In January, the local Red Cross has responded to seven incidents and assisted 37 people. The most notable was an apartment fire at 320 Country Club Drive that displaced 15 families.
While most of the residents were still winding down from the holidays that Monday evening, one of them was allegedly cooking meth in a downstairs apartment. Flames erupted at about 10:30 p.m. Fire traveled upward inside the walls and spread to the attic.
DAT volunteer Sandy Loftis said confusion reigned in the minds of displaced residents who stood around in blankets as they watched in shock as the firemen work the fire. One woman was in a wheelchair and another man was waiting in a car with his wife and dog.
“He had on a jacket, but he didn’t have on a shirt underneath, because they had been told to get out now,” she said.
“Of course, when that happens, you grab whatever is close to you and out the door you go. A lot of times when the Red Cross shows up, we do find people in their pajamas. They didn’t grab their coat or the keys to their vehicle, but whatever the situation is, we try to be prepared.”
Loftis said the Red Cross has a good rapport with city and county police and fire departments.
The scene commander informed Loftis there were possibly 10 families that were going to need a place to stay. The owner of the building also gave them a list of names.
“They were going to need clothing, because they weren’t able to go back in and get anything,” she said.
This was the first cold night of winter so her first concern was to get the residents out of the night air and into a warm place. Most of the time it is best to get victims away from the scene and help them get settled in temporary housing instead of trying to fill out paperwork on-scene with them watching everything they own being destroyed by smoke, fire or water, Loftis said.
“Sometimes it’s better if you can get them away from the scene, but you can feel out the situation to see what’s best for the client,” she said. “But usually if you can get them away, it’s much better.”
Loftis contacted her supervisor, Disaster Services Director Michelle Hammond to report electricity was turned off at the apartment complex and 10 to 15 families needed shelter.
“When they cut the power to the apartment, that automatically meant everybody was displaced,” Loftis said. “Usually two or three people can handle a single-family fire, but we had 15 families affected so we called in backup.”
Hammond and another employee reported to the office because there were not enough volunteers to process the paperwork.
“Volunteers are sparse right now, so when you have 15 families, you don’t want them to — it takes about an hour to do a case — to find out what their needs are, get them placed in a hotel and to see what their needs are,” she said.
“So it’s important to have a good pool of volunteers who can come in and assist.”
Following the apartment fire, the Red Cross received another call on Tuesday. During little more than a 24-hour period, Loftis said they placed 20 families in a motel for up to three nights. By then, the victims should have had time to contact their insurance companies to make long-range recovery plans.
“If they are not insured, we do referrals to different places,” she said.
Loftis has been a Red Cross volunteer for seven years and she still said, “other than being a mother, it is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. There’s no better feeling than knowing you’ve helped someone in their time of need. And, being part of an organization that is so well known and trusted gives you the ability to help.”
She said people see her in the grocery store or somewhere after they’ve made their recovery and they say, “I know you. You helped me. There’s no greater feeling.”