Red Cross Volunteer Still Remembers the Sound of the Alarm

Brian DeLoche
Brian DeLoche is a Red Cross volunteer from Beardstown. Brian serves on the disaster and communications teams – helping throughout the Central and Southern Illinois Region.

Imagine yourself trying to get to sleep on a typical hot, humid July night in central Illinois, in a home that has no air conditioning, in a room with only a 20-inch box fan to help keep you from sticking to the sheets.

As you finally find yourself about to sink into that blissful state called sleep, you hear your 5-year-old son’s voice in your ear.

“Dad, you need to come upstairs, I think there’s something wrong with the fan in my room. It’s making a loud squealing sound.” Bleary-eyed and feeling more than a little bit grouchy, I get up wondering what my boy has done now, and what I would find stuck in the blades when I get upstairs.

Together we start up the stairs, and by golly, the boy is right. There is a loud squealing sound.

I begin to think bearings in the fan motor have seized up, and the thought of having to buy another fan irritates me more. (Remember, I’m already hot, sleepy and grouchy.)

But after a few more steps, my sense of smell overrides my hearing. There is an unmistakable smell of smoke in the air, and soon my eyes are burning. I reach the top of the stairs, hit the light switch and nothing happens. Now I realize it’s not the fan making a squealing noise. It’s the smoke alarm at the top of the stairway. I send my son back downstairs to wake his mother, and tell her they need to get out of the house.

There’s no fire right now, but the room has more than enough smoke in it to tell me there soon will be if I don’t do something.

Before they head outside, my wife brings me a flashlight and I look for the source. It didn’t take long to realize the smoke was coming from a ceiling fan I had installed earlier in the day. I disconnected the fan, took it down and could see red glowing embers on the supporting wood in the ceiling. Then I saw the problem. One of the screws anchoring the fan to the ceiling had gone through the electrical wiring. Fortunately, for us, the circuit breaker tripped and cut power to that line before things got hot enough for a full-fledged fire to develop.

Suddenly I wasn’t grouchy any more. My grouchiness had been replaced by a sense of relief.  I was relieved to know my son was safe, that we were safe, and our home was not seriously damaged (except for that one piece of burnt wiring and that one piece of lumber with an extra-crispy edge).

These events actually happened one summer night in 1981, and now as I think back more than 35 years, I realize that a smoke alarm likely saved my son’s life, and certainly prevented a major fire in our home.

There are three working smoke alarms in my house today. Sure it gets annoying sometimes because they go off every time a frozen pizza gets popped in the oven, or every time the microwave popcorn gets a bit overdone. However, that minor annoyance also represents a certain peace of mind. It is a not so subtle reminder that the alarms are working, and that I don’t have to try and remember I need check them each time we move the clocks up or back one hour.

Smoke alarms save homes. Smoke alarms save lives.

This fall, Red Cross volunteers and our partners are coming together to Sound the Alarm: the installation of 100,000 free smoke alarms in more than 100 major cities across the country. In the Central and Southern Illinois Region, we will hold Sound the Alarm events in Bloomington-Normal, Decatur, Kewanee, Muscatine, Peoria and the Quad Cities. The installation and fire safety events will provide a lifesaving service in our quest to reduce death and injury from home fires in high-risk communities.

Here are three ways you can join in to help save lives in your own community: Sign up to volunteer to install smoke alarms, start a fundraiser to sponsor installations, or make a gift. For more information visit soundthealarm.org.

#EndHomeFires 

 

 

 

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In Memory of Christian

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Joy Sheehan reacts with surprise after learning more than 200 smoke alarms had been installed in 53 homes during the smoke alarm campaign conducted in her son, Christian Sheehan’s memory. Also pictured are Joy’s husband Robert and their daughter Cidnee.

Story and photo by Brian DeLoche
Red Cross Volunteer

More than 100 volunteers pushing bright orange shopping carts equipped with ladders, tools and smoke alarms paraded away from the Mattis Avenue Free Methodist Church March 25 intent on honoring the memory of one young man who died because his home lacked working smoke alarms.

