Generosity At Its Best

We offer a warm heartfelt thank you to the Springfield Capital Area Band!

They took up a spontaneous donation and dropped it off to the Springfield office to help support friends and neighbors recovering after severe storms blew through Illinois Saturday, December 1, 2018.

Clarinetist Alisa Blumhorst shared the donation with Scott Clarke – American Red Cross State Emergency Management Liaison. During a free concert, band members asked for donations for American Red Cross Disaster Relief.

They raised $589.44 to help families recovering from the tornadoes. Alisa says they felt it was important not to round off the amount given to symbolize that every single penny counts.

And…it does. Thank you, friends!


Inside Red Cross Shelter Planning

As storms swept through Illinois, Saturday, December 1, 2018, American Red Cross Central and Southern Illinois Region leadership and volunteers strategized how to best help those affected and yet to be impacted by what turned into more than two dozen tornadoes.

The decision to open a shelter starts long before it’s needed. One obvious decision making factor is need. Are there a significant number of people who need a safe place to stay? That number varies depending on family size, for instance.

The Red Cross has more than 2000 pre-identified shelters in Illinois. But, how do we choose the appropriate location during a disaster?

Let’s say there are five pre-identified potential shelters in a county disaster area. The number of people who need a safe place to stay is definitely a primary consideration.

Beyond that, criteria includes choosing a facility that’s ADA-accessible so it is friendly to all.

Another factor in our decision is where is the facility? We look for place that are close to the disaster yet outside of the perimeter of the disaster area, at the same time. It’s a thoughtful decision-making process to make sure we are helping people in a given area in the best way we can help them at a time they need care and consideration for their basic needs.

A nurse is present or on-call for our shelters 24 hours a day to monitor health needs of clients and staff.

In the case of the December 2018 severe storms in Taylorville, Illinois, this safe center pictured above is in the hardest hit community that sustained most significant damage.

If possible, we ask shelter residents to bring any medications and medical equipment needed by any family members for their overnight stays.

One noteworthy final fact: public schools, community colleges, public universities and civic centers are required by law to work with the Red Cross in providing shelter should the need present itself. Our pre-identified sheltering agreements include those types of facilities, as well as places of worship such as hundreds of churches and temples.

Shelter location in photo: Crossroads Apostolic Christian Church, 212 Jaycee Drive, Taylorville, IL

10 Tips for Safe Trick or Treating

pumpkinsHalloween is one of the most popular holidays in this country and is just days away. With so many little witches, ghosts, pirates and super heroes soon stepping into the streets, we want to offer a list of quick reference tips to keep festivities safe.

“Halloween is fun for so many people and we want to help you stay safe while enjoying it,” said Maria Henneberry, Regional Communication Director, Central and Southern Illinois Region. “At the very least a memory refresher is a good idea, but, hopefully a few new ways to keep kids safe before heading out for Trick or Treat fun is extra helpful.”

* Make sure trick-or-treaters can see and be seen.

o Use face makeup instead of masks. Masks can make it hard to see.

o Give kids a flashlight to light their way.

o Add reflective tape to costumes and trick-or-treat bags.

o Have everyone wear light-colored clothing.

* Use flame-resistant costumes.

* Plan the trick-or-treat route in advance – make sure adults know where their children are going. A parent or responsible adult should accompany young children door-to-door in neighborhoods.

* It’s not only vampires and monsters people have to look out for. Be cautious around animals, especially dogs.

* Walk, don’t run.

* Only visit homes that have a porch light on. Accept treats at the door – never go inside.

* Walk only on the sidewalks, not in the street.

o If no sidewalk is available, walk at the edge of the roadway, facing traffic.

o Look both ways before crossing the street, and cross only at the corner.

o Don’t cut across yards or use alleys.

o Don’t cross between parked cars.

o Use extra caution if driving. The youngsters are excited and may forget to look both ways before crossing.

* Make sure a grown-up checks the goodies before eating.

o Make sure to remove loose candy, open packages and choking hazards.

o Discard any items with brand names that you are not familiar with.

And finally, for those planning to welcome trick-or-treaters to their homes, follow these safety steps:

* Light the area well so young visitors can see.

* Sweep leaves from your sidewalks and steps. Clear your porch or front yard of obstacles someone could trip over.

