“People, when they see the Red Cross, they feel comforted”: A Conversation on the Power of Volunteering with Red Crossers Curtis & Bette Hossman

Interview and story by Michael Tenamore, American Red Cross

“The fabric of our nation is strengthened by the service of its volunteers. When we stand side-by-side to help others, our differences fade away, and we learn that Americans have more in common than we realize.” Barbara Stewart

Curtis and Bette Hossman, two American Red Cross volunteers, have stood side-by-side through it all.

From Lodi and Madison to Birmingham and Long Island, their dedication to volunteering is nothing short of amazing. At the Red Cross, they’ve done everything from humanitarian relief after cataclysmic natural disasters and interacting with service member families facing life-or-death medical procedures, to welcoming donors at blood drives and bringing mental well-being resources to veterans who are incarcerated.

After 50 years of experience as volunteers and during National Volunteer Week 2021, we wanted to learn some of their secrets and inspiration, so we hopped on a call together to see how it all started. (This conversation was edited for length and clarity.)

When did you start volunteering?

Curtis Hossman leads a Service to the Armed Forces wellness workshop in 2019 to a group in Milwaukee. Photo by Justin Kern / American Red Cross

Bette Hossman: “Oh, my gosh, I probably started volunteering … well, we were in high school, [so] probably over 50 years ago. I think we had a birthday party, and we bought gifts for kids at a red Kabbalistic [gathering] here in Madison.”

Curtis Hossman: “That’s what we did for our birthdays when we were teenagers.”

Along with volunteering for the Red Cross and at their church in Lodi, Curtis and Bette have started volunteering through “Reach Out” food deliveries during the pandemic. They were also giving “Wellness on Wednesday” presentations in their community center. And for more than a decade, Curtis has been on the executive board for Habitat for Humanity. He’s helped establish a local endowment foundation for other charities. In the past, they’ve also volunteered at the children’s hospital, schools and AmeriCorps.

What are the memorable national deployments you’ve been involved with through the Red Cross?

Bette: “The first one you went on was a real eye-opener. We walked into this huge building that looked like a warehouse and all the stations set up for different things that I wouldn’t think of.”

“You need telecommunications, you need transportation, you need housing, you need mass care, and you need people to distribute food. It was like, ‘Holy cow!’ [There’s] a little city under this roof lobby operation that you weren’t expecting.”

Curtis: “I really liked my one in New York [for Super Storm Sandy] the most. I went out to Long Island, and there was nobody else there because there was no transportation. I was the only Red Cross person there [to begin with].”

“But then we started to get some community people involved, and then after two or three days, it started rolling. But it was kind of fun to be on the ground floor and try to figure out where to stay.”

At the V.A. Hospital in Madison, Curtis and Bette stand side-by-side with the veteran patients and their families. They have been volunteers for over four years at the V.A., where they meet and talk with individuals who require an organ transplant. It’s not what comes to most mind’s when they hear of a volunteer.

Curtis: “It was an injustice to see these people that served our country struggling more than others.”

The couple blurs the lines of what “volunteering” is. They inspire others to make the change that needs to be made. What do you call a person who spends their lifetime seeking out the bad, helping strangers who are struggling the most, and standing side by side with them?

Why do you do it?

Curtis: “You know, whenever you reach out and help somebody else, you are enhancing your own soul. It’s almost an act of selfishness, but it’s in the Socratic kind of notion that doing good for others enhances you, and it makes the world a better place for everybody.”

Bette: “People when they see the Red Cross, they feel comforted. They see someone who wishes to help them.”

Curtis and Bette show what it means to be a volunteer. Volunteering is more than an act, and it’s what we all need – during trauma, during grief, or during a global pandemic – and we owe all volunteers thanks for being a reminder of what we can all become.

Find a volunteer role that fits your passion and schedule. Start your journey at redcross.org/volunteer.

Honoring heroes in southeastern Wisconsin: announcing the winners, tickets and auction items for the 2021 Brave Hearts gala

MILWAUKEE, Wis., April 12, 2021 – After a challenging year like few others, it’s important to recognize the everyday heroes and leaders in our community. The 2021 Brave Hearts gala is proud to present some of those local heroes as part of an invaluable fundraiser for the American Red Cross.

