Thursday, November 25, 2010

Have a Fire-Free Thanksgiving

We are thankful for being safe this holiday…

Imagine this scenario: You are in your home laughing with your loved ones on this day of thanks. You are so grateful to be in their company and love seeing the similes on their faces once dinner commences. There is an air of togetherness and happiness as the nostalgia begins to enter the room. Then everything changes. The next thing you smell is smoke. There is a black cloud pouring from the kitchen, yet you cannot find where it is coming from. The fire begins to gain momentum and spreads into your living room where the dinner table is set. The heat is so oppressive that you cannot breathe. You wonder where everyone is…‘We have to get out!’ you scream. Please let everyone be safe…

This is an all too common scenario for families on Thanksgiving Day. In fact, 69 percent of fires occur as a result of cooking on this day of thanks. In a Red Cross and National Fire Protection Association study, results showed that 37 percent of people admitted to disabling a smoke detector when it was activated unexpectedly.

The Chicago Red Cross hopes to help families prevent Thanksgiving Day fires by offering ten fire safety tips:

1. Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen even for a short period of time, turn off the stove.

2. If you are simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling food, check it regularly, remain in the home while food is cooking and use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking.

3. Be alert. You won’t be alert if you are sleepy, have taken medicine or drugs, or consumed alcohol that makes you drowsy.

4. Keep anything that can catch fire—potholders, wooden utensils, food wrappers, towels or curtains—away from your stove top.

5. Make sure your sleeves are out of the way when cooking. Wear tighter fitting clothing with shorter sleeves.

6. Have a “kid-free zone” of at least 3 feet around the stove and areas where hot food or drink is prepared or carried.

7. Never hold a child while cooking, drinking or carrying hot foods or liquids.

8. Turn the handles of pots and pans on the stove inward to avoid accidents.

9. Keep pets off cooking surfaces and nearby countertops to prevent them from knocking things onto the burner.

10. Test your smoke alarms by pushing the test button. Replace batteries at least once a year.

Year-round Safety
In addition to preventing cooking fires, families can stay safe all year by following these additional tips:

• Keep items that can catch on fire at least three feet away from anything that gets hot, such as space heaters.
• Never smoke in bed.
• Talk to children regularly about the dangers of fire, matches and lighters and keep them out of reach.
• Turn portable heaters off when you leave the room or go to sleep.

Smoke Alarms
• Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Check monthly that smoke alarms are working properly by pushing the test button.
• At least once a year, replace the batteries in your smoke alarms; every 10 years, replace the entire smoke alarm.

Make a Fire Escape Plan
• Make sure all household members know two ways to escape from every room of your home.
• Decide where you will meet outside in case of fire.
• Practice escaping from your home at least twice a year and at different times of the day. Practice waking up to smoke alarms, low crawling and meeting outside. Make sure everyone knows how to call 9-1-1.
• Teach household members to STOP, DROP and ROLL if their clothes should catch on fire.

Please stay safe and have a fire-free Thanksgiving this year. Enjoy your family and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving from the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago!

Friday, November 12, 2010

As we open our hearts to our heroes...

I have lived my entire life proud to wave my nation’s flag. While none of my immediate family is serving in the army, my family does have direct ties to the U.S. military. Both of my grandfathers, my uncle and father served our country. My Papa Richard, for example, served our nation during WWII in the 8th air force, where he worked as a mechanic. For almost two decades I thought that he never fought in any campaigns; I was under the impression that he was never faced with the true horrors of war. However I recently found out that I was wrong. To me, my grandfathers, uncle and father are heroes. In a time of chaos and destruction they were willing to fight for something they believed in and that is truly overwhelming to me. I feel extremely blessed to be a part of them.

My family represents a small fraction of thousands of men and women who have served the United States of America. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend an event at Soldiers Field where Mayor Daley and Senator Dick Durbin honored all the veterans who served the U.S.

As the speakers talked on, I felt tears swell in my eyes. I was overwhelmed with happiness, pride and sadness. I couldn’t believe how humble and extraordinary these people are. They have more courage than I could ever acquire. And they have been through more than I will probably ever go through in my entire life. They represent so much and have given us more than many thought possible. One veteran said, “We never thought of ourselves as heroes.” That, to me, is remarkable. I wondered how he could not think of himself as a hero. That is exactly what all of the veterans and current soldiers are. To me they are more than heroes.

As the keynote speaker took the stage he said, “Freedom is not free.” Freedom is so delicate. It is something many take advantage of. Sometimes we don’t realize what we have. Above all else, it is freedom that the many men and women who serve our country fight to protect. Freedom isn’t free. Lives are risked every single day to ensure that it is protected.