Download the free Red Cross First Aid App for instant access to expert advice in case your ghost, goblin or super hero has a mishap. Use the Emergency App for weather alerts and to let others know you are safe if severe weather occurs. Find these and all of the Red Cross apps in smartphone app stores by searching for the American Red Cross or going to

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.


American Red Cross AmeriCorps Service

Disaster Cycle Services focuses on three core processes: Prepare, Respond, and Recover!! We can all argue what one is more important but preparedness has such a huge impact on the other two.  One of the great opportunities that the American Red Cross has available is to serve as an AmeriCorps member to build on the preparedness core.

The Safe Families AmeriCorps members serve to organize communities across Illinois in making their cities, schools, organizations and households more resilient to emergencies. The primary responsibilities is to teach, coordinate and lead emergency preparedness, planning and recovery activities in assigned territories in support of the American Red Cross. Sasha Welch just completed her third term as an AmeriCorps member and had this to say about her experience-

“I wasn’t to familiar with the AmeriCorps Safe Families position at the Red Cross. I honesty needed employment and the position matched my qualifications. I was leery about what I was getting myself into but I applied and I received a call stating I nailed an interview.  Later I found out I got the JOB!

Going into this situation, I didn’t know it was going to change MY life while I was working to change the lives of so many others. Having a heart for the community, wanting to see positive change, being a people person and having the DESIRE all made me the perfect candidate for this position. As a very busy single mother being a Safe Families AmeriCorps member provided me with the flexibility I needed to still play an active role in my son’s life. Having the support you need allows you to work effectively and I definitely had the support of my AmeriCorps/Red Cross Family. I had the opportunity of meeting so many awesome people. People in the community and individuals I worked side by side with.  All of these people helped to build a greater me. Being able to be apart of this organization that helps save lives, gave me such joy and fulfillment. Loving what I did so much, after the first year I applied for a second term, not having enough ySasha Welchet a year later here I am at the end of my third term.  These 3 years have been amazing, I’ve learned and gained so much. What I’ve learned I will be able to take with me into my next position as I continue to work with the Red Cross as a Recruitment Specialist! Talk about growth and opportunity. Everything I’ve learned will be something I can stand on for life. I am very thankful to have been given the chance to be apart of such a rewarding program.”

Currently the American Red Cross has AmeriCorps positions across the state of Illinois that are open spots.  Service locations for the Central and Southern Illinois Region include Springfield, Peoria, Quincy, Moline, and Bloomington . Anyone looking for an opportunity to make a difference in the community while gaining new skills and experiences is encouraged to apply.

Please apply at

Where did A, B & O go? Red Cross needs YOU to fill the Missing Types

Where did A, B & O go? Red Cross needs YOU to fill the Missing Types

N_tice _nything missing? A few missing letters may not seem like a big deal, but for a hospital patient who needs type A, B or O blood, these letters mean life.

As part of an international movement, the American Red Cross is launching the Missing Types campaign to raise awareness of the need for new blood donors – and those who haven’t given in a while – to donate and help ensure lifesaving blood is available for patients in need. You may notice A’s, B’s and O’s – representing the main blood groups – missing from signage, websites, social media and other public-facing platforms to illustrate the critical role every blood donor plays.

The sad fact is that blood shortages are not uncommon in the U.S. and other parts of the world. But they can be prevented when more people roll up a sleeve to give.

When blood types go missing Dotsom

“Can you imagine your child or loved one actually needing lifesaving blood and to be told there may be no blood at the blood bank? That happened to us two times with blood and platelets,” said Susie Dotson, whose daughter Lily needed more than a dozen blood and platelet transfusions during treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Hearing that the hospital didn’t have the blood or platelets Lily needed – and that she would have to wait for transfusions – was incredibly frustrating and eye-opening for the Dotson family.

“People automatically think blood is there. They don’t realize we’re relying on their blood donation,” said Susie. “Lily needed blood products just as much as the chemo or the treatment.”

Today, Lily has been cancer-free for four years and will be celebrating her 12th birthday this summer.