The 2021 Brave Hearts gala will take place virtually, from 6-7 p.m., Thursday, May 13. Click here to register (You can also share this link: https://BraveHearts.givesmart.com)

The annual event is led by the Southeast Wisconsin Chapter of the Red Cross and celebrates local people who were involved in selfless acts of courage and kindness during the past year. Our 2021 heroes are:

  • Nolan Kasten, Will Kasten, Carson Stingle and Dan Studer (Washington County) – award: Adult Good Samaritans
  • Jack Adams (Walworth County) – award: Youth Good Samaritan
  • Caitlin Cullen (Milwaukee County) – award: Community Heroes
  • Charlene Jensen (Walworth County) – award: From the Heart Hero
  • Christina Porter (Waukesha County) – award: Emergency Response Hero
  • Dennis Marifke (Milwaukee County) – award: Military Hero
  • Addilyn Holland (Kenosha County) – award: Hero of the Year

The online award gala also includes a silent auction that launches May 10. Special prizes will only be available for bidding during the gala on May 13, including a Watt Brothers Football Set, containing an autographed football from J.J., T.J. and Derek Watt, donated generously by American Family Insurance.

This year’s sponsors include Nicholas Company, Kohl’s, Northwestern Mutual, Johnson Controls, Molson Coors, A.O. Smith, West Bend Mutual Insurance Company, Halo, S.C. Johnson, Snap-On, We Energies and Rockwell Automation.

The gala and silent auction serve as a fundraiser for humanitarian relief programs and more provided by the Southeast Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross, which serves Dodge, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha counties. To reserve your seat for this virtual event and participate in the silent auction, please visit https://BraveHearts.givesmart.com.

For event details and ticketing, contact sasha.parsons@redcross.org. For media or general Red Cross questions, contact justin.kern@redcross.org.  

Brown Deer man who escaped apartment fire: “When the Red Cross is here, the magic happens”

Story and Photo By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Now a week after escaping a multi-family fire in suburban Milwaukee that left him initially “with only the clothes on my back,” Bradley Epstein took a moment to reflect on the disaster and share his gratitude for those who continue to provide relief.

On April 1, residents were seen hanging outside the windows at a Brown Deer condominium complex, trying to escape from a multi-family fire started on the first floor of a 30-unit building. Epstein is a local musician in the area and brother of Howie Epstein, late bass guitarist with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. When Epstein woke that Thursday morning, he expected it to be a typical day but quickly realized it was far from ordinary.

Bradley Epstein, a week after a fire displaced him and more than 20 other people from a multi-unit residential building in suburban Milwaukee. The musician helped people escape the blaze and called Red Crossers now helping him “saviors.”

“I smelled smoke, entered the hallway and was greeted with even more intense smoke,” said Epstein. “A vacant unit in the building was on fire. The main entrance contained a large amount of smoke making everyone think we were trapped. I heard a lady yelling for help and found her further down the hall and helped her out of the building. I am not a hero. I was just doing what needed to be done.”

Epstein continued, “I saw other residents helping each other find other exits to use since they could only see smoke at the main entrance, some residents were hanging out their windows crying for help. I also noticed very few fire alarms beeping during the commotion. However, the fire department was great at responding to everyone.”

“We were all dazed and confused. My head was spinning. It was a 32-degree morning and I was out of my home with only the clothes on my back and no shoes,” replied Epstein.

Epstein called friends who drove him to a local hotel. Hotel personnel notified him the American Red Cross was there to provide support at the hotel. When hearing that the Red Cross was on site Epstein replied, “When the Red Cross is here, the magic happens.”

The Red Cross has ensured those displaced have had a warm place to stay at a local hotel, as well as food and health, mental health and spiritual care services. They’ve also begun with Epstein and others on the next steps in their recovery, like identifying longer-term housing options. In the first week of response to this fire, the Red Cross has provided more than 300 meals, 69 health/mental health services and daily temporary lodging for more than 20 people.

“From the start of the fire, I recognized the works of the Red Cross – I saw warm buses helping those standing in the cold, hotel sheltering being given to myself and others, meals, snacks, and water were being provided, and I am happy to say I receive a money card to help with incidentals since I have nothing,” said Epstein. 

His belief in the work of the Red Cross has been strengthened by seeing staff and volunteers in action. “I am so grateful for what the Red Cross is doing for me, they are my savior, they are kind, sincere and make me feel comfortable. As soon as I am able, I would like to pay my efforts forward and volunteer with the Red Cross,” said Epstein.

