‘Inspired’ days of home fire safety in Racine and Langlade County

By Kelsey ShaSha McCarthy & Justin Kern, American Red Cross

In a seven-day stretch, nearly 100 families in totally different parts of the state were made safer when it comes to a shared threat – home fires.

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Jill Neider, top right, of Racine, talks through a home fire escape plan with her mother, Gloria Tischer, and Red Cross volunteer Hillary Wanecke.

American Red Cross volunteers and staff teamed up with fire department and community leaders in Racine and Langlade County to install dozens of free smoke alarms and work with families on their home fire escape plans. Just recently, this same program eclipsed 620 lives saved nationwide since 2014.

Here are two stories of the families and volunteers involved in those recent, important home fire safety and preparedness events in Wisconsin.

‘Whatever she needs for emergencies’
Becky Murphy saw a blurb in the Antigo newspaper about free smoke alarms being installed in Langlade County when she realized there weren’t any working alarms in the home she shares with her grandmother, Goldie Muelver, in Deerbrook. Becky signed up online and their home became part of a day of installations in Antigo and Langlade County on Aug. 23 run by the Red Cross and the Antigo Fire Department.

“I want to have whatever she needs for emergencies,” Becky said of her grandmother.

First-time volunteer Emily Koszarek and disaster staff member Dan Dozer scouted the interior of the Deerbrook home for the best spots for a handful of alarms. Once alarms were in place and tested, they talked through escape plans with Becky and Goldie. They also shared info on other types of disasters, like tornados, which had just dropped down in nearby areas during a summer storm.

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Deerbrook homeowner Goldie Muelver thanks and flatters new Red Cross volunteer Emily Koszarek.

Goldie, for what it’s worth, had some fun with the conversation, flattering Emily and adding that she’d “scream bloody murder” as part of her alert system should the smoke alarms go off.

Langlade County has been particularly hard hit by tragic home fires and seasonal storms this year. Emily said it was important for her to be able to do something for people who live in the same county as her, adding that it was a bonus to share information on a range of local and relevant disasters.

“I’m inspired by what we were able to do,” she said. “You never assume what someone knows or doesn’t know.”

Special layer of safety in Racine
The morning of Aug. 17 started out with boxes upon boxes of new battery powered smoke alarms arriving at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Racine. When all the supplies and materials were collected, groups of Red Cross volunteers and Racine Fire Department firefighters took their list of appointments and drove off to make the first of many house calls.

In the neighborhoods, volunteers left information with residents interested in learning more about home fire safety. At their appointments or when welcomed in by residents in need, volunteers helped residents start the dialogue on preventative measures with home fire emergencies. They also offered support by helping families create fire safety escape plans and installing smoke alarms in key, accessible areas of residents’ homes.

A three-member team comprised of Tommy Poe, Hillary Wanecke and Skip Gaffney headed to appointments along Deane Boulevard. One of those important house calls belonged to Jill Neider, a former 9-1-1 dispatcher, who lives with her mother, Gloria Tischer, and their seven-year old toy rat terrier, Dr. Sheldon Cooper.

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Volunteers and firefighters made dozens of families in Racine better prepared from home fires during a single-day safety event.

In a conversation with Jill and Gloria, it became apparent that Gloria’s hearing loss would necessitate an additional special piece of safety equipment. After the volunteer team installed three smoke alarms – upstairs, next to the kitchen, and in a basement bedroom – they identified that a bed shaker alarm was needed in the home. With this equipment, if a house fire was to start, smoke alarms both sound off and communicate with a device that shakes Gloria’s downstairs bed.

Testing the alarms, Gloria could faintly make out the traditional smoke alarms – “I can hear the beep-beep-beep” – though with the additional bed shaker, Jill knew their household was more fully prepared if a fire were ever to start in their home.

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