Friday, January 16, 2015

My View of Fire Preparedness

I can sit here and give you statistics on why we should be prepared in the event of a home fire; 2,500 people are killed each year from home fires and 13,000 people are injured. I can sit here and tell you home fires are the biggest emergency in the United States; the American Red Cross answers a home fire every 8 minutes in the U.S. But will that convince you to prepare your family for a home fire?

You may say “yes” at the moment, but life gets busy and sometimes we put emergency preparedness at the bottom of our “to-do” list. I know I might put it on the bottom of my list and I did. Actually, it wasn’t even a thought before I was a part of Red Cross. To even try to get me to listen or even do something, I would have wanted for someone to make it real, tell me a story or an experience. That may seem silly, but tugging at the heart strings works for me.

Many times we don’t want to think “What if?” We don’t want to think about the bad things that may happen, but going into a home after something bad happens really hits hard. Some of our DAT members have answered calls where there have been fatalities, but some have been lucky enough to answer calls where it was only one room of the house that was damaged.

Last month I went on a call where the back room of the house had been set on fire; what had alerted them to the fire was the one smoke detector that worked in the home. I had a chance to speak to the woman of the house, and she said they had disconnected the main smoke detector in their home because it went off every time they cooked. I explained to them they can always move the smoke detector to another location in the home. I showed her that had it not been for the smoke detector in the back room, they could have lost the whole house.

I am always giving my friends and family tips on how they can be fire safe. I tell them to check their smoke alarms every month, make an emergency plan, and to invest in a fire extinguisher. I’m sure they must think I’m a crazy nag, but then it makes me think about all the people I meet who mention they don’t have a smoke alarm. Many of us don’t think about not having one, because it’s so normal for us to have one in our home. I guess it’s another one of those things we just don’t think about; especially when you think that a piece of plastic can save your life.

The other AmeriCorps members and I give Be Red Cross Ready presentations, and teach children emergency preparedness with The Pillowcase Project. We teach members and participants of an organization how they prepare, not just for home fires, but prepare for any emergency. We are also lead instructors during our Team Firestopper seminars; these seminars give us a chance to go into a community and teach them how to prepare their homes and families before a fire starts. We teach 6 different areas of fire prevention; get a kit, make a plan, prepare all family members, be informed, Hands Only CPR, and how to use a fire extinguisher, and at the end we give the participant a smoke and CO detector, fire extinguisher, and a surge protector. We give them what they need to be fire safe, but then what?

This month we are stepping up our fire prevention efforts. This month we have already had our Team Firestopper Fire Safety seminar in Selma, but tomorrow we will also host the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign. Southeast Fresno and Tulare teams will install smoke detectors for the residents of these communities. This will be our first of many in hopes to reduce home fire fatalities and injuries by 25% in 5 years. We are preparing three communities on fire prevention and preparedness all in the month of January.

Other fire preparedness events are taking place in the coming weeks. Visit our website for more details on how you can help empower families in your community to make smart decisions when it comes to fire safety.

Veronica Lases
AmeriCorps NPRC 2014-2015
Latino Community Preparedness Coordinator
American Red Cross Central California Region

Friday, January 2, 2015

Giving Hope: A Local Disaster Response

One of the many goals of the American Red Cross during disasters services is to address our clients’ most serious human need. In most of the fire call cases I have been to the Red Cross provides: temporary housing, water, food, transportation, comfort kits, and referrals for food and clothing. The service that we provide to our clients addresses all serious human needs, and our clients are very appreciative for the comfort and hope that we’re able to provide.

Recently, the Kern Chapter was dispatch to respond to a house fire near downtown Bakersfield. Disaster Action Team (DAT) responders were able to gather comfort kits to meet the needs of the whole family.  As we loaded the Emergency Response Vehicle with water and comfort kits, our lead on call remembered to bring toys to comfort the children from the disaster their family had recently experienced.