To quote a lyric by Tom Petty, the artist who played for decades with Bradley Epstein’s brother, Howie: “Some days are diamonds. Some days are rocks. Some doors are open. Some roads are blocked.” Epstein can relate his multi-family fire experience to the lyrics of this song, for the day was a rock and the roads were blocked. But thanks to the efforts of the Red Cross he can hopefully look forward to the days ahead when more doors are open and more days are diamonds.  

As part of our “Sound the Alarm. Save a Life” campaign beginning April 8, the Wisconsin Region of the Red Cross is encouraging people to sign up for free fire safety resources for their families and homes. Sign up today at redcross.org/WIsmokealarms or call 877-618-6628.

“It all happened so fast”: Verona lifeguards recount life-saving teamwork

By Kay Elmsley Weeden, American Red Cross

On a quiet December afternoon in the Verona School District High School pool, a few guests were still swimming as lifeguard John Ames sat in his observation chair scanning the calm scene.

That calm was about to change.  

One of the regular lap swimmers, a 58-year-old man, got out of the pool and walked over to a chair – and then collapsed. Within seconds, John sounded the emergency whistle and was at the man’s side. Fellow lifeguards Lindsey Paulson and Alicyn Nicholson, as well as Angie Lucas, school Aquatics Director, immediately joined in to ensure man’s safety.

It appeared the man was having a seizure. American Red Cross training kicked in, keeping the Verona aquatics team on top of the fast-moving and dire scene. Angie directed Lindsey and Alicyn to retrieve towels, a bag mask and the AED (automatic external defibrillator), and had someone call an ambulance. 

The situation intensified as the man stopped breathing. Angie began CPR as the other guards placed the AED pads to monitor his heart rate. No pulse. They administered a shock and continued CPR and airbag rescue breathing. Again, no pulse and the device directed them to administer another shock. They did, and then continued CPR and breathing until local EMS arrived and took over. 

American Red Cross recipients of the Lifesaving Award for Professional Responders from the Verona School District, from left: Alicyn Nicholson, Angie Lucas, John Ames and Lindsey Paulson. The aquatics leader at the school used their CPR and AED training to help save the life of a swimmer in December 2020.

They were flooded with relief for their efforts as the man regained consciousness and began speaking as he was taken to the hospital. As a result of their actions, the aquatics team were told that just days after the incident, the man they saved was able to spend Christmas at home with his family.

Angie is incredibly proud of her lifeguards and their quick reactions. Their fluid actions were evidence of the skills they had routinely practiced in their many lifeguard trainings, even though none of them imagined they would actually use those skills one day. 

Obviously shaken by the events, they remarked to Angie, “It all happened so fast!”

But Angie noted that because of their training, John, Lindsey and Alicyn knew exactly what to do, without hesitation.

And they saved someone’s life.

The importance of this training is paramount to Angie. 

“You never know when you might use this,” said the long-time aquatics director at the school district. And she should know: she performed CPR on the very first day she ever lifeguarded, age 16, more than 40 years ago. That moment forever changed her life. 

As a decades-long partner with the Red Cross, Angie consistently promotes CPR and basic life-saving skills to anyone she can. 

“It’s a gift to have the know-how and be able to help,” she said.

Alex Rosenbaum, the assistant pool director, nominated these four individuals for their life-saving acts based on Red Cross training. On Thursday, March 11, the Southwest Chapter of the Red Cross presented Angie, Alicyn, John and Lindsey with the Lifesaving Award for Professional Responders, a national recognition from the Red Cross that includes a certificate and citation for their heroics at the pool on that December afternoon.

Alex stated: “As unnerving as the situation was, the quick actions of these students and our director during what was a surreal moment for them all resulted in this man being alive and well today. That should be celebrated.”

You can be trained in CPR, First Aid, lifeguarding and other life-saving skills. Sign up here for virtual and in-person lessons from the American Red Cross.

Calm in emergency training earns Madison employee national honors

By Katie Baneck, American Red Cross

On Tuesday, June 23, David Lich was having a meeting with his coworkers at Catalent Pharma Solutions when one of them started acting strangely and making concerning sounds.

Then, that person fell from their chair, cutting themselves in the process. David had another teammate call 9-1-1 while he retrieved the first aid kit and called out for help.

That is when David first met Thomas Coolidge, another employee at Catalent. Thomas is trained in American Red Cross CPR and First Aid and immediately began to apply that training.

Thomas Coolidge

“Thomas was able to come into a very stressful situation, take charge, and give support. What impressed me most was his level of calm,” David said in praise.

