Hours After Smoke Alarm Installation, Oshkosh Couple Avoids the Worst

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Ross Golly’s hands spelled out words like “smoke,” “scared” and “alarm” in retelling the story of a recent cooking fire at his home. Golly and his wife, Betty, who are both deaf, escaped danger from that grease fire quickly thanks in part to alarms installed that very afternoon by the American Red Cross.

Betty and Ross Golly at home Dec 2019 ONE

Betty and Ross Golly, with their dogs Brownie and Peanut, at their Oshkosh home in December 2019. Smoke alarms from the Red Cross helped them avoid harm and destruction the same day they were installed.

As Ross signed the word “comfort” to share his feeling on the ultimate impact of these alarms, his fingers displayed faint, white scars from another fire six years ago that revealed how bad it could have been.

Gratitude and collaboration
The Sunday after Thanksgiving, a volunteer duo from the Red Cross were out in northeastern Wisconsin following up on appointments to install smoke alarms and work with families on home fire escape plans. The appointments are part of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, which has brought more than 2 million smoke alarms into homes across the U.S. since 2014. Closer to home, from July 2018 to June 2019, for all of Wisconsin, Red Cross volunteers and partners installed 5,709 alarms at nearly 2,500 homes.

More than alarms, the program has directly led to nearly 700 lives saved nationwide, including a family in Janesville. It’s that chance to help keep families prepared and safe from that most-common disaster of home fires that engaged Red Cross volunteers like Toby Vanden Heuvel and Kurt Hein.

Vanden Heuvel has been a volunteer with the disaster action team since 2007. In that role, he both responds to help families who have suffered a home fire and installs alarms to prevent major fires. Soon after the Green Bay Packers game on Sunday, Dec. 1, Vanden Heuvel and Hein visited the Gollys for their installation appointment, which Ross had made online. The four worked collaboratively to overcome initial communications challenges, and Vanden Heuvel said the installation stood out because of the positivity and gratitude.

Toby Vanden Heuvel in FDL floods winter 2019

Toby Vanden Heuvel volunteers with the disaster team, which includes smoke alarm installations and, as seen here, distribution of flood clean up supplies in Fond du Lac in 2019.

“They were super gracious. And interested, reading through all of the instructions” for the alarms and home fire escape plans, Vanden Heuvel said. “Everyone was helping everyone, in some form or fashion.”

Later that night, Hein received a TTY call from the Gollys. The alarms Hein and Vanden Heuvel installed that day went off just hours later, alerting the Gollys to a kitchen fire and preventing a bigger disaster.

Alarms in use, just hours later
In mid-December, the Gollys shared their story on the fire from their home to the Red Cross, including disaster volunteer Sue Bardonner, fluent in American Sign Language that she learned when her son became deaf due to illness more than 20 years ago.

Hours after the installation of two bed-shakers and other, connected 10-year lithium battery alarms in the Golly home, they all went off. Betty had started to fry chicken in their kitchen. She said she misjudged the heat level and the grease burned up quickly, sparking smoke and small flames. That smoke triggered the shaker alarm under the bedroom bed where Ross was resting, as well as the connected alert lights the couple has rigged throughout the home.

Golly house burned pan

The charred pan that set off the smoke alarms at the Golly home.

While Betty dashed out the front door to escape the smoke, Ross took a quick check of the fire, then grabbed a fire extinguisher from their garage. He put out the fire without greater incident. But not without a rollercoaster of emotions.

“I felt scared” to have the alarms go off, Ross Golly signed. Still, he said the Red Cross bed-shakers and other alarms make him feel “more comfortable. It helps a lot.”

Ross and Betty Golly are now counted among those who prevented greater catastrophe from a home fire because of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign. It’s a catastrophe they know well.

‘Something is wrong, I have to go’
For 23 years, the Gollys have lived in a ranch-style home in Oshkosh. The last few years, they’ve shared the home with their two loving dogs, Brownie and Peanut, who respond to sign language commands – especially when it involves treats. Like any homeowners, Ross and Betty have dealt with risks from accidents or weather. (An emergency broadcast weather radio is always on in the home and is connected to a series of alert lights, just like the smoke alarms, doorbell and telephone. Red Cross volunteers also shared information on common regional extreme weather disasters like flooding during their December visit.)

Ross Golly with burned hands submitted

Ross with his bandaged hands from a previous home fire.

An emergency incident six years ago at the home still puts the couple in a panic. Ross said he was working in the garage when a small fire broke out and melted a coffee pot. In putting that fire out, Ross hurt his hands, though he was able to get off an emergency text to Betty. She rushed home and said she immediately feared bigger problems for Ross with injuries to his hands, his primary method of communication.

“I got a text and I told my boss something is wrong, I have to go,” she remembered. “I came home and saw him and said, ‘Oh my gosh, go to the E.R.’”

Back to the hospital together, Betty helped Ross to communicate at the E.R. In time, his hands healed, though the scars remain. And they were a reminder when he heard about free smoke alarms and fire escape plans on offer from the Red Cross. As he thought back about the fire that scalded his hands and the more recent one where they avoided big damage, Ross reiterated his appreciation to Red Cross volunteers and for the alarms: “Thank you, we’re happy to have this.”

Do you know someone who could use free smoke alarms installed in their home? Sign up today at GetASmokeAlarm.org. Interested in joining our home fire safety volunteer teams? Take the first step at redcross.org/volunteer.

 

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