Michigan Red Cross assists nursing student who lost everything in apartment fire

When fire ripped through the Riverview Crossings apartment complex in Riverview, Michigan late Easter night, resident Mykela (MY-keel-ah) Lane wasn’t at home. She had previously been home for 11 days in quarantine due to COVID-19 and was enjoying her first day out celebrating Easter with her family and friends.

“A neighbor called my cell phone the next morning to check on me and asked if I was alright,” Mykela said. “This was the first I’d heard of the fire and quickly drove to the scene with my boyfriend.”

When they arrived, the fire was still fully-engulfed with smoke and fire billowing out of her apartment window.

“I was so distraught at the sight,” she added. “I was crying and panicking at which point we left the scene because I couldn’t watch it burn anymore.”

The 20-year-old nursing student lost everything in the fire, including her books and laptop. She points to the assistance of the American Red Cross as a source of comfort during the most difficult time of her life.

“I met with the Red Cross every day. They really helped me a lot,” she said. “The provided me with money for clothes, a hotel room and lunch and dinner. I thought I’d be alone. The Red Cross assistance really comforted me.”

Mykela has since returned to work and is currently staying with her mother while she looks for a new apartment.

“I didn’t know what to do or how to deal with this,” she said. “The Red Cross was so helpful.”

Long-time Michigan Red Cross volunteers say helping others is ‘a very precious thing’

On April 4, 2021 Long-time Red Cross volunteers Dick and Carole Beauchamp were getting ready for a much-needed vacation to Houston, Texas when a senior assisted living center in Flint, Michigan caught fire. After the call came in, the couple did what they always do – they quickly responded to provide assistance to the residents who had been affected. The Genesee County couple have been doing exactly that for more than 20 years. Dick handles logistics and Carole provides mental health counseling to those affected.

“When responding to a disaster, it’s kind of like starting a corporation that is just getting started,” Carole said. “Everyone has a different job. Everyone knows what their job is and it gets up-and-running quickly because we’re trained the same way across the country.”

With the recent Flint fire, the first thing Red Cross volunteers had to do was get those affected away from the scene and locate suitable lodging. In this case, it was a local hotel that had the available capacity. 20 units had been affected by the blaze which also resulted in one fatality.

“This particular hotel served breakfast, so we provided lunch and dinner to each resident’s door, making sure we maintained proper COVID-19 social distancing protocol,” Dick said. “We also assisted with any special needs such as shower stools and medications. The main thing we do is get them focused on tomorrow, not tonight.”

While Dick keeps busy getting fire victims the items they need to stay comfortable, Carole focuses on the mental health of those affected. She conducts one-on-one meetings with those who may be experiencing anxiety or any other mental health issue. Since the pandemic, this process has been very different for Carole.

“It’s been difficult for me because, as a therapist, I usually see eye-to-eye with the person because so much of the communication is done through body language,” she added.  “It’s more difficult talking on the phone with them. I can’t even hold their hand to comfort them.”

Volunteers like Dick and Carole are the lifeblood of the American Red Cross successfully completing its humanitarian mission. Both say after the hundreds of fires they’ve responded to, they’ve never met a victim who wasn’t grateful to see the Red Cross during one of the most difficult times of their lives.

“Things like money, clothes and furniture can be replaced,” Dick added. “The one thing you can’t replace is your time. When you assist someone for two or three hours of your time, that’s a very precious thing.”

The Flint senior assisted living center disaster response wrapped-up the day before Dick and Carole were scheduled to fly to Houston to visit their son. All affected residents were able to return to the center and begin some normalcy in their lives.  This amazing couple were able to catch their flight and enjoy a well-deserved week-long vacation with family members.

Red Cross East Central-Bay Board Member Mike Snyder knows the importance of having a working smoke alarm in your home

“Fatal home fires frequently happen in homes without a smoke detector or with smoke detectors without working batteries,” said Mike Snyder.

Snyder of Auburn, Michigan knows firsthand the sad reality of fatal home fires. Mike first became a volunteer firefighter at the age of 16 and went on to become a fire chief for the Auburn-Williams Fire Department. As a longtime advocate for home fire safety, Mike has served as a board member of the American Red Cross of Michigan’s East Central Bay Chapter for eight years.

