Every eight minutes the American Red Cross responds to a disaster, providing emergency shelter, hot meals and financial support to families in need.
Added to their ever-expanding list of services such as blood donations and community education, the Red Cross also works with the military to relay urgent messages between service members and their families through their extensive global communications network. The organization also runs lesser known programs to save families from the disastrous consequences of fire.
The first Colorado chapter of the Red Cross was chartered on Nov. 11, 1914. While volunteers from Colorado may be dispatched to disasters across the nation and overseas — like the 45 Colorado volunteers and staff sent to aid the victims of Hurricane Dorian — the El Paso County chapter spends much of its funds and energy on the Home Fire Campaign, which is a national program launched in 2014 with the goal of placing 100,000 smoke alarms in 100 cities across the United States.
“There are a mind-boggling numbers of home fires,” says Kate Walter, the public affairs media relations volunteer for the El Paso County chapter of the Red Cross. “The Fire Department will call the American Red Cross and our teams dispatch immediately. ARC takes over from the Fire Department’s liaison officer and provides the family with financial aid for lodging, comfort kits for the family and expertise. They go in and get them everything they need and everything they’ll need for the next day.”
The Disaster Action Teams are made up of volunteers, and as they are disaster responders, it is difficult to set up a schedule. Across southeastern Colorado in August, the Red Cross served 45 people and responded to 14 calls for help.
When the Regency Tower in Colorado Springs caught fire May 24, over 112 people were evacuated and taken to a local high school. It was the Red Cross volunteers who immediately responded to assist those who had been displaced by the blaze.
“Getting enough volunteers is a massive challenge. We need volunteers for the day-to-day work, people to tell our story, Disaster Action Teams, National Deployments and the Home Fire Campaign,” Walter said.
The Red Cross is wholly funded by private donations.
“We are so limited on our Home Fire Campaign, we don’t have enough smoke alarms to fulfill the need.”
While the Red Cross is a national organization, awareness and community level support of their projects, like the Home Fire Campaign, is vital. A working smoke alarm is something many across the nation take for granted, but it is a small, simple device that has huge potential to save the lives of those whose homes are not equipped.