Thomas had been working on a report at his desk with headphones in, oblivious to the situation unfolding next door. It wasn’t until David jogged down the hall searching for help that Thomas was alerted to the critical scene.

Upon arrival, Thomas recognized that his co-worker was seizing. He cleared the immediate area around the patient to prevent further injury and protect others around them. He tended to co-worker’s wounded lip, applying pressure to stop the bleeding. He talked with the co-worker, keeping them conscious and attaining important basic information.

You can be trained in CPR, First Aid, lifeguarding and other life-saving skills. Sign up here for virtual and in-person lessons from the American Red Cross.

By the time the first responders were on scene, the patient had become responsive and Thomas provided paramedics with an update. It was this quick thinking and first aid response that inspired co-worker Marissa Barrett to nominate Thomas for a life-saving recognition from the Red Cross.

When asked what advice he would give to those considering Red Cross first aid training, Thomas said he would encourage to treat classes as seriously as you would an emergency scene.

“Make sure that you pay attention and take the details of the training to heart while you’re learning, watching, and reading,” he said. “It is much more difficult to remember details when under duress and going through the actions.”

On Thursday, March 11, the Southwest Chapter of the Red Cross presented Thomas with the Certificate of Merit, the highest civilian honor given by the Red Cross, which includes a signed commendation from the President of the United States as well as a medal and a pin.

“Show Them That We Care”: Volunteers Detail Unique Roles in Disaster Relief

By Kelsey ShaSha McCarthy, American Red Cross

At the American Red Cross, volunteers donate their time, skills, experience and care to alleviate the suffering of others during a disaster.

Yet no two volunteer departments are the same. And a recent wave of apartment fires brought forth the unique skills and heart volunteers have in our shared mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

On Jan. 28, three separate apartment fires – two in Milwaukee and one in Beaver Dam – displaced nearly 400 people in a single day. In an already-busy winter of home fire relief in Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan, our local volunteers and some from other states stepped up in their various roles to make sure people in need were taken care of. More than 184 volunteers were involved in those larger scale incidents, with dozens more involved in the every day response and recovery of people across our Region.

Ranjit Verma, right, and volunteer team member Denise Bruneau pick up 130 lunches cooked by Alverno College, to share with people displaced by an apartment fire in Milwaukee.

One of the departments that provides assistance is the Disaster Action Team, or DAT.

Ranjit Verma, a volunteer from Shorewood, has been a DAT member for around two years. When asked how the DAT Team helps clients and their families Ranjit explained that “we respond to people in disaster areas; commonly fire accidents that have taken place in the area.”

Ranjit has always played a volunteer role in his life. Before he joined the Red Cross, he hosted a number of fundraisers and supported local students in his area.

When Ranjit heard about the Red Cross, he knew it was something he wanted to be a part of. He enjoys providing care and comfort to people “who have faced unpleasant situations” and he is glad to be “part of this mission to give to people in need.”

On Feb. 1, Ranjit and other DAT feeding volunteers delivered around 130 prepared meals to guests; he had another meal delivery route the next day. (All told, from one hotel-shelter set up for residents displaced from a Milwaukee apartment fire, volunteers delivered more than 7,000 meals in four-plus weeks.)

The meals consisted of a main course – chicken Caesar wraps, for instance – and a snack. Some guests even had dietary requirements and Ranjit provided diabetic meals to them. 

“I love the one-on-one interaction … saying ‘How is your day?’ provides relief. It brings a lot of smiles and joy and I’m more nervous than the guests sometimes,” he said.

With a knock and a call of “lunches … Red Cross,” Volunteer Terry Mackin brings sandwiches to rooms at a hotel-shelter not far from his home in Milwaukee. Photo by Justin Kern/American Red Cross

After delivering meals to guests, others would be waiting for theirs asking him, “When are you going to reach the third floor?” and “What did you get for us today?” 

However, along with the pleasant conversation, Ranjit also mentioned how guests looked to him for guidance. “It was surprising how much more they needed,” he explained.

They would often ask him about the next steps in their recovery and asked what they could expect next, putting their trust in him and the Red Cross volunteers on his team supporting them. 

Ranjit went on to explain how COVID has impacted his deliveries. He can no longer provide hugs or handshakes to offer comfort and Ranjit says he misses that contact as a way to connect with guests.

Another way volunteers once again answered the immense need was on the Health Services team. Again, on just the one Milwaukee apartment fire, Disaster Mental Health and Health Services provided 4,171 contacts with people for anything from medication prescription refills to talks with a certified counselor.