“The biggest myth about home fires is that you have time to get out,” said Snyder. “Home fires move quickly, and you may only have two minutes to get out before smoke, toxic gasses and heat will overwhelm you.”

That’s why the early warning provided by a smoke alarm is so important. Mike and the Red Cross recommend checking the battery of your smoke detector once a month. Many smoke detectors have a ten-year lithium battery, but regular checks of the device are important to ensure the device is working properly. This is as simple is pressing the button and hearing a sound. No sound? It’s time to replace the device.

A smoke alarm can provide an early warning; however, having planned escape routes is also critical.

“Everyone needs to understand at least two ways out of the house and where to meet outside so you can do a head count,” he added. “Once everyone is accounted for, this allows firefighters to shift from lifesaving objectives to property conservation efforts.”

These two simple steps – testing your fire alarms monthly and planning an escape route – will help prepare your family to survive a fire. Learn more at soundthealarm.org.

Michigan woman who lost home to fire surprised at how little time she had to escape the flames

In January 2011, Amy Krug of Fenton, Michigan was on her couch watching a late-night television show when she dozed off. Around 12:30 a.m., she was awakened by her dog, Tanner, who was acting strangely. Tanner was letting Amy know there was a fire in her utility room, even before the smoke detector went off. Amy says her furnace malfunctioned and gas was released.

“Once the furnace ignited, there was a ‘poof’ and the room was on fire,” she said. “Unfortunately, the utility room was full of various kitchen items we were storing temporarily as we were going to be getting a new appliance the next day and wanted a clear pathway for the delivery crew.”

These additional items coupled with typical utility room items provided the flames extra fuel and the fire ignited very quickly.

Once Amy realized there was a fire, she unsuccessfully attempted to put it out. She then grabbed her cordless phone to call 911. While on the line, flames had struck the electrical box and the phone went dead. That’s when she realized it was time to get out.

“I went back to my bedroom where my dog was hiding, grabbed him and tried to exit my home,” she added. “By this time, the house was filled with smoke down to my knees.”

With no electricity and no lighting, Amy and Tanner were forced to crawl out the front door to safety.

Tanner the Hero Dog

Michigan had just experienced a major snowstorm, so fire crews had a difficult time responding to the fire and had to bring in a tanker truck, which caused delays. Unfortunately, these delays contributed to the house being deemed a total loss.

“The only thing I left my house with was my dog. Luckily, friends and family sifted through the rubble over the next few days and were able to locate my grandmother’s wedding ring. My dog and that family heirloom were the only things that survived the fire.”

Amy says the thing that surprised her most was how quickly the fire spread.

“I’ve never had a house fire,” she said. “I assumed I’d have time to gather important items before getting out. That certainly wasn’t the case. I didn’t even have time to grab my purse, cell phone or car keys.”

Red Cross volunteers arrived at the scene to offer assistance. Fortunately, Amy had the assistance of nearby family members and her insurance company and was able to decline assistance. Many fire victims, however, rely on the assistance of the Red Cross to get through the days immediately following a tragic home fire. In fact, Amy’s sister suffered a similar fate nine years later and received assistance from the Red Cross which helped her get back on her feet.

Amy now has three-year-old twin daughters, Eleanor and Elizabeth, and plans to teach them home fire safety when they get older. She checks her smoke alarms monthly and has installed an escape ladder upstairs in her new home. She encourages others to do the same in the event it happens to them.

“It was comforting to know there were resources out there, like the Red Cross. Most people think of blood drives, flooding and hurricane response when they think of the Red Cross,” she added. “The Red  Cross is an organization we are very fortunate to have in our communities.”

The Red Cross urge families to equip their homes with working smoke detectors and develop a home fire escape plan. The following link provides information on the Red Cross “Sound the Alarm” campaign and how families can make their homes “fire safe”.

https://www.redcross.org/sound-the-alarm.html

Kalamazoo Disaster Response – Volunteer Spotlight!

