‘Red Cross came to the rescue’: after massive apartment fire, Milwaukee woman joins as a disaster volunteer

By Katie Baneck, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

House fires occur in the winter more than any other season. This can be attributed to heating equipment, especially in Wisconsin, among other factors. The American Red Cross utilizes Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteers to help families affected by emergency situations, such as house fires. DAT volunteers assist those affected by providing resource information, financial assistance, emotional support, and whatever else may be needed after their tragic event

Shortly after experiencing her own tragedy, Martha Preston became a DAT volunteer herself. In January 2021, Martha arrived at her Burnham Park apartment to find that it was no longer a home. A fire within the complex just after midnight displaced more than 100 residents and took one life.

The morning after a deadly fire that displaced dozens from an apartment building in Milwaukee’s Burnham Park neighborhood.

Martha recalls the Milwaukee County Transit buses parked nearby as warming shelters for the building’s residents as firefighters battled the four-story building blaze. Then, the volunteers arrived.

“The Red Cross came to the rescue,” she remembered of the scene that day.

The Red Cross provided shelter for Martha and dozens of those who were displaced, in a 24-hour span that also saw other large apartment fires in Milwaukee, Janesville and Beaver Dam. At one point soon after these fires, the Red Cross in Wisconsin led the nation with the number of people supported in disaster sheltering, even surpassing the largest cities in the U.S