The Champaign Fire Department, partnering with the American Red Cross, sponsored a home smoke alarm installation event to mark the first anniversary of the fire that claimed the life of Christian Sheehan, 23, March 26, 2016.

Clad in white T-shirts that bore a modified but familiar looking super hero logo that stood for “Sheehan Strong on the front, with the hashtag “#Christian Strong” on the back, the volunteers went door-to-door intent on installing smoke alarms and raising home fire safety awareness. Ironically enough, the route from the church to the neighborhood being canvassed led volunteers past the charred foundation, all that remains of the home Sheehan shared with a friend. Julie Shuler, 26, who was visiting Sheehan’s roommate, also died in the fire.

For the Sheehan family, the Home Fire Campaign marked the culmination of an emotional week that saw not only the anniversary of the fire, but the day that would have been their late son’s 24th birthday.

There were tears at the start of the day as friends and family remembered Christian. There were tears of joy and laughter as they shared remembrances of a young man his parents gleefully admitted “was no saint.” More importantly, there were tears of celebration at the end of the day when the announcement came that more than 200 smoke alarms had been installed in 53 homes in just 3 hours’ time. “This is so amazing,” Joy said. “I was hoping we would get 100. I never dreamed we’d get this many (installed).

“What we did today — what you did today — made a difference,” Champaign Fire Chief Gary Ludwig told the volunteers. “You made a difference because the probability is in the next 10 years, one of the homes that received smoke alarms today will have a fire, and the probability is what you did today may have saved lives. In the past year, we have lost four lives in home fires. I don’t want to see us lose any more.”

The day was also significant for Champaign Firefighter Ralph Russell. Mr. Russell was on duty June 21, 2007 when his engine was dispatched to a familiar sounding address.

“When we pulled up on scene, I told my lieutenant, ‘I have family that lives in this house. What am I supposed to do?” The lieutenant, Mr. Russell said, had never been in that situation before. He said, “I guess we have to go do our jobs.” Mr. Russell’s sister-in-law lost her husband and a child in that fire. “There were two smoke alarms in the house,” he said. “One didn’t have a battery in it, and the one had a battery in it but it was disconnected.”

Mr. Russell summed up the importance of the day’s smoke alarm installation campaign in just one sentence. “It’s such a minor thing that can result in a major loss if it’s not used.”

For Rob and Joy Sheehan, being part of the Home Fire Campaign was something they felt compelled to do. “It feels good being able to bring something so good out of something that was so devastating,” Joy said.

“You can be bitter, or you can be joyful,” Joy continued. “It’s what Christian would want us to do,” Rob added.

The Sheehans had great praise for the fire department’s effort to get the word out and get some alarms into peoples’ homes. “The fire department is like family to us now,” Rob added. “These guys are my brothers now.” The Sheehans also praised Deb Goettig, the American Red Cross Disaster Program Specialist for the Champaign area. “We couldn’t have done this without her help.”

“This was absolutely an unqualified success,” Fire Chief Ludwig added. It’s amazing to see so many people turn out not because they had to be here, but because they wanted to be here.”

The Sheehans now hope to make this an annual event to keep their son’s memory alive and to help prevent any more fire deaths in Champaign.

 

Five Lives Saved In Quincy

Home fires kill more people in an average year than every other domestic natural disaster combined. On average, seven people die every day from a home fire and 36 people suffer injuries.
 
To combat this problem, the American Red Cross introduced the Home Fire Campaign, a multi-year initiative to reduce home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent by the end of 2019.
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As part of the Home Fire Campaign, the Red Cross in collaboration with local fire departments and other community groups does community outreach – visiting homes to install free smoke alarms, replace smoke alarm batteries and help residents make home fire escape plans. To date, almost 240,000 smoke alarms have been installed nationally, including more than 2,200 installed in the American Red Cross Central and Southern Illinois Region.
 