Join the movement

  1. Give blood – Schedule your appointment at org/MissingTypes or with the Blood Donor App.
  1. Recruit new donorsEncourage a friend or family member to roll up a sleeve too.
  2. Spread the word
  • Take a photo with one of these selfie signs and post it to your social media along with the message “I am the #MissingType.”
  • Write out your name with the A’s, B’s and O’s missing on the “blank” selfie sign, and take a photo with it. (Underscores are recommended. Example: _meric_n Red Cr_ss)
  • Visit to a Missing Types message on your social media.

What to expect at your donation

Giving blood is simple. Commit about an hour of your day to help save a life.

  • Registration – Sign in, show your ID and read the required information.
  • Health check – Answer questions and receive a mini-physical.
  • Donation – Giving a pint of blood takes about 8-10 minutes.
  • Refreshments – Enjoy some snacks and relax before resuming your day.



Y_u _re the #MissingType p_tients need. Don’t wait until the letters A, B and O go missing from the hospital shelves. Schedule your appointment to give now.

Are You Winter Ready?

SnowmanThe first official blast of wintry weather is in the forecast for later this week and now is the perfect time to review winter preparedness tips to help you and your family stay safe throughout this winter season.

appPeople can download the Red Cross Emergency App for instant access to winter storm tips and weather alerts for their area and where loved-ones live. Expert medical guidance and a hospital locator are included in the First Aid App in case travelers encounter any mishaps. Both apps are available to download for free in app stores or at

Have furnaces, chimneys, fireplaces, wood and coal stoves inspected and cleaned before another winter of use. Test batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Other good steps to take to get one’s home ready for winter include:

  • Make sure flashlights are available throughout the house and they have fresh batteries. Winter storms can lead to power outages.
  • Insulate the home by installing storm windows or covering the inside of windows with plastic to keep frigid air out.
  • Develop a fire escape plan and practice it with everyone who lives in the home.
  • Prepare a disaster supply kit to have ready should winter storms hit. The kit should include a three-day supply of food and water per person, flashlight, battery-powered or hand-crank radio and extra batteries. Other things to have on hand for the winter include:
    • Sand, rock salt or kitty litter to make walkways and steps less slippery
    • Warm coats, gloves or mittens, hats, boots and warm clothing for all household members, along with extra blankets.
  • Winterize your vehicle.
  • Consider buying emergency heating equipment, such as a wood- or coal-burning stove or an electric or kerosene heater.

Nearly half of the households in this country use alternative heating sources such as space heaters, fireplaces, or wood/coal stoves to stay warm. Fixed and portable space heaters, including wood stoves, are involved in 74 percent of fire-related deaths.

If someone is using a space heater, the Red Cross recommends that people look for a model that shuts off automatically if the heater falls over. Space heaters should be placed on a level, hard and nonflammable surface in the home.

Other safety tips include:

  • Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces.
  • Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
  • Keep children and pets away from space heaters.

Plan ahead. Have a mechanic check your tires, battery, brakes and antifreeze levels. Make sure your vehicle is ready for winter with a window scraper, shovel, kitty litter or sand in case you get stuck, extra clothes and an Emergency Kit in your trunk. Pack high-protein snacks, water, first aid kit, flashlight, small battery-operated radio, an emergency contact card with names and phone numbers, extra prescription medications, blankets and important documents or information you may need.

While the Red Cross encourages you to stay off the road if possible, if you have to drive in snow or freezing rain, follow these tips about how to drive safely during a winter storm and what to do if you become stuck in your vehicle:

  • Fill the vehicle’s gas tank and clean the lights and windows to help you see.
  • Pay attention to the weather forecast. Before you leave, let someone know where you are going, the route you plan to take, and when you expect to get there. If your car gets stuck, help can be sent along your predetermined route.
  • If you have to drive, make sure everyone has their seat belts on and give your full attention to the road. Avoid distractions such as cell phones.
  • Don’t follow other vehicles too closely. Sudden stops are difficult on snowy roadways.
  • Don’t use cruise control when driving in winter weather.
  • Don’t pass snow plows.
  • Know that ramps, bridges and overpasses will freeze before roadways.

