“Are we homeless now?”: Milwaukee father shares heartache, hope after an apartment building fire

In home fires, the flames and headlines can sometimes overshadow the impact on the lives of the people affected. Jaime was displaced by a fire Saturday afternoon at an apartment building in Milwaukee, along with his wife, Araceli, and their 10-year-old daughter, Lizeth. The fire sent a handful of residents to the hospital. Red Cross volunteers and staff helped during the fire and afterward established a shelter at Ascension Lutheran Church.

Jaime de la mata 43rd St fire April 2018 _ TWOAt the shelter on Monday afternoon, Jaime (above) took a break from filling out a sticker activity book with Lizeth to share his thoughts on the incident – the speed of the fire; the heart-wrenching question his daughter asked afterward; and his appreciation of volunteers and emergency personnel.

Below are excerpts from what Jaime shared in a conversation with Justin Kern, communications officer at the American Red Cross of Wisconsin.

On the fire that started during a restful weekend afternoon:
“It happened before, but those alarms, they were false alarms. This time, it was serious. It took us by surprise.

43rd St fire April 2018 volunteers Ruth Michael

Red Cross volunteers Michael and Ruth call for assistance outside of the apartment building, off S. 43rd St., as impacted residents keep warm in an MCTS bus, at right.

“It was early Saturday, one of the few Saturdays that [my wife and I] don’t work. We just heard someone yelling and the alarm in the distance. I thought it was my phone. Then the alarm starts again, closer. And when I opened our door [to the apartment hallway], I noticed a cloud coming closer to us. I grabbed my daughter, told her to get her jacket, told my wife, I grabbed our keys and we were out.

“I came back to help people, but at that moment, it was incredible, all the smoke. I could see nothing, it was dark and I used my sweatshirt [to cover my mouth]. Since I’ve lived there, I knew everyone around. I was worried. I was yelling, knocking on doors … The whole thing was, 20 seconds, 30 seconds …”

On the uncertain first few hours:
“It was amazing, the help. The police, they were there to do their job. Firefighters, took care of their jobs. The police said to go to the bus, Red Cross will help you. … Before, when I was in the field, watching everything, the smoke, debris. I was cold. …

“I took a seat in the [MCTS] bus and Red Cross were very good to me. It’s an amazing job they all did for us. … The other people, some are sad, but others were treating [my daughter] so nice, talking to her on the bus … it was fine when I saw her.”

On sad questions and hope for what’s to come:
“That first day, it was hard for me. I tried to contain my tears, my feelings.
“Lizeth asked me, ‘Are we homeless now?’ I told her ‘No, no, it was just an accident. I’ve got a job, your mom has a job. You’re alive. Nobody died. We complain about things, all of the time, but maybe this is a message from god. … We’re in the same situation [everyone from the building]. But don’t worry, because something good is coming.’”

43rd St fire shelter Ascension Lutheran volunteer Jasmine

Lunch time at the shelter, served by our volunteers and set up at Ascension Lutheran Church, one of the many partners to help these families during a difficult time.

On his family’s gratitude:
“I’m glad for Red Cross. … They made it so we had a place to sleep, something to eat and help us with our future. No one else is going to do all that for us.
“Red Cross has given the help that we needed. … There were little things, like games to play and a Mickey Mouse [doll]. I didn’t notice, but when I opened her backpack, she brought three waters and three bananas. [laughs] She had the Mickey in there with the things she brought from home.”

Red Cross continues to work with Jaime and his family, as well as with about two-dozen others impacted by this fire. To join our campaign to help families with fire prevention and protection across the county, click here.

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“There are so many ways to help”: Erin Martin jumps into disaster volunteer roles

by Red Cross volunteer Antonia Towns

When a tornado blew through the town of Chili, Erin Martin swirled into action.

A firefighter and longtime Wisconsin resident, Erin helped to coordinate a community clean-up effort for the town, about 20 minutes west of Marshfield. A few years later and after the birth of a child, Erin remained inspired by the disaster response experience, and signed up as a volunteer with the Red Cross.


“There’s a huge need for it in Clark County. It’s been good,” said Erin, one of the volunteers we’re highlighting during National Volunteer Appreciation Week.

With 22 years of experience working for the fire department, 19 of those years as a firefighter, Erin brings a unique set of skills that are beneficial to her volunteer position on the Disaster Action Team (D.A.T.) with the Red Cross. Along with her skills and experience, Erin carries plenty of compassion.

“I’ve seen people after a house fire and they just have a sense of hopelessness with no clue of how to rebuild. I can point them in the right direction and understand what they went through,” she said.

She recalled a time when she responded to a house fire where the family had been split up.

“After I gave them their card and told them what to do next, the wife started crying. We gave them some direction,” Erin said, adding, “You’re one of the first people that tells the victims that they’re going to be OK.”

Brian Cockerham, Red Cross North Central Chapter disaster program manager, called Erin an “invaluable volunteer” for her steadfast presence in Clark County.

“Erin is a not only an amazing Red Cross volunteer but is a great community member and a real asset to people around her,” Cockerham said.

Although firefighters often partner with Red Cross staff and volunteers, Erin said she didn’t know the extent of Red Cross offerings and programs until she joined D.A.T. For instance, training to provide emotional support to people who have suffered from a residential fire let her know that “there are so many ways to help.”

And with her holistic emergency background – for which she was awarded a Hometown Hero honor from the North Central Chapter of the Red Cross – comes a well-rounded view of the impact during emergencies.

“I’ve seen people during the events, and with the Red Cross, now I see them after, in recovery,” she said. “I’ve seen the full circle now.”

For more information on the ways you can help your community and our state, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

In First Aid, Jeanne Charnon is a Top Volunteer

Upon retiring from her job as a travel agent, Jeanne Charnon started to move up the ranks as a volunteer for the Red Cross.

In nearly a decade of “sharing my time,” Jeanne said she’s learned a great deal about herself and the organization. Her openness to lead and learn is one of the many reasons we’ve chosen Jeanne as one of our spotlight volunteers during Volunteer Appreciation Week.

Jeanne Charnon Photo“Knowing how many great people are involved … it’s a whole team effort and one person could not do it by themselves,” Jeanne (pictured above) said during a recent interview. “It’s very worthwhile, regardless of what area you’re in.”

In 2009, Jeanne, of Greendale, tagged along with a friend who was already volunteering with the Red Cross. Jeanne started out at the front desk, warmly handling reception and bureaucratic duties for about a year. Then, she joined the First Aid Support Team, also known as F.A.S.T.

Jeanne is now the co-facilitator of F.A.S.T. and has been essential in the success of the program. She is responsible for arranging contracts with clients and setting up the calendar for staffing events, which she says can mostly be done from home.

F.A.S.T. deploys volunteers who are certified in First Aid and CPR to community events like Summerfest and the Special Olympics, providing basic First Aid.

“Working with the Special Olympics, seeing how they interact and their joy, they’re a primary reason why I do this,” she said.

Amid staffing changes in 2014, Jeanne was part of a small group of volunteers who stepped forward to voice their concerns about the program ending. The group created a proposal and were granted one year to see how they would do, they are now into their fourth year. By 2015 the program was totally volunteer based and has been led by volunteers since. This year F.A.S.T. is expected to be present at around 35 events and has about 52 volunteers.

“We manage to staff them all. I hope we can keep the program going,” she said. “I enjoy the people that we work with.”