Saturday, February 21, 2015

Volunteers helping nine people after two fires in SWNY

Volunteers from the American Red Cross responded to two fires in Chautauqua and Allegany Counties Friday night and Saturday morning, providing immediate emergency assistance to nine people. Red Cross assistance typically includes vouchers for temporary housing, food and clothing as needed, and Disaster Mental Health volunteers are available to help with the emotional aspect of disaster. Those affected will meet with caseworkers in the coming days to work on a longer-term recovery plan.

Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteers Phil Baker and Deborah Miller first responded to a fire in Ellington, Chautauqua County Friday night, providing three adults with vouchers for food and clothing. Early Saturday morning, DAT volunteers Dominic DiGioralmo and Bob Shook responded to an apartment fire in Cuba, Allegany County, where they opened four cases, providing immediate emergency assistance for six people.

The American Red Cross has launched an initiative to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by home fires by 25 percent over the next five years. The Red Cross is asking every household in America to take two simple steps: check their existing smoke alarms and practice fire drills at home. As part of the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign, the Red Cross is joining with fire departments and community groups nationwide to install free smoke detectors in homes that need them. For more information, please contact Individual and Community Preparedness Specialist Veronica Chiesi Brown at 585-241-4405 or

To support home fire survivors across the country, the American Red Cross has launched a new social media campaign called #GiveWhatFireTakes. Donors nationwide have the opportunity to support Red Cross relief efforts. For every amount raised, the Red Cross is able to provide not only recovery items for home fire survivors, but also critical fire safety training and smoke alarm installations to help prevent deaths and injuries. Visit our Crowdwise campaign page, make a direct donation on and share what moved you to join the campaign on social media with #GiveWhatFireTakes.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

There’s great people all over.

“It’s hard to do but it is also very rewarding to know that you were there to help them.. Even if it’s just a little bit.”   
- Diane Sargent
Those were the words of volunteers Diane Sargent and Dennis Scott when I was given the opportunity to sit down and asked them about what it is that they do here at the Western and Central NY Red Cross and what keeps them going. Diane and Dennis are part of the Disaster Action Team (DAT) and they are the people who rotate on call shifts after 5 p.m. to morning on weekdays and 24/7 on weekends.
“When you’re out there in the middle of the night and it’s freezing cold and you see an individual standing out there and their house was all burnt out, they have nothing but what they have on..”- Diane
When there is a fire and the people are displaced because they cannot live in their residences, the DAT helps with their immediate needs by providing them with food, clothing, and temporary shelter to start their recovery process. The victims are eventually referred back to the Red Cross or other social services to help with their future plans until they can get back on their feet.

Dennis at a fire scene.
“We go ground-zero into the burned houses to access the damage. The grieve at the moment for the families.. we kind of feel the burden of the families because of their loss...”-Dennis
Diane recalled an incident where she visited a young mother who was hospitalized with her newborn baby after a fire that happened when she accidentally fell asleep with the candle on. “As soon as everyone had left the room and the door closes, she burst into tears. “They can’t take my baby away..” she said. Thank God I was there because I was able to comfort her, to tell her that it was all okay and that things happen but it was all an accident.”
“I got a place to come back to at the end of the day, but somebody else needs my help..”-Dennis
Diane was at the 9/11 in New York City, working in the Soup Kitchen when she saw the Red Cross working. Soon after, she contacted the Red Cross and has been volunteering ever since. Dennis, on the other hand, had always known that he wanted to help people. “I always knew I wanted to do something (to help). One day I went into Soup Kitchen to get presents for the kids because they couldn't afford it and they had set up a venue for different agencies. I saw the Red Cross and at that point, a light went on and I knew I wanted to do it.”

“Sometimes I go out (to disaster-stricken places) and see things and it gets really heavy, but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”-Diane

Despite the heavy commitment required of them, Diane and Dennis have never thought about giving up. “Eventually, everybody’s houses either get rebuilt or they moved elsewhere, of course there are people who died. It’s hard, but I've never felt like giving up.” Dennis went on to add that “we might be in that circumstances one day and hopefully somebody is going to be there for us. I don’t want to give up on them because I don’t want them to give up on me in the time of need. This is what I signed up to do, it just becomes my mission. My strength and endurance is there and I just strive for it.”

At the end of our brief chat, Diane and Dennis left me with some words of wisdom. “If it (helping people) is for you, you’re not getting away from it because you know you can really help somebody, you know you can start the process of helping someone recover. When you experienced it then you’ll really understand what it is. It’s not adrenaline. It’s something special that we do. And it gives me the strength to go.” With that, the conversation ended on a positive note.

Thank you, Diane and Dennis for sharing your experiences with me!
Diane with a youngster.
“Because I give and I help. I believe when that time comes, it will come back to me.”-Dennis 
If you're interested in helping your community like Dennis and Diane, you can start your own volunteer story by visiting our website!

-Valerie Ho, Western New York Chapter Intern