Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Flirting for Disaster: An amazing way to contribute to the Red Cross

Know what's really cool about Chicago? All the young, swanky single professionals. You probably see them on the street as they scurry into their equally swanky offices or apartments and contemplate to yourself (out loud, of course, with hand to chin), " do I introduce myself to this seemingly elusive group? If only I could see their eyes under those dark, oversized sunglasses."

Admittedly, introducing yourself is a daunting task. Especially if you yourself are also hiding behind equally opaque and oversized eyewear, complemented by your "I'm on my way to the office" face which, as a rule, isn't particularly inviting.

So, what to do? Walk the streets searching for friendly glances? Stand on the corner handing out your business card to strangers? No way.

Doing the latter might earn you some spare change, but your best bet for meeting new people in this city is to attend one of the numerous networking events held every week in venues across Chicago. And, as an organization made up largely of young professionals interested in contributing to the community, the Auxiliary Board of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago has one of the best tickets town (don't be alarmed by the long name).

Their Flirting for Disaster social mixer series draws a young, philanthropic and professional crowd to upscale venues throughout the city. By attending an event, you're going to meet an outstanding group of like-minded peers while helping support the work of the local Red Cross as we respond to disasters in Chicagoland every day.

The last event, held at Rockit bar and Grill in River North was a huge success. With a raffle, DJ, salsa dancing and drink specials, the packed house had an amazing time. Next up is Summer Social at The Underground Chicago, one of the city's hottest nightclubs. The date is June 24. Click
HERE to check it out.

If you're interested in joining the Red Cross Auxiliary Board, click HERE to sign up. We're always looking for new members and it's a great way to contribute to your local Red Cross. For more information, contact Jessica Wheeler, manager of special events at (312) 729-6134.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Do you have questions about fire? Because we have answers!

Are home fires a big problem in the United States?
Sadly, yes. Last year, the Red Cross responded to more than 74,000 disasters, 93 percent of them were fire-related. In the Chicago area alone, the Red Cross responded to over 1,200 disasters last year, 90% of which were residential fires.

When do home fires happen?
Home fires can happen at any time, but they generally increase during the fall and winter, with December and January being the peak months. Home fires are also more common on Saturday and Sunday, and tend to peak between 6:00 and 7:00 PM.

Where are home fires most likely to start?
Home fires are more likely to start in the kitchen than any other room in the home. The second leading cause of home fires are heating sources like wood stoves, and fireplaces. Fires caused by smoking are the leading cause of deaths.

How can I prepare for a potential home fire?
Smoke alarms are a critical step in being prepared for a home fire. Smoke alarms should be installed outside each sleeping area and on each level of your home. If you and your family sleep with the doors closed, install smoke alarms inside sleeping areas, too.

My home has a smoke alarm, is that all I need to do?
No, to function properly, smoke alarms must be maintained. In 2005, the NFPA reported that 74 percent of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. Once a month you should use the test button to check each smoke alarm. And at least once a year, all smoke alarm batteries should be replaced. In addition, smoke alarms can become less sensitive over time and should be replaced at least every 10 years.

How can I create a fire escape plan?
Begin by determining at least two ways to escape from every room of your home. For floors above ground level, escape ladders should be stored near the window. Also, make sure to select a central location at a safe distance from your home where family members can meet after escaping. After creating and discussing your plan with all members of your household, the Red Cross recommends that you practice your plan at least twice a year.

If a fire happens, can I go back into my home if I’ve forgotten something?
Once you are out of a burning home, stay out! Call the fire department from a neighbor’s home or cell phone.

What if my escape route is covered in smoke?
If you see smoke or fire in your first escape route, use your second way out. If you must exit through smoke, crawl low under the smoke. If you are escaping through a closed door, feel the door before opening it. If it is warm, use your second way out. If smoke, heat, or flames block your exit routes, stay in the room with the door closed. Place a rolled towel underneath the door. Open the window- but do not break it. Signal for help waving a brightly colored cloth or shining a flashlight at the window. If there is a phone in the room, call the fire department and tell them your exact location.

How can I help victims of home fires?
The number of families that the American Red Cross supports in the aftermath of home fires has increased 10 percent since 2000. Your local Red Cross chapter depends on the generous support of community members like you to help our neighbors affected by home fires. You can help victims of home fires by ensuring your local Red Cross is ready to respond. Contact your local chapter at 312-729-6100 to make a financial contribution today.

How can I learn more about fire preparedness?
Visit or

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Everything, Gone." The Story of My First Fire Response

“Jeannie, borrow a t-shirt and a pair of jeans from someone. We’re going out with the DAT team.” Anxiety overcame me as I quickly jumped up and scrambled around looking for something I could wear other than what I wore to work today. It was my first disaster call with the Red Cross, and although I felt ready, I had no idea what to expect. After finding a pair of jeans, gym shoes and a t-shirt, I put on my Red Cross vest as Jackie, my boss, was preparing me for the disaster scene. She described to me the balance that is needed between trying to have the victims feel understood and doing our job to tell the Red Cross story, which includes securing photos and quotes from those whose lives were destroyed by a simple house fire.

