“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.