Red Cross DAT responders assist a family after a home fire

My first contact with the client was via phone.  I was able to communicate with the father of the family, and I told him the Red Cross was on the way to help them out. Arriving at the scene I was able to meet the father and I gave each family member a hug and introduced my self to the family. I told them I was here to help them out. The client was stressed because he was at a loss; his bedroom was burnt to the ground. All of the clients clothes including the clothes of his children were located the bedroom that was affected due to the house fire.  The kitchen was completely affected and none of the food was saved. After completing the damage assessment, the client joined me and in the Emergency Response Vehicle and I completed the intake interview.

The next day, I was able to contact the client and do a follow up. The client communicated that they were going to live with extended family until his house got renovated. The client was able to purchase food and clothes with money that was provided. Within 24 hours, the Red Cross was able to provide all the basic needs of the family and then some. The client had a place to stay, water to drink, clothes for their kids to go to school the next day, and food. The following day, I was able to set goals with the client and also set a time frame of three weeks for his recovery plan.  The client has been very impressed with the service we provide, the client did not know ARC provided all these services and was very impressed.

Red Cross DAT volunteers respond to disasters like this every day in the Central Valley. Now you have a chance to help prevent home fires and save lives in your community.

The HFPC seeks to increase the use of smoke alarms in
neighborhoods with higher numbers of home fires.

The Home Fire Preparedness Campaign is a new initiative to install free smoke alarms in homes throughout the Valley. Join us on January 17, 2015 in Tulare or Fresno as we work to decrease death and injuries from home fires by as much as 25%.

CLICK HERE to sign up today!

Daniel Avina
AmeriCorps NPRC 2014-2015
Preparedness Coordinator
American Red Cross Central California Region

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The First Line of Defense

Household smoke alarms are often considered the first line of defense with regard to a family’s safety during a home fire.  Families generally only have 2 minutes to escape their homes before the fire becomes life threatening.  It is for this reason, that functioning household smoke alarms are paramount in providing for the safety of one’s family.  On average, thirty-six people suffer from a home fire every day.  Tragically, seven of those thirty-six perish during these daily occurrences. Therefore, having properly maintained smoke alarms installed in a household can mean the difference between being one of the thirty-six or being one of the seven.

In a survey conducted by the National Fire Protection Association, researchers discovered that about 97% of the total U.S. population had at least one smoke alarm in their household.  However, 37% of all home fire related deaths from 2007-2011 were in homes where no smoke alarm was present.

Furthermore, an additional 23% of casualties were in homes where smoke alarms were present but had been improperly tested or maintained.  This translates to a casualty rate in households with malfunctioning or no smoke alarms that is twice as high as a household with one functioning smoke alarm.

The Red Cross recognizes the importance of having this first line of defense and has launched a Home Fire Preparedness Campaign that involves, among other aspects, free smoke alarm installations in homes without proper protection.  This month, Red Cross volunteers traveled to the community of Weldon, California to install smoke alarms for 200 at-risk homes.  In addition, these volunteers educated families on proper smoke alarm maintenance and the importance of making and practicing a family emergency plan.

If you would like to learn more or you would like to get involved in the prevention of home fire related suffering, please contact the Red Cross Central Valley Region by visiting

Andrew Basham
AmeriCorps NPRC 2014-2015
Preparedness Coordinator
American Red Cross Central Valley Chapter

Friday, December 12, 2014

'Tis the Season to be Selfless!

Ah! The holiday season is here! Shopping malls are covered with poinsettias and raging with sales, the smell of peppermint lattes is filling the air, and Christmas music can be heard almost anywhere you go. Talk shows and media outlets are filling peoples' minds with the hottest must have items to stock under Christmas trees.

As we all put time and thoughts into our holiday parties and gift ideas, we sometimes forget about the true meaning of the holidays. Bob Hope once said, “My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?” The American Red Cross truly gives back all year around and is a selfless organization.

Bob Hope performing at Lackland Air Force Base, 1990
This time of the year can be devastating for those that have lost their home and most of their belongings to fires and mudslides. On Thanksgiving, I was called out to my first disaster response call. The home, where a family of five lived, was completely destroyed. The fire was caused by a candle that was left burning during the night. All the members of the family made it out of the fire unharmed; however they lost their beloved pet Pit Bull. As we spoke to the father of the family, he was overwhelmed with grief. Once we finished taking his down his information and arranged hotel accommodations and issued him a cash assistance card for him and his family, he broke down in tears of gratitude. This experience made me see how the Red Cross makes a difference in people’s lives.