As our Red Cross disaster services van pulled in front of the apartment, each of us were confused as to where the fire actually happened. A handful of tenants were outside the building when we pulled up, and we were at ease hearing that nobody got hurt, but the entire apartment seemed perfectly fine. From the outside, it was a six bedroom apartment building. On the inside, it was a disaster.

Broken glass, wooden pieces, and dripping water filled the stairway as we tried to squeeze past a couple people attempting to salvage any items of clothing that had the possibility of being worn again. The smell of chemicals, smoke, and water damage took over our bodies as we focused on trying to get up the stairs safely. As we reached what was left of the apartment, I realized I stepped on a Huggies diaper logo that was laid on the floor underneath the debris from the fire. To the left of it was a ruined baby carrier. It was terrifying.

The entire apartment was destroyed. The ceiling fans were melted downwards as if it was a flower waiting to open up its petals. The refrigerator, which seems so indestructible, was just a standing pile of garbage overflowing with unrecognizable items. The walls were torn down, and the ceiling had holes in it which frequently had more pieces falling. I couldn’t imagine how someone could work their whole lives for something, and have it all taken away from them in minutes.

Passion, the renter of the apartment, then walked through the door. She was completely overwhelmed and shocked by what used to have been her possessions, and what now was floating in puddles filled with garbage. Although I cannot understand what she is enduring, I felt her sorrow.

Passion’s neighbor Frankie, also a tenant in the building, said to me, “I am grateful nobody was sleeping. God was watching over us. It’s devastating when you lose everything you have. New furniture, gone. Memories that were in there, gone. Clothes. Everything, gone.”

-- By Jeannie Andresen, Marketing and Communications Intern at the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Safe Escape

If the smoke alarm in your home sounds you may only have a few minutes to get out safely. So remember these tips and practice them every few months so that you and your family can get out of a fire safely!
  • Make sure everyone can hear the sound of the smoke alarms and knows what your smoke alarms sound like.
  • Before opening a door, feel the doorknob and door. If either is hot, leave the door closed and use your second way out.
  • If there is smoke blocking your door or first way out, use your second way out.
  • Smoke is toxic. If you must escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to your way out.
  • If you can’t get to someone needing assistance, leave the home and call the fire department. Tell the fire department where the person is located.
  • If pets are trapped inside your home, tell firefighters right away.
  • If you can’t get out, close the door and seal vents and cracks around doors with towels or tape to keep smoke out. Call 911 or the fire department. Tell them where you are and signal for help at the window with a light-colored cloth or a flashlight.

Fire safety tips are brought to you by Team Firestopper! We’re working to stop fires before they start in your community! For more information or fire tips, visit or!


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

In Tennessee helping after the Floods

I've been deployed to Nashville to help people recover from the historic flooding that hit the area this weekend. I visited a shelter last night where 100 people were staying. Their stories were harrowing:

How do you know when you are experiencing the worst day of your life? Sherrie Yates is certain that Sunday's flood in Nashville was the most terrifying thing to ever happen to her.

Sherrie was sleeping at 7 a.m. when her young niece woke her up shouting, "There's water in the house!" Sherrie stepped out of bed into several inches of water. She quickly gathered her five children onto her bed and called 911. They watched in fear as the water rose and rose, eventually covering the bed. "The kids were crying," she said. Eventually, they were evacuated by boat.

"When we got to the shelter, I was barefoot," Sherrie said. Now, thanks to the Red Cross, Sherrie said all of her family's needs are being met. (Watch Sherrie's video to learn more about the shelter.) As she begins to worry about her longterm recovery, Sherrie is glad to have the emotional support of the Red Cross volunteers at the shelter. "You all have been so great," she said.

Another family at the same shelter is also focusing on looking forward. Julio McCormick evacuated through flood waters up to his chest. He brought his fiancé, sister and neighbor to a Red Cross disaster shelter because they had nowhere else to turn. "Before we got here, we weren't really sleeping or eating right," he said. "The Red Cross has really helped us through the process."

Another couple at the shelter, Howard Hillard and his wife Lynn, were nearly swept away when flood water came into their neighborhood. They clung to each other and a fence before being rescued. "I never dreamed water was so powerful," Howard said. They returned to their trailer today to find it covered in mud, almost everything they owned was ruined. The Hillards said they're extremely grateful to the Red Cross for giving them safe shelter, food and clothes. "We're staying positive," Lynn said.

To learn more, visit

-Kristin Claes is a communicator for the Greater Chicago Red Cross.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Don't let kids play with fire!

Kids playing with fire destroyed 14,500 buildings in one year. What can you do to stop kids from playing with fire?
  • Store matches and lighters out of children's reach and sight.
  • Never use lighters or matches as a source of amusement for children; they may imitate you.
  • Use only lighters designed with child-resistant features.
  • Explain to children that matches and lighters are tools for adults only.
  • Teach children to tell an adult if they see matches or lighters.
  • Never leave matches or lighters in a bedroom or any place where children may go without supervision.

These fire facts are brought to you by Team Firestopper! We’re working to stop fires before they start in your community! For more information or fire tips, visit or!

Sources: National Fire Protection Association