Both Mayor Daley and Senator Dick Durbin mentioned that just within this week two young soldiers, one of whom is my age-20, lost their lives. I thought to myself, why? After an entire day of thinking I still don’t have an answer. Those two men were really boys. They were only 20 years old and showed had courage to witness war the tragedies of war. That speaks unbelievable volumes. The world has a funny way of showing you what you are thankful for. And I am thankful for them. Their strength encompasses me with pride and gratitude. Thank you to all of our veterans and those who serve our country today and every day. You are our true heroes.

Help the Chicago Red Cross say thank you to all those who serve us through our Holiday Mail for Heroes program. Between September 7 and December 10, the public is invited to send a “touch of home” through holiday cards that contain messages of cheer and appreciation. “Sending a greeting card is a small effort that makes a big impact for our American heroes during the holiday season,” said Erin Counihan, Disaster Services Respondent at the Chicago Red Cross. “The American Red Cross serves and supports members of the military, veterans, and their families by providing emergency communications, comfort and assistance each day. The Holiday Mail for Heroes program continues the Red Cross tradition of service to the armed forces.”

Holiday cards should be addressed and sent to:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Please be sure to affix adequate postage. Cards must be received no later than December 10. Cards received after this date will be returned to senders. For reasons of processing and safety, participants are asked to refrain from sending “care packages,” monetary gifts, using glitter or including any inserts with the cards.

Visit for a full list of recommended guidelines and best practices on the Holiday Mail for Heroes program.

Additional ways to become involved with the campaign include connecting with fellow card senders through Facebook at and Twitter at using the hashtag #holidaymail.

Visit to learn more about the Chicago Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Red Cross Thanks and Recognizes Our Heroes

Don’t ask me why, but growing up I was always a history junkie. I blame it all on my 4th grade teacher because after reading Number the Stars I read every historical fiction book and watched every movie about World War II. To this day, when I think of the courageous, brave, and capable soldiers who stood in the face of danger and fought in the front lines of World War II, I envision Jude Law in Enemy at the Gates or Byron Henry from Winds of War. It wasn’t until Wednesday October 20, 2010, when I met Michael C. Bilder of General George Patton’s Third Army, author of “A Foot Soldier for Patton,” that I put a new face on these heroic soldiers I had grown up reading and learning about. It was as if all the characters I had read and watched popped out and introduced themselves to me.

Mr. Bilder served with the 5th infantry Division and fought in all five of the Third Army’s campaigns; fighting in France, Luxembourg, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. While stationed in England in 1943 Mr. Bilder received training from the American Red Cross as a “combat lifeguard” in preparation of D-Day. A combat lifeguard, while wearing 60 lbs. of equipment, must jump 25 ft. into a pool covered with burning oil. Once in the water, he had to shed his helmet, rifle, and rucksack and swim 75 yards underwater. Mr. Bilder used his newly acquired skills to dive after fallen GIs, unhook their equipment, and get them back to surface. It is for this that the American Red Cross decided to award him with the Lifesaving Award for the Professional Responder; for saving numerous GIs from drowning, including those who were previously wounded.

The American Red Cross’s Lifesaving Award is not the first award Mr. Bilder has won; in fact it is just one in a pile of impressive achievements and awards from numerous countries (one from Luxembourg, France, Czech Republic, and two from the USA). However, while all the other medals he has won (apart from his first Bronze Star Medal) have been given to him because of the number of lives he took during batter, The American Red Cross’s Lifesaver Award “is the most meaningful because it represents the lives I have saved, not taken.

Finally the day had come, all my reading was done and I was on my way to meet the heroic Mr. Bilder. As I walked into his house, saw him sitting on a big green padded lazy boy chair. When I introduced myself as an intern for the Red Cross a huge smile spread across his face and he said, “
The Red Cross! The Red Cross gave me my stripes. I should be honoring them, not them me.”

As the day continued I came to realize that being a soldier isn’t about being a hero or getting awards, it is about serving your country, your people, and everything you believe in. Mr. Bilder went to Europe and fought a war far from our soil because he felt it was his duty, just as soldiers are doing today in Iraq. It is our duty as Americans to not only honor them and their courageousness, but never forget the battles and struggles they have fought to protect our liberty, democracy, and country. What they have done to protect us.

As Mr. Bilder said “I have always done amazing things I suppose, but I am really just a regular Joe.”

