By Barbara Behling, Wisconsin Red Cross Chief Communications Officer
Three day weekends for many include family, fellowship, food and fun. For the Garcia family, Labor Day turned into a day of panic, horror and help from the American Red Cross.
In the early morning hours, Felipe Garcia was woken by the faint sound of the hallway smoke alarms, and he smelled smoke. He rose from his bed, went to hallway door, opened it and immediately shut-it. “It was filled with black-smoke so thick I didn’t want to take my family out there,” he stated. He turned, yelled for his two teenage boys to wake-up, and for his wife to get herself and 5-month old Arianna up.
Even though they lived on the second floor of the Middleton, Wisconsin apartment building, he knew they would have to escape out the window. “We did what we had to do. So I lowered the first boy out the window as far as I could reach and then let him go. He hit the ground hard. We repeated this for the second teenager. When I turned to my wife for the baby, we knew it was imminent I would have to drop her too. With the boys on the ground, they caught her softly,” he recalls.
Standing outside their burning building, they watched as the fire department fought to save the building, and assessed their injuries. One of the boys’ ankle, and the others’ wrist, was throbbing and the baby wouldn’t stop coughing, so all went to the Emergency Room for immediate help. X-rays for the boys proved nothing was broken.
Upon returning to the apartment complex, the Garcia family was met by American Red Cross disaster responders. Even with English being their second language, it did not take long to translate the fear and pain in each of their stories. Our bi-lingual responder assured them the Red Cross would be there for them as they asked, “What do we do next?”
The fire investigation was going to take all day, and depending on power and water, residents were likely not be able to return for up to a week, or longer, due to the damage. With the weekend temperatures reaching 92 degrees, and humidity nearing the same level, it was miserable for anyone to be outside for long periods of time. Therefore, the Red Cross opened a shelter in the nearby Middleton High School. This air conditioned building had bathrooms, cool air and places to gather. Not only that, but the residents were greeted with coffee, juice, water and hot breakfasts, plus some donuts too! From the time they arrived, the sense of relief was evident on their faces.
As people started to relax, the Red Cross’ mental health and health services responders went table-to-table to casually strike up conversations, check on everyone’s emotional state, and to ensure no injuries were overlooked. To a casual observer, the shelter almost looked like a regular family reunion: people were chatting, kids were playing and food and beverages were provided throughout the day. Best of all, little Arianna was smiling, giggling and acting like a 5-month old. As this was happening, the Red Cross team back at the fire site was working with the apartment management and fire and local officials to determine what emergency housing needs would be needed.
As for the Garcia family, they were able to fill clothesbaskets with clothing, medications, a few toys and items they would need. Family and friends stepped in to offer shelter while their apartment underwent cleaning and repairs. In addition, the Red Cross provided financial assistance for food and miscellaneous needs. The Red Cross also provided personal hygiene items and helped them navigate the recovery process.
The support of the American Red Cross is only possible due to the dedicated staff and volunteers, community partners and donors alike. For more information on how you can help, please visit redcross.org.