The American Red Cross of the Central California Region doesn’t only respond to disaster calls. With help from volunteers and employees, our Team Firestopper campaign has canvassed more than 6,000 homes with home fire safety information since I started my service in September 2014.  We taught more than 100 families on how they can help prevent home fires and keep their families safe in the case of a disaster.

During the holiday season, the American Red Cross supports our nation’s military forces with Holiday Mail for Heroes. The Merced chapter recently had their Holiday Mail for Heroes event at their local shopping mall where many locals came to create and send cards of thanks to the armed forces.
Volunteers sorting Holiday Mail for Hero Cards
You can make a difference this holiday season - or any time of the year - by signing up as a volunteer and find opportunities in which you can help the American Red Cross make your community a safer place!

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Power to Save a Life is in Your Hands

Did you know that there is a course designed to simplify CPR? Hands-only CPR helps everyday citizens feel more confident to provide care.

Less than 1/3 of adults who suffer from sudden cardiac arrest get the help they need because people are too afraid that they are going to do something wrong. It is important to know what to do in an emergency and equally as important to have the confidence to act. Hands-only CPR takes minutes to learn and is easy to remember!

Here is a short video to help explain hands-only CPR step by step:

Step 1: Check the scene for safety and see if the person responds to you by tapping them on the shoulder and shouting ‘Are you ok?’

Step 2: Briefly look for signs of breathing.

Step 3: If they don’t respond, call or send someone to call 911.

Step 4: If the person is not breathing or is gasping prepare to give chest compressions.

  • Kneel beside them
  • Place the heel of one hand in the center of the chest
  • Place your other hand over that hand, lacing your fingers together
  • Position your shoulders directly over your hands, keeping your arms straight with your fingers off the chest

Step 5: Push hard and fast at least 2 inches then let the chest rise completely before pressing down again.

Step 6: Keep going until:

  • Person shows an obvious sign of life, like breathing
  • Scene becomes unsafe
  • An Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is ready
  • Too exhausted to continue
  • A trained responder takes over

Step 7: Get more training and encourage others to do so!

I would encourage everyone to further their knowledge by taking a First Aid and CPR course. It is recommended that every household has at least one member trained in these skills. Hands only CPR is a great place to start, doing something as simple as chest compressions can help. Compressions keep the blood flowing carrying oxygen which is vital in helping someone stay alive.

‘Be Red Cross Ready’ with hands-only CPR course are available at no cost through your local Red Cross Chapter. Contact us today to schedule a presentation!

Want to know more? Sign up for a First Aid/CPR course in your area and download our free First Aid mobile app!

Korri Faria
AmeriCorps NPRC 2014-2015
Preparedness Coordinator
American Red Cross Central California Region

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Immunized and Confused

I wanted to bring a few different conspiracy theories to you all so you could see what is floating around in the dark corners of the Web and maybe even have an answer when a member of the community asks what the Red Cross has to say about these rumors.

Over the past several weeks, the fear and lack of knowledge about Ebola has been made apparent with calls asking us to present on the topic. They want to know how the disease is spread, what the symptoms are and how likely they are to get the virus. Along with these concerns, there is a rumor that the Red Cross has been spreading the Ebola virus and that is the only way that people have been infected. Let me just state: that is FALSE!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease can be spread from infected human to human or infected bat/primate to human. A human can be infected with the virus through direct contact with an infected person’s blood or bodily fluids and the virus can only enter the body through broken skin or a mucous membrane. A human can also be infected by a bat and/or primate that is carrying the infection through the same method of transfer and additionally through consuming said animal that is infected with Ebola. It CANNOT be transferred through the air or through the water.

The symptoms can appear anywhere from two to twenty-one days after being exposed and they are very similar to the flu. They can involve a fever, headache, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, stomach pain, lack of appetite, joint and muscle ache and—the one that differs from influenza—unexplained bleeding and bruising. The virus can only be transmitted while these symptoms are present. The likelihood of getting the virus in the U.S. is low. If you are a healthcare worker in West Africa or a person living in those affected countries, than the risk is higher. As for us here, not traveling or caring for the sick, we should be worried more about the flu than Ebola.