Disaster Spiritual Care Volunteer, Dan Buchin

On March 18th, firefighters responded to an apartment fire around 8:45pm in Kalamazoo, MI. The fire was contained to only a few units, but smoke and water damage displaced many of the residents. Red Cross volunteers stepped in shortly after to aid the displaced residents. One of those volunteers is Dan Buchin who served as a Disaster Spiritual Care worker on the operation.

How long have you been with the Red Cross, and what made you want to join?

I have only been with the Red Cross during COVID. I started on May 4th, 2020.  I initially got involved as a Blood Donor Ambassador. I wanted to serve my community in a way that was very much needed. Working long hours as a Physician Assistant with the VA never allowed me time to get involved outside of work. 

What do Disaster Spiritual Care workers do?

Disaster Spiritual Care providers are ready and willing to be available to clients and staff of many denominations and faith communities. The Red Cross welcomes all, and Spiritual Care follows this practice of assuring a message of neutrality and impartiality. There is never an attempt to convert anyone to any belief system other than where they are. We offer to connect them, if possible, to a religious leader of their choosing in their local community. 

What made you want to become a Disaster Spiritual Care worker?

I became an ordained Episcopal priest in 1996 while I was working for the VA. I deployed last fall first to Pensacola Florida for Hurricane Sally and then to Bend Oregon for the fires as a shelter associate. There was a need for Spiritual Care Providers in Oregon so when I got back home, I was interviewed for this position.

What were some of the things you did during this disaster?

The DR in Kalamazoo was different because I was deployed virtually. There are not the opportunities to be with the clients as I would like.  But I was able to reach out to all those with a telephone number and an ability for text messages or emails. This allowed me to reach out to many of clients who were not in the shelter but residing with family or friends.

What is your favorite thing you get to do as Disaster Spiritual Care with the Red cross?

My favorite part is when I am there in dual roles. Because if I am delivering meals or sitting in the shelter lobby and visiting with the clients, I let them know I am also there as a Red Cross spiritual care provider. As the days go on, feelings of frustration, anxiety, and the sense of loss may start to manifest. They know that I am willing to be with them even if they do not actually ask for prayer. 

Is there anything from this disaster operation that stood out to you?

One of the responses had a client who was very fragile, and the apartment fire only exacerbated this. Through frequent check-ins with myself, DHS, and DMH, the shelter supervisor, and case management, a recovery plan was put into place for counselling appointments, transportation, and a visit with his healthcare provider.

Preparing Children for Home Fires

When talking about home fire safety, it is important to include everyone in your household. Children under five are twice as likely to die in a home fire than the rest of the US population, and an estimated 300 people a year are killed due to children playing with fire. Taking a few simple, but important preventative steps can help bring those numbers down.

Simply keeping lighters, matches, and candles away from children is one easy way to prevent home fires. Explain to younger kids that fire can be dangerous. Invest in lighters that have child-resistant features on them and flameless electric candles. If you must have real candles, be sure to place it in areas where children cannot reach or accidentally knock them over.

It is also important to make sure children are included in home fire escape plans. Show children what the smoke detectors in your home sound like and what to do if one goes off. Practice your two-minute escape plan with everyone in your household, including children. Make sure everyone knows the best way to get out of each room in your home, and where to meet up outside. Consider getting escape ladders for second and third floor rooms. Also think about getting quick-release devices for barred windows and doors. Make sure children know how to use all safety equipment.

For children who are too young to self-rescue designate someone in your household to make sure they get out of the house in the event of a fire. It can be beneficial to choose a person who sleeps close to the child in need of rescue in case the fire happens at night. Make sure everyone in your household knows who the designated rescue person is so that more than one person does not try and rescue the same child.

Children may be concerned about family pets or special items when it comes to home fires. It is important to emphasize that we NEVER go back into a burning building. It can be helpful to explain to kids that the firefighters will always look for people missing in a home fire first. If you go back in to rescue a pet and get trapped yourself, it may take the firefighters longer to rescue your pet.

After a disaster, children may display some common behaviors. Anxiety, regression from milestones, sleep issues, or clinginess and separation anxiety may occur.  Knowing that these behaviors are normal and that your child may require some extra reassurance and comfort in this time is beneficial. As the adult in their lives, you can stay positive with words and actions, try to keep at least one routine in your day the same as before the disaster, and make sure to take care of yourself so you can be there for the children in your life.

