing, too. It took many of them to get the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Michael strapped to a backboard and down their home’s narrow stairs. Coincidentally, one of the emergency responders was at San Luis Obispo’s Farmers Market giving CPR lessons to children.
“The ambulance driver gave me a big hug,” she said, recalling the days after the incident. “They were amazing. They just did their thing and it was pretty amazing. French, all of its staff, everyone in the ICU was amazing, too.”
Beverly learned from a nurse in the ICU that what she did to keep her husband alive as she waited for help was pretty amazing, too. The nurse told Beverly that there was another man in the ICU who hadn’t received CPR prior to the EMS response and she said they weren’t sure if he was going to make it.
Michael is back at home with an internal defibrillator inserted into his chest and outside of a sore throat, which resulted when he removed his own aspirator, and a few cracked ribs, courtesy of Beverly’s energetic CPR, he’s doing fine.
“I can remember in the class they kept saying ‘Don’t be afraid if you hear ribs pop, or you break ribs.’ Part of me was thinking I’m not hearing anything popping, so I don’t know if I’m doing it right,” she said, recalling her latest CPR instruction. “I didn’t find out until a week later, the doctors said he had a couple of fractured ribs. I was like ‘Oh, I must have done it right.’ Two weeks later, that’s the only thing that’s bothering him is the fractured ribs.”
The whole experience proved just how valuable taking those CPR classes through PG&E was to her and her husband. It also had her thinking back to all of those Safety Minutes she has been through.
“The thing is, is I was always the one who was reluctant to raise my hand when they asked for CPR certified. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be responsible for someone else. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. There’s just something that makes you hesitant to go, ‘Hey, yeah, I’ll be the one that saves that person’s life,’” she admitted, adding that has all changed, now. “Essentially, for people who don’t know what to do, they need to do something. Do anything.
“It was strictly God and adrenaline that got me through it,” she added. “People ask me ‘Do you know how many compressions you did?’ I have no idea. ‘Were you tired?’ I don’t remember.”
It’s what she did remember that saved her husband’s life.
“God bless Beverly!” Michael said, adding he hopes everybody who knows them or hears their story learns from their experience. “Learn CPR. Strangers and, more importantly, your family may need to depend on it.”
The Red Cross offers a wide range or CPR/AID/First-Aid training courses. Find an upcoming class near you by visiting redcross.org/take-a-class.
Beverly’s story is part of the Heroes for the American Red Cross series, where local, everyday heroes are honored for their compassion and courage. Learn more at redcross.org/sloheroes.
It’s that time of year again. Time for candy canes, gingerbread cookies, and figgy pudding – whatever that is! That’s right, it’s the holiday season and time for me to stuff my face with delicious treats before New Year’s resolutions kick in. But it’s also a time for something even more sinister, that you may not have considered. It’s also the time of year where home fires are the most frequent.
Amidst the holiday cooking, festive baking, and Christmas decorations, danger can lurk behind every corner of the home, ready to steal your holiday joy. But don’t get your Christmas lights in a twist, because the Red Cross is here with a few tips on how you can keep your community safe during the holidays.
1. Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini light sets in one outlet.
2. Choose decorations and artificial trees that are flame resistant or flame retardant. Place the tree away from heat sources and exits. Water real trees daily.
3. Never leave portable heaters or fireplaces unattended. Make sure you have working smoke alarms. Keep any objects at least three feet away. I’m looking at you, stockings!
4. Holiday safety is a true community effort. You can help the Red Cross build safer communities through your holiday generosity. This year your local Red Cross is grateful to be working with the Ventura County Star for the annual Bell Ringer campaign. The Red Cross, along with two other local non-profits, will be the beneficiary or your charitable donations through the program. With your support, Red Cross volunteers will be able to install free smoke alarms and teach local families the importance of fire safety.