Jeanne Frey from Binghamton, N.Y. deployed in Milwaukee to assist with client support and prescription needs. Jeanne has served with the Red Cross in Health Services since 2005. As a retired registered nurse, Jeanne explained how she does her part to serve clients.

Jeanne Frey texts to check in with health needs of people displaced by an apartment fire in winter 2021 in Milwaukee. She flew in from Binghamton for two weeks of service in Wisconsin as a Health Services volunteer. Photo by Justin Kern/American Red Cross

“We try to help them move forward in their recovery and work with the community resources,” she said.

Jeanne works with case workers and other Red Cross volunteers as well as pharmacists and doctors to assist her clients.

“We provide food for them and take care of them and their medical needs if necessary … And we can contact the pharmacy where they have their prescriptions refilled and make arrangements to get those replaced if they lost them in a fire … We want them to feel safe.”

Jeanne explained how she enjoys providing the highest quality of care and attention to her clients.

“I come to one of the shelters and I’m available if one of the clients has a health-related need or I try to make myself available for any of their needs,” she said.

And when clients have emergency medical needs, Jeanne and her team act swiftly to provide critical support and ease her clients’ minds.

“As common practice …We will call the pharmacies and pick them up [prescriptions] for the clients if they needed them right away.”

Jeanne mentioned how much her service means to her and she knows how important it is to be there for them and help them through as many of their problems as she can. 

“For me personally I try to put myself in their place … anything that we can do to be supportive, show them that we care, and do whatever we can to help guide them back to some semblance of normalcy,” she said.

When asked about how she got started with the Red Cross back in 2005, Jeanne told about how she was inspired to join when a coworker of hers was already working with the Red Cross and had gone down to New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina.

“I was just so touched by his role in providing care for the people down in New Orleans that I said, I think I can do that, too.”

If you or someone you know is thinking of becoming a Red Cross volunteer, please go online to the Red Cross Volunteer Opportunities page and see what area(s) of service might be a great fit for you. You can also find out the top needed volunteer positions at the Red Cross on the Become a Volunteer page.

The Red Cross will provide the necessary training and new volunteers are always encouraged to explore and try out different roles in the various Red Cross Departments to find what they’re most passionate about to help and to help carry out the Red Cross mission to be there when others need it most.

More than 1,000 People Displaced by Fires to Start 2021

Story by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Another 536 people were displaced by home and apartment fires in February in Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan, the continuation of a busy and tragic start to American Red Cross relief efforts in 2021.

Apartment fires have been rampant to start 2021. The Red Cross helped 25 people displaced by this fire on N. 25th Street in Milwaukee in February. Photo by Justin Kern/American Red Cross

In the first two months of the year, that total of people affected by approximately 180 residential fires helped by the Red Cross topped 1,054. That total is more than one-quarter of the entire number of people served by the Wisconsin Region of the Red Cross through disasters for all of our previous service year.

Along with a few more home fire fatalities, this start to 2021 was also marked by more large-scale apartment building fires, including: 13 people at an apartment fire in Wisconsin Rapids; 8 people at an apartment fire in Clintonville (Waupaca County); 18 people at an apartment fire in Janesville; 12 people at a multi-unit fire in Kenosha; and 25 people from an apartment fire in Milwaukee (pictured at left). While residential fires affected every corner of Wisconsin and the U.P., nearly half of those in need of services happened in Milwaukee.

At this same time, Red Cross disaster teams continued to provide hotel-sheltering for people displaced by a few incidents that occurred in a single day in late January. As of March 1, there were still 40 people displaced by one of those fires, in the Burnham Park neighborhood of Milwaukee. Concurrent to hundreds of nights of hotel room stays with that Burnham Park fire in the past four-plus weeks, Red Crossers have provided 6,787 meals and 4,147 health/mental health contacts. At one point in early February, the number of people helped in local Red Cross sheltering efforts was second only to Louisiana, where hundreds remain without homes after summer and fall hurricanes.

The Red Cross volunteers “take care of things you didn’t even think about,” said James Fair, a veteran who was among 225 people displaced from that fire, the largest single incident in recent Red Cross service history.