For more information contact your local Red Cross chapter about preparedness education classes. Prepare with Pedro is designed for K-2nd grade, while the Pillowcase Project is for 3-5th grade students. You can also “Become A Preparedness Champion” online at https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/teaching-kids-about-emergency-preparedness/prep-champion.html

Home Fire Safety

Did you know, eighty percent of Americans don’t realize home fires are the most common disaster in the nation? In a typical year, home fires claim more lives than all natural disasters combined. Yet only 26 percent of families have made and practiced their home fire escape plans.

When a fire happens every second counts! Experts say that you may have two minutes or less to escape your home in the event of a fire. This is why it is so important to practice with all the members of your household what to do in the event of a home fire. It is also important to make sure you have the proper amount of smoke alarms in your home to alert you of smoke or a fire.

Smoke detectors should be on every level of your home, in every bedroom, and outside sleeping areas. You should replace smoke alarms that are older than ten years. You should test your smoke alarms once a month and change the batteries once a year if required.

In addition to maintaining smoke alarms, you should practice your home fire escape plan with everyone in your household at least twice a year. Discuss with household members two ways out of every room in your home. Also, decide together on a meeting spot outside your home where household members can meet once they have escaped the fire. A meeting spot should be a safe distance away from your home, such as a landmark in your yard, a mailbox, or a neighbor’s home.

Once you have decided how you will escape and where to meet, practice the plan and try to escape in under two minutes. Practice at different times during the day and start in different rooms to get familiar with what to do at all times. Make sure to practice the plan with everyone in your household, including pets! Explain how important it is to practice and be able to escape quickly. A few minutes of preparation now, can have immeasurable benefits in the future.

Women’s History Month – The Donut Dollies

The Red Cross served in many areas during several wars. However, the donut dollies are a unique piece of history not many know about. Women volunteered to go across oceans to serve American soldiers on enemy lines. Bringing with them a sense of familiarity and a reminder of what the soldiers were fighting for.

The Donut Dollies from the Red Cross first came about during World War II. They drove refitted military trucks, called “club mobiles”, and traveled to the front lines to deliver entertainment and hope to the soldiers there. The women, recruited by the Red Cross, had to go through a strict selection process. Not just anyone could be a Donut Dollie. Applicants had to have a college degree, be between the ages of twenty-five to thirty-five, pass rigorous physical examinations, and demonstrate a quick wit and can-do attitude.

The Red Cross had several fixed sites where GIs could go for some rest and relaxation on their days off. However, not all soldiers could reach these clubs, so the Red Cross decided to bring the clubs to them via the club mobiles. Stocked with donut-making machines, magazines, cigarettes, gum, and other comforts of home the trucks traversed the war front, landing in camps with tired soldiers happy to see a friendly face.

During WWII the women did their best to lift the spirits of the war-weary GIs while facing danger themselves. One Donut Dollie, Jill Knappenberger recalls going to visit the 106th unit where she knew her twin brother Jack, was deployed. They had planned a party for that Saturday night. However, when they arrived they found that they had been cut off and surrounded by enemy soldiers. Jill also learned after arriving that her brother had been killed that morning trying to help some of his men. They stayed in the camp for eight days until they were rescued by an air unit and told to leave the club mobile behind. Even after being rescued, they were still in danger, Jill states “we didn’t know if we were going to get home.” Jill had found herself entangled in the “Battle of the Bulge” which she eventually was able to escape. However, before Jill left Germany she witnessed some of the greatest atrocities ever committed by man in a liberated concentration camp. Her camera still in working order, Jill took several photographs of the horrific sights in front of her. Jill eventually returned home to the states with memories and stories to tell. This is just one example of the hardships and sacrifices the Donut Dollies endured to help those overseas.