Recently, as part of the Home Fire Campaign, volunteers installed free smoke alarms in the home of a young family of five in Quincy, Illinois. The volunteers helped the family to create a home fire escape plan and encouraged the family to regularly check the smoke alarms and practice their home escape plan.
Home Fire Campaign 2016
 Photo by Dennis Drenner for the American Red Cross
 
In January, the shrill sound of those newly installed smoke alarms alerted the family to a furnace fire in their home. The family was able to quickly evacuate and gather in their designated  meeting place outside of the home. Once outside of the home, the family called 9-1-1 and thanks to the fire department’s quick response, there was no major damage to the home.
 
Having smoke alarms and practicing an escape plan saved five lives – an entire family and their home. Imagine that – five lives saved because people cared.
 
The family shared their thoughts following the fire, “We were all home during the time of the fire. We heard the smoke alarms go off, and immediately got winter clothes on (because of the cold weather) and exited the home. We then called 911 and my kids went to the neighbor’s house. The fire department arrived and went into the house and put out the fire. It was a furnace fire. When I called 9-1-1, they told me to stay outside, which I did. When the fire department arrived, they shut off the power to the house and inspected the furnace. I guess there was something in the furnace that was burning and causing smoke, and if the smoke alarms didn’t go off . . . I believe it would have kept burning and caught the whole house on fire. Now, because of the extra warning and turning off the furnace before it could fully catch fire, we were able to move back in as soon as the furnace was repaired.”
 
Nationally, the Home Fire Campaign has saved 69 lives and we are grateful that five of those lives saved were from the Central and Southern Illinois Region.
 

Peoria Family Grateful to Super Heroes

The American Red Cross joined Dan and Rose Dickerson and their extended family when they visited South Side Trust & Savings Bank on Monday, November 23 to express their gratitude to the bank employees, who helped save Dan Dickerson’s life when he suffered a massive heart attack in the bank lobby.

On June 29, Dan Dickerson had a massive heart attack and suffered a serious hematoma on the back of his head, when he collapsed on the floor in the bank lobby. As he lay bleeding, Leigh Harkless administered first aid and checked to make sure that Dan’s airway was clear, and if he was breathing on his own. Leigh quickly realized that Dan had stopped breathing and his heart had stopped. Leigh hooked up the AED and as she prepared to administer CPR, the AED reading finished and delivered a shock to his heart, just as the paramedics arrived to take over.DSC02483

Leigh is quick to acknowledge it was a team effort that saved Dan Dickerson. Fellow South Side Bank employees Sara Johnson, Janelle Duggan and Stacey Adams assisted with calling 9-1-1, retrieving the AED, locking the bank and redirecting customers through the drive up. Thanks to their training and calm and quick reaction – the heroes at South Side Trust & Savings Bank gave Dan Dickerson and his family a very special reason to be thankful this year. In an emotional thank you, Rose Dickerson commented that she would be a widow, if it had not been for the quick response of the South Side Bank employees and the outstanding medical care that Dan has received throughout his recovery.

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The American Red Cross presented a special certificate of appreciation to South Side Bank in recognition of their commitment to safety and preparedness training. “South Side Trust & Savings Bank is a strong supporter of preparedness training, ensuring that each branch has an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and employees that are Red Cross certified in first Aid, CPR and AED,” said Betsy Pratt, Regional Chief Executive Officer of the American Red Cross Serving Central and Southern Illinois. “The bank has participated in preparedness training for many years and on June 29, thanks to the quick actions of branch manager Leigh Harkless and the entire team at the Sheridan Road facility their training helped save the life of Dan Dickerson.”

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The American Red Cross offers hands-on, in-person classes at convenient times, in locations close to you. Or, choose one of the online training options: complete the online portion at your own pace, then come in for a short session to check your skills. Certification is good for two years, and you can take free online skills refreshers during that time. Visit redcross.org  to learn more or register for a class.