American Red Cross volunteers and Wisconsin Veterans Network collaborate on recovery plans for a number of military veterans put out of their homes by a recent apartment building fire. Photo by Leslie Luther/American Red Cross

Examples of relief support by Red Cross disaster teams at these fires includes aid for temporary lodging at a local hotel, meals, and access to health and mental health resources. Volunteers and staff also work with residents on recovery plans to move forward during the protracted aspects of a home fire, like identifying longer term housing.

The winter season typically brings an increase in residential fires, though our teams have been involved in a higher than usual number of large-scale fires going back to the start of the pandemic. Since March 2020, Red Cross disaster volunteers and staff have been committed to internal and CDC protocols to ensure health and safety measures for everyone involved in our mission.

For a list of home fire essentials and preparedness steps to take with your family today, click here.

Your support brings immediate resources to people in need after a home fire. Thank you for considering a gift to our mission for people affected by fires in our communities.

Care, for the “Things You Didn’t Even Think About”

Story & Photos by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

On Friday afternoon, James Fair had initially stopped by the American Red Cross caseworker station set up in a Milwaukee hotel lobby to ask about transportation. He’s in that challenging in-between time, after being displaced by a fire at his apartment building but before he can move into his new place.

Moments later in the lobby, along with talking transportation, Red Crosser Melinda Rosario was putting adhesive bandages on cuts on Fair’s hands, making sure he’d had a chicken Caesar wrap for lunch (he’d eaten it) and checking in that he knew the latest developments on his next apartment.

Melinda Rosario, Red Cross disaster team member, opens an adhesive bandage for James Fair, one of many people still dealing with an apartment building fire on Jan. 28.

“They take care of things you didn’t even think about,” Fair said afterward.

Fair is one of more than 100 people still displaced by a Jan. 28 apartment building fire on Milwaukee’s South Side, a fatal incident and the largest among a slew of high-volume residential fires to kick off 2021 in Wisconsin. In all, the Red Cross has helped 740 people who have been displaced by more than 100 fires since the start of the year, which is on trend with a typical busy winter here, but markedly higher in terms of the number of people affected each day.

Behind those numbers, however, are the unique ways disasters affect each person, from flashpoint to aftermath, with no certain timetable. Fair, a military veteran and a Milwaukee native, had lived in the 106-unit building in the Burnham Park neighborhood since the fall. On Jan. 27, he had dozed off to the nightly news only to be woken up at around 2 a.m. to pounding by a neighbor on his third-floor apartment door. Half wondering if it was a dream, Fair had enough time to grab his cane, put on a robe and grab a hat, to cover his head and face, given the smoke, to say nothing of the pandemic.

“They were yelling that we had to evacuate onto a city bus … at first, I was thinking that I’d be right back up in my place,” Fair said, before stepping back to reflect on the layers of issues that come up with such a fire. “You know that saying, ‘Bigger the headache, bigger the pill’? I feel like there isn’t a pill big enough for what you go through” after a fire.

Even still, Fair said he was very appreciative of the hive of Red Cross activity buzzing around him in the hotel lobby. Sheltering operations on Friday at the hotel – one of two hotel-shelters established over the past two weeks with just this fire – included delivery of 80 lunches by volunteers Kevin Connell and Terry Mackin, and restocking of complimentary masks and gloves by Merrill volunteer Laurel Cooper and Binghamton, N.Y. health services volunteer Jeanne Frey. Behind the scenes, numerous other disaster workforce members organized partners to identify affordable housing possibilities, transported totes for those ready to begin moving and helped residents process the emotional gravity of a fire.

James Fair calls himself a “different type of soldier,” though one grateful for help from the Red Cross after a fire displaced him and the rest of the people in his 106-unit building in Milwaukee.

Rosario, a disaster team member from Harrisburg, Pa., said that Fair and a handful of other military veterans displaced by this Milwaukee fire would be moving into longer-term housing in the coming weeks thanks to a partnership with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Fair called himself “a different type of soldier,” someone up for the challenges that life can hit you with at 2 a.m. on a sub-zero-temperature Milwaukee weekday. At the same time, he recognized that he’s had Red Cross volunteers fighting for him since he arrived from the fire. 

“I’m glad Red Cross is here, these people are here, because … otherwise, I don’t know,” he said.

Your generosity and volunteerism enable the Red Cross to help people like James every single day. We’re grateful for your consideration of joining our mission, through a gift or as a volunteer.

Heroes among us: American Red Cross – Northwest WI Chapter honors local heroes at March 2021 virtual event

EAU CLAIRE, Wis., February 11, 2021 – Our community is filled with everyday heroes. This March, the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross will once again honor a select group of the heroes among us.