If you become stuck in the snow or icy conditions:

  • Stay with the car. Do not try to walk to safety.
  • Tie a brightly colored cloth (preferably red) to the antenna for rescuers to see.
  • Don’t run your engine and heater constantly to help avoid running out of gas. Don’t use things like lights or the radio without the engine running so the battery doesn’t conk out.
  • If you can, move your vehicle off the roadway. Stay with it – don’t abandon it. If you have to get out of your vehicle, use the side away from traffic.
  • Start the car and use the heater for about 10 minutes every hour. Keep the exhaust pipe clear so fumes won’t back up in the car.
  • Leave the overhead light on when the engine is running to help rescuers see the vehicle.
  • Keep one window slightly open – away from the blowing wind – to let in air.

Weather Radio
Being prepared means being equipped with the proper supplies you may need in the event of an emergency or disaster. Keep your supplies in an easy-to-carry kit or backpack that you can use at home or take with you in case you must evacuate.

At a minimum, you should have the basic supplies listed below:

  • Water: one gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
  • Food: non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home).
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank NOAA Weather Radio
  • First aid kit
  • Medication (7-day supply) and medical items
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
  • Cell phone chargers
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • Blankets
  • Family and emergency contact information

Consider the needs of all family members and add supplies to your kit. Suggested items to help meet additional needs are:

  • Medical supplies (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc.)
  • Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
  • Games and activities for children
  • Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
  • Manual can opener
  • Two-way radios
  • Extra set of car and house keys

Additional supplies to keep at home or in your survival kit based on the types of disasters common to your area:

  • Whistle
  • Surgical masks
  • Matches
  • Rain/winter gear
  • Towels
  • Work gloves
  • Supplies for securing your home
  • Extra clothing, hat and study shoes or boots
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Duct tape
  • Scissors
  • Bleach
  • Plastic sheeting


Winter weather is difficult on our pets and the American Red Cross has steps people can follow to help ensure their pet’s safety over winter season.

Other tips pet owners should be aware of include:

  • Salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate a pet’s paws. Wipe their paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates their mouth.
  • Antifreeze is a deadly poison. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze out of reach.
  • Signs of frostbite include discoloration of the frozen area, pale or even blue skin, no pain or lots of pain. The pads of the paws, tail and tips of the ears are most susceptible. If your pet has frostbite, bring them out of the cold immediately. Spray the affected area with warm water. Lightly apply a warm compress to the area. Do not rub or apply pressure. Take your pet to your veterinarian immediately.

If pet owners would like additional information, download the American Red Cross Pet First Aid App: The app provides dog and cat owners with resources on how to maintain their pet’s health and well-being and what to do during emergencies until veterinary care is available. Owners have access to step-by-step instructions, videos and images from more than 25 common first aid and emergency situations including what to do for cold-related emergencies.

Features in the app allow owners to:

  • Find emergency pet care facilities or alternate veterinarians if they are out of town with the animal hospital locator.
  • Locate pet-friendly hotels.
  • Test their knowledge with interactive quizzes and earn badges that they can share on their social networks. They can also attach their favorite picture of their pet when they share their badge.

The app is available to download for free in app stores, by going to or by texting ‘GETPET’ to 90999.

Don’t be Scared by Halloween Safety Tips

Halloween tips_flashlightIt’s that time of year when ghosts and goblins take to the streets for some Halloween fun. The celebration is growing more and more popular with everyone – kids to adults – and the American Red Cross has some safety tips people can follow to help stay safe this Halloween while enjoying the festivities.


As parents get their kids ready for Halloween, here are some tips they should follow:

  • Use only flame-resistant costumes.
  • Plan the trick-or-treat route – make sure adults know where children are going. A parent or responsible adult should accompany young children as they make their way around the neighborhood.
  • Make sure trick-or-treaters can see, and be seen. Give them a flashlight to light their way. Add reflective tape to costumes and Trick-or-Treat bags. Have everyone wear light-colored clothing to be seen.
  • Instead of masks, which can cover the eyes and make it hard to see, use face paint instead.
  • Be cautious around animals, especially dogs.
  • Visit only the homes that have a porch light on. Accept treats at the door – never go inside.
  • Walk only on the sidewalks, not in the street. If no sidewalk is available, walk at the edge of the roadway, facing traffic. Look both ways before crossing the street, and cross only at the corner. Don’t cut across yards or use alleys. Don’t cross between parked cars.
  • Make sure a grown-up checks the goodies before eating. Remove loose candy, open packages and choking hazards. Discard any items with brand names that you are not familiar with.


