“You think you are prepared, but you are not.”

My Sound The Alarm. Save a Life. Red Cross Experience in Rhode Island.

Story by: Anna DeMulder, American Red Cross

Photos by: Chuck Saletta, American Red Cross

It was still very early, Saturday morning, when I left home to join the Red Cross team in Providence, Rhode Island for the Sound The Alarm. Save a Life. event. The sun was shining and it promised to be a summer-like day… not bad for a ‘Cinco de Mayo’ in New England. The road was empty and I made it in time for the early start. My GPS did not really help me to find the parking lot in Cranston, but all those white ‘Red Cross’ vehicles showed me the way. And they told me that I was not the first to arrive or the only one in this party. Walking towards the building, I could only smile at the beautiful line-up of ladders with buckets, filled with tools and marked with numbers. Over fifty of them, all ready and waiting for the different teams of volunteers, to do their magic and to bring more safety to a lot of people in the community.

Ladder, Bucket and Tools for every team on ‘Sound The Alarm. Safe A Life’

After signing in and grabbing my instructions, I joined the people in the big meeting room. It was already buzzing, people were laughing, smiling, greeting known friends and introducing new ones. As I have experienced before, Red Cross volunteers are rather outgoing by nature, easily interested in the people around them. Suddenly, I feel a shoulder touch and someone calling my name. What a surprise to see a team member from my assignment during Hurricane Harvey in Texas! I did not expect her, but of course she would be here as well. That is what Red Cross volunteers do, they show up when they can to help. With a warm hug and a promise to catch up soon, we look further for our team members for the day.

My partner for the day, Chuck Saletta, is smiling and ready with the camera to catch the memorable moments.

Ginny Brezza, volunteer

  One volunteer, Ginny Brezza, is happy to explain us why she is part of this big event. As a volunteer on the Disaster Action Team (DAT) she knows how important it is to be prepared for a house fire. She is aware that you need a lot of hands on deck to make a difference. And with a wink she tells us her secret: she never volunteers more than 40 hours a week.

Beth Bradbury, also a volunteer and the Disaster Workforce Engagement Coordinator, confirms this idea of dedication to the Red Cross. This is the third time that she has volunteered for a Sound the Alarm event.  The people we serve are so grateful when they get alarms installed… and they are free!!,’ she says.


Beth Bradbury and Anna De Mulder, volunteers

 The day starts officially with the last instructions by the Leadership of the event “and with very kind words of Thank You by local representatives. Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea has a special observation for all, from personal experience. In the community that will be visited today, many people did not grow up with the concern for house fires and educating the families, showing what to do when a smoke alarm goes off is an essential part of the program. With these last words, the teams are eager to start the work of checking existing smoke alarms, replacing old ones and educating everyone in the household how to avoid fires and how to escape if the alarm goes off.

 In no time, the teams have gathered around the ladders outside. They get the new alarms and check their maps to plan their visits. In groups of three, the teams spread out over five towns. Marching out with the ladder, the bucket and dressed in all kinds of Red Cross T-shirts and Red Cross vests, it is a colorful experience. The teams can’t hide when walking in the neighborhoods and they are happy to explain their mission to all who show an interest.

Teams getting ready for visits of families in the Community

 The teams today visit families who have already made an appointment, or will canvass the neighborhoods by knocking on doors. If invited in, it takes a team about twenty minutes for the installation of the new alarms and the education of one household.

 One of our appointments was with Eunice Sanchez and her family. They had called in and asked for an appointment, as they were not sure if the alarms in their home were functioning. During our conversation it also appears that a family member had a fire incident a few years ago.

Eunice Sanchez

For Eunice, this discussion with the team about a plan to evacuate and how to avoid a fire was the most impactful: ‘You think you are prepared but you are not,’ she says.

Eunice is also working in a social organization where she helps a lot of single mothers and reflecting on her own learning experience with the Red Cross team, she grows convinced that it is her duty to pass on the information to her clients and make them aware of this Sound The Alarm initiative. Leaving her house, we all felt that we made a difference and that the message will get passed on to more people in need of protection.

Our morning flew by. We crisscrossed the neighborhood and we were able to do installments in six different homes. The stories of the people were interesting and their experience with close calls of fire or exposure to gas was educating us at least us much as what we were educating them.  By the end of our tour everyone in our team felt content, realizing that the need for safety was real and the people we helped were very grateful. Many of them told us that they would let their friends and family know about the Red Cross initiative.

One of our many install teams!

While driving back to the main meeting point we counted enthusiastically the number of smoke alarms we installed and the same was happening at HQ.

We witnessed the happy moment when Neil Brockway, Regional Disaster Officer, tapped the special bell to announce that the mark of 1,000 alarms installed had been reached. At the end of this event we learned that more than 1,150 alarms were installed. I know I speak for all those who participated in this event that we are proud of the difference we made in the state of Rhode Island. Sound the Alarm is a nationwide initiative, to reduce the number of injuries and deaths due to home fires. Anyone interested in making an appointment for a free home fire safety visit and free smoke alarms can visit www.soundthealarm.org/rhodeisland.


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