Now to the really fun stuff: conspiracy theories!
The current theory that hits closest to home is about our Red Cross. If you have not heard it already, it has been rumored that the Red Cross is in cahoots with the U.S. government to infect the people of Africa so that the government can sneak into Africa for its diamonds and oil.

The Ebola virus and its varying strands have been around for decades, since 1976. Additionally, the Red Cross does not force vaccinations, and is not a government agency tied exclusively to the United States. The Red Cross an international organization that provides humanitarian relief to those who need it across the globe. At no time could the American Red Cross have more power over the other Red Cross and Red Crescent chapters.

Lastly, I will leave you with an excerpt from the American Red Cross’s response that I feel shows how amazing the Red Cross and its volunteers are and how a few crazy conspiracy theorists are not going to bring us down!

“These allegations are an insult to the 4,000 local volunteers- themselves citizens of West African nations-who have been working tirelessly to help their neighbors. These volunteers have worked around the clock to provide prevention education, assist with burials, and provide comfort to families impacted by Ebola. In addition, the Red Cross opened a 60 bed treatment center in Sierra Leone. Patients have already started to recover and have been released from the center.”

Alexandria Desiga
AmeriCorps NPRC 2014-2015
Preparedness Coordinator
American Red Cross Central California Region

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Guess Who's Back?!

Guess who’s back, back again, Vero’s back, tell a friend! So yes ladies and gentlemen, I am back for a second year of AmeriCorps, preparedness, and Team Firestopper. This year has already been adjustments all around. I had to say good bye to coworkers who made up the preparedness team and my AmeriCorps team. I have welcomed five new AmeriCorps members to our team; two of which I share a cubicle with, and welcomed a new boss. All these changes would be enough to drive Sheldon crazy, but not me! Let me explain these changes.  

Change #1: five completely different personalities, than Thing 1 and Thing 3 (yes Dr. Seuss reference) from last year, came into my world. At first meeting, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get along with them. This AmeriBunch, as I like to call the whole group, they’re a great group. They go from the theatrical to the “let’s get down to business” types. When it’s fun time, we laugh and dance our time away, and business time, we get things done. 

Change #2: What I call, the ol’ Switch-a-roo. My boss Alex was called to duty at Red Cross HQ, which meant he had to leave the AmeriBunch in someone else’s hands. To be honest, I was worried and anxious and scared, I was becoming Sheldon (again with the Big Bang Theory reference), but then I found out Amy would take over. As excited as I was, I was worried. How was she going to help me with Change #3?! It’s been two months, it’s been all about transition, but all is well with the AmeriBunch. 

So Change #3, well, this actually began during last term. Part of my assignment as AmeriCorps was to cover bilingual presentations, events and media. As time went on, we realized the Latino community that was not fully being reached. We would hear that many of our Spanish speaking emergency clients would deny Red Cross assistance. We then wondered if this was because of a language barrier and/or misinformation on how the American Red Cross can help our Latino communities. We know many have a misconception of the American Red Cross. It was almost distrust, a feeling that we would not help them because they did not have proper credentials or their citizenship was questionable. I understood, how not knowing if an organization would help, could feel and I felt that we should do something to break this barrier.

From this desire to help our Latino communities was the creation of our Latino Community Preparedness program. This program is designed to inform these communities on how they can prepare for any emergency, and how they can help save a life. It is completely focused on Latino (Spanish speaking) communities throughout the Central Valley and Kern counties. I am also hoping to grow our bilingual speaking volunteers and encourage them to gain experience from this program. A future, personal goal is to have this grow not only with Latino community, but also with other cultures with language barriers. I am bilingual in English and Spanish, but if I can encourage those who are bilingual in other languages, this program can grow and we can help more communities. 

I’m sure from other blogs written by the AmeriBunch, you were expecting to read on how to prepare for some emergency, but I felt like I needed to share my experience coming into a 2nd term of AmeriCorps and having things flip.  I knew I was ready for the changes and as scary as they seemed; they were actually very exciting. Cheers to the next 8 months!