The annual Heroes Breakfast will take place virtually this year from 8-9 a.m., Wednesday, March 10. The annual event celebrates local people who were involved in selfless acts of courage and kindness during the past year. The award breakfast also serves as a fundraising event for programs and services provided by the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Chosen across a handful of categories, honorees at the Heroes Breakfast represent those among us who reflect what is best in our communities. The 2021 Heroes are:

Korey Maves (Dunn County) – award: Adult Good Samaritan

Libby Wiensch (Chippewa County) – award: Youth Good Samaritan

Will Gieger (Chippewa County) –award: Community Heroes

Vivian Swarey (Barron County) – award: From the Heart Hero

Lieske Gieske (Eau Claire County) – award: Healthcare Heroes

Grant Kjellberg (Eau Claire County) – award: Military Hero

Dennis Beale (Eau Claire County) – award: Hero of a Lifetime

Mayo Clinic Health System is the premier sponsor of this very special event. Additional sponsors include Xcel Energy, Marshfield Clinic, WQOW TV-18, Kaze Studios, Bauer Built Inc., Royal Credit Union, Ayres Associates, Security Financial Bank, Global Finishing Solutions, Westconsin Credit Union, Ayres Associates, Group Health Cooperative of Eau Claire, M3 Insurance, Mosaic Telecom, BMO Harris, Associated Bank, and Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company.

To reserve your seat for this virtual event, https://NWHeroes.givesmart.com or call (715) 271-8395. Reservations for this virtual event are $10 and all proceeds go toward the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross.

519 people affected by spate of January home fires

During busy winter season, Red Cross shares preparedness reminders and resources

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Winter has brought a sustained escalation of home fires in Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan, with more than 500 people displaced in January alone, including at large apartment fires in Beaver Dam, Menasha and Milwaukee.

An apartment building in Milwaukee affected by a tragic fire in January 2021.

The American Red Cross has assisted approximately 519 people at 68 fires, which registers as more than two-per day and ranks on par with some of the busier months in recent years. That includes a fatal fire at a 106-unit building in the Burnham Park neighborhood in Milwaukee, one of the largest residential fires we’ve assisted with in recent years, as well as other apartment fires in Menasha (43 people), Beaver Dam (35 people) and elsewhere in Milwaukee (17 people). Separately, Racine has suffered four, single-family home fires in January, affecting 19 people, and Iron Mountain, Mich. has had two single-family home fires, affecting 10 people.

“While we prepare for an unfortunate rise in fires each winter, our teams have helped people through a particularly dense number of larger incidents, such as the three big apartment fires alone on January 28th,” said Mark Thomas, Regional CEO and Southeast Executive Director, American Red Cross. “With these incidents still looming large, we’re encouraging people to take a moment and review their preparedness plans with their families, as well as to consider ways to join our mission.”

Examples of relief support by Red Cross disaster teams at these fires includes aid for temporary lodging at a local hotel, meals, and access to health and mental health resources. Volunteers and staff also work with residents on recovery plans to move forward during the protracted aspects of a home fire, like identifying longer term housing. This work is amplified by partners in service at communities across our Region.

The winter season typically brings an increase in residential fires, though our teams have been involved in a higher than usual number of large-scale fires going back to the start of the pandemic. Since March 2020, Red Cross disaster volunteers and staff have been committed to internal and CDC protocols to ensure health and safety measures for everyone involved in our mission.

Home fire safety tips & resources

American Red Cross disaster volunteers Denise Bruneau, left, and Ranjit Verma collect more than 100 chicken wrap meals from our partner Alverno College for distribution to people at temporary sheltering after home fires.

The Red Cross is asking everyone to take simple steps to reduce the risk of a fire in your home and to help save lives:

  • Make sure everyone in the family knows how to get out of every room and how to get out of the home in two minutes or less.
  • Test the smoke alarms in your home and replace deficient batteries or alarms. Teach children the sound of a smoke alarm when you practice your home fire escape plan.
  • Select a meeting spot at a safe distance away from your home, such as a neighbor’s home or a tree in the front yard, so everyone knows where to meet.
  • Bring home fire and disaster safety lessons into your school or organization. Click here to sign up for these free virtual preparedness courses.
  • For additional free resources and safety tips, visit redcross.org/homefires.  

You can support this ongoing mission for our neighbors in need by joining as a volunteer or by making a donation at redcross.org.