Not just serving during WWII, Donut Dollies also served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. In Vietnam, there were no longer club mobiles and fewer donuts. Instead, these women were tasked with leading activities and games to try and cheer the soldiers up. One Donut Dollie who served during the Vietnam war remembers visiting a unit that had lost some of its members recently. She says “We were there to cheer them up. Our task seemed ludicrous. But, slowly, something began to happen. First, there were a few smiles, then, a couple of wisecracking jokes. Gradually the men got caught up in the program.” This is yet another example of how the Donut Dollies served a vital role during a time of great need and uncertainty.

The Donut Dollies displayed some of the core characteristics of Red Cross workers today. Determination, compassion, adaptability, they took what they had and made it work. Let’s take this Women’s History Month to remember and celebrate those women who were brave enough to answer the call. The women who donned the Red Cross and helped all those she could.

References

“How Red Cross Donut Dollies Supported U.S. Troops During Wartime.” Red Cross Chat, 5 June 2020, redcrosschat.org/2020/06/05/how-red-cross-donut-dollies-supported-u-s-troops-during-wartime/.

Apple, Carolyn. “World War II: ‘Donut Dollies’ & The American Red Cross.” Delaware Historical and Cultural Affairs, history.delaware.gov/ww-ii-donut-dollies-the-american-red-cross/. “Central Illinois World War II Stories: Jill Knappenberger, Champaign.” YouTube,

Rosie the Riveter in Flint!

Rosie the Riveter is a symbol of female strength and determination in a time of great need. On January 29th, she was immortalized at the Bishop Airport in Flint, MI. The sculpture, done by Joe Rundell, depicts a woman in a collared shirt and a familiar bandana. Her bicep flexed; this woman seems ready to take on the world.

Rosie the Riveter first appeared in the World War II-era when women were called upon to fill jobs normally done by men. Many of these women had children at home, so the US needed something to motivate them to do their patriotic duty. Enter Rosie the Riveter.

The first time Rosie showed up in propaganda was in 1942 by an artist named J. Howard Miller. This is the image that we all associate with Rosie the Riveter, with her polka-dotted bandana and blue collared shirt. However, this image was titled “We Can Do It!” and had no association with Rosie at the time. Rosie showed up in a song written in 1943 called “Rosie the Riveter” by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb. The song is about the American woman doing her patriotic duty on the home front!

Inspired by the song Norman Rockwell drew what he thought Rosie the Riveter might have looked like. This was a much more masculine version of the character. With brawny biceps, eating a sandwich, with “Mein Kampf” (Hitler’s manifesto) crushed under her boot. The lunchbox she carries has her name “Rosie” on it, so there’s no mistaking who this character is supposed to be.

This character inspired many and women began to work in traditionally “masculine” jobs to support the war effort. These women overcame many obstacles and oftentimes had to take turns watching over each other’s children. But there was work to be done, and far be it from American women to leave the call unanswered. Rosie the Riveter was, and still is a symbol of strength, determination, and independence for women all across America.

Heroes of March

March is Red Cross month! This month the Red Cross honors its volunteer heroes and asks everyone to be a hero for someone in need. There are so many ways to help others with the Red Cross. You can become a volunteer, give blood, learn skills to save lives, or donate on Red Cross Giving Day (March 25th).

For Michigan’s 2021 virtual fundraiser we have decided to combine Red Cross Month with the fun of March Madness Basketball Tournament to create heroes of March! We will be raising funds for the whole month of March. There will be a virtual event held from March 24-27th. This event will have a silent auction, sponsor opportunities, mission moments, and Red Cross’s version of “chalk-talks” and sports broadcasts. Join us as we partner with Fox Sports, John Beilein, and other basketball VIP’s to help us fundraise for the important mission of the Michigan Red Cross. We have a $200,000 goal, and we’ve already reached $65,000, which is only thanks to our amazing donors!

Do you know some heroes in your community? Nominate them to be a Hero of March! There are several categories to be nominated in, so whether your hero donates blood whenever they can, or provided first aid to someone using skills they learned through the Red Cross, there’s a place to recognize them. The winners of this award will be announced at the virtual event on March 24th at 5 pm. Visit the website below and enter your nominee for the award.

Visit, https://www.redcross.org/local/michigan/about-us/news-and-events/events/heroes-of-march.html for more information, register, donate or browse auction items.