More pictures of our visit with Mr. Bilder

We have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season, and the soldiers in the armed forces is one of them. We are inviting the public, until December 10, to send a "
touch of home" to the armed forces through hoilday cards; a small effort that goes a long way and impacts the hearts of our American Soldiers who can't be home with their families this holiday season. Please, get involved and send your holiday cards today:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

"I am alive"

The confusion and chaos of conflict and disaster separates families just when they need each other most, causing unbearable suffering. Often, the three simple words “I am alive” may be all that’s needed to ease the minds of loved ones. Known as Restoring Family Links, The American Red Cross works through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Red Cross and Red Crescent societies worldwide to search for missing loved ones and reconnect families.

“I am so happy to know my family is well.”

Onesphore Ndaribitse was living with his wife and four young daughters in a refugee camp in Tanzania. When the camp closed in 1996, they were forced to separate camps and lost contact. For more than 12 years, Onesphore heard no news about his family’s well-being.

Now living on the North Side of Chicago, Onesphore opened a tracing inquiry with the Greater Chicago Red Cross. We were thrilled to inform him that his family was alive in Rwanda. We brought Onesphore handwritten messages and photos of his adolescent daughters – just babies last time he saw them. Thanks to the Red Cross Network, Onesphore and his family are in touch and communicate regularly through free Red Cross Messages.

This past week I visited Onesphore because we had another message from Rwanda. It was our first time meeting and his timid character and limited English proved to be an initial barrier. However, the minute I tried to communicate in French, his face lit up. He appreciated our visit and personal care in delivering the news directly to him. At the end of our visit, Onesphore walked us down to our car. We said good-bye in French and he waved back to us with a big smile.

Red Cross Message from Rwanda

The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago helps to reconnect families each year, with services including:
Locating missing loved ones separated by armed conflict or disaster;
Sending Red Cross Messages between separated family members - civilians, prisoners of war and political detainees;
Obtaining information about the fate of civilians, including those separated during the Holocaust and World War II;
Providing Certificates of Detention to former detainees visited by the ICRC;
Securing ICRC travel documents for people who have been offered permanent resettlement; and
Providing information and referral services.

For more information about the Restoring Family Links program, please contact Emma Crandell Ratajczak at or 312.729.6238.

Meredith Sanna, International Services Intern

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Can you save a life?

Silence. Then panic comes like a hurricane consuming every nerve in your body. What can I do, you think. Can someone help? Please, someone help!

I can only imagine this was the reaction a mother experienced last week when her young and precious son began choking on a piece of candy at a local restaurant near Highland Park, Illinois. Thankfully Susan Sak was there to save the young child’s life. Susan is a hero. She is someone who, in a moment of truth, was fearless and I deeply applaud and respect her for that.

As I was interviewing Susan I pictured the chain of events unfolding. A mom overwhelmed with panic, shouting for help. The boy unmoving and unable to breath. The restaurant manager hastily reaching for the phone to call 911. People watch on. Nobody knows what to do. Susan is Red Cross certified in CPR and is trained on how to react in these types of life threatening situations. She gives a few blows to the boy’s back and the candy is out. First there is calm. Then gratitude. She has saved his life.

As Susan and I talked on she mentioned that restaurant personnel especially should be CPR certified. For example, the Illinois Restaurant Association states that every restaurant must have an Emergency Care for Choking poster, which “explains emergency care for conscious and unconscious choking victims. It has a place to list an emergency phone number. It must be posted in every foodservice facility.” But sometimes this is not enough. While some restaurants argue that they do not want their employees to be CPR certified because of liability, high turnover and cost to train employers I ask- can you put a price on saving someone’s life? Besides, the Red Cross has several low-cost alternatives.

For example the Chicago Red Cross website houses a free video and printable How To for CPR that could be found
here. In response to the liability issue know that according to the Good Samaritan law anyone who gives cardiopulmonary resuscitation in “good faith” is “exempt from civil liability” (Illinois General Assembly).

When people are at their most vulnerable moments it is up to us to provide the help they deserve. Learning the basics of CPR can make all the difference in the world. How would you feel if you could save someone’s life?

If you think your child is choking, ask someone to call 911 immediately and take three simple steps to assist; check, call, care.

Check to see if there is an obstruction or loss of breathing, if either are present ask someone to Call 911 and administer Care. If you find something lodged in the victim’s throat, use the Five and Five Method. Lean the person forward and give FIVE sharp back blows between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. If the obstruction isn't dislodged, stand behind the person and give FIVE quick, upward thrusts into the abdomen. Repeat back blows and abdominal thrusts as necessary.

This is a general guidance and does not substitute for formal training. If you haven’t been trained please take a CPR-First Aid class so you can be prepared for these emergencies. Visit or call 312-729-6100 to register for a class.