If you are planning on welcoming trick-or-treaters to your home, follow these safety steps:

  • Sweep leaves from your sidewalks and steps.
  • Clear your porch or front yard of obstacles someone could trip over.
  • Restrain your pets.
  • Light the area well so the young visitors can see.

Use extra caution if driving. Youngsters are excited and may forget to look both ways before crossing.


Download the free Red Cross First Aid App for instant access to expert advice for everyday emergencies whenever and wherever they need it. Use the Emergency App for weather alerts and to let others know you are safe if severe weather occurs. The content in both apps is available in English and Spanish. Find these and all of the Red Cross apps in smartphone app stores by searching for ‘American Red Cross’ or by going to

Deployed Red Cross Volunteer Risks Life to Help Accident Victim

Kathy Yaste2
Red Cross volunteer Kathy Yastes (L) and Red Cross trainer Gayle Lundeen celebrate Kathy’s heroic actions.

Kathy Yaste wanted to help those affected by the recent hurricanes, so she made the trip from Colchester to Moline for the Red Cross Just In Time training on Saturday, September 9. Kathy listened carefully to training instructors Gayle Lundeen and Paul Soebbing, so she would be prepared for what to expect, if she were to deploy to help with the hurricane relief efforts.


On September 14, just days after completing the training, Kathy was asked to go to Florida and work on a shelter team helping to provide a safe place to stay for residents displaced by Hurricane Irma. Kathy dug into her duties at the shelter and went to great lengths to provide care to special needs residents in the shelter to make their stay as comfortable as possible considering the circumstances.

Kathy’s story doesn’t end with her exemplary work in the shelter. Kathy and her Red Cross partner were traveling back to Jacksonville from a shelter across the state line in Georgia. Kathy, in the front passenger seat, was focused on the road as traffic was heavy on the divided four lane roadway. Just as she glanced across the four lanes of traffic, she witnessed a truck traveling in the wrong direction hit a vehicle head on – hitting the vehicle with such force that it spun the vehicle off the road. The truck sped off without stopping. Kathy asked her partner to stop their vehicle. Once stopped, Kathy risked her own life as she threaded her way across four lanes of heavy traffic to reach the accident scene. Kathy immediately called 9-1-1- and started stabilizing the 38-year-old woman, who had facial lacerations, broken ribs and the possibility of a spinal cord or neck injury from the severe impact. After a quick examination, Kathy knew she needed her first aid kit, which was back in her vehicle. Kathy made the dash back across four lanes of traffic and back again – this time with the first aid kit in hand.

Back at the scene of the accident, Kathy quickly removed a towel from her pack and placed it around the woman’s neck to provide some stabilization. Kathy also applied pressure to the lacerations and bandaged them as best as she could. As Kathy provided comfort and care to the woman, several road workers stopped and helped to direct traffic away from the accident. Kathy knew the importance of keeping the woman engaged in conversation until medical help arrived, so she asked the woman’s name, her age and also took a quick medical history. During this time, Kathy also learned that the young woman had lost everything in Hurricane Irma and what few possessions she had left were in her now crashed vehicle.

As soon as medical help arrived, Kathy approached the tow truck driver and police and asked if they could help to retrieve the woman’s possessions from her vehicle before it was towed from the scene. With her few personal possessions in the ambulance with her, the young woman was transported to the hospital for treatment.

With the woman was on her way to the hospital, Kathy and her co-worker resumed their trip back to the Jacksonville staff shelter. Upon arrival, Kathy’s heroic actions were quickly shared among the Red Cross workers in the staff shelter. Kathy has some health issues of her own, and it was decided as a precaution that she should be checked over at the local hospital. Kathy was released after a quick examination and again returned to the staff shelter.

Kathy was honored by the Red Cross for her heroic actions. She received a letter from the Deputy District Director highlighting her extraordinary service in the shelter and her heroic actions in helping the accident victim.

Kathy has returned home to Colchester. She is tired and somewhat overwhelmed by her experience. She comments that she has no idea how she was able to make the trip back and forth in heavy traffic since she has COPD and other health issues, but she says that she would do it again in a minute.

Kathy Yaste impacted many lives during her deployment and the Red Cross is grateful for dedication and her heroic actions.

Kathy Yaste

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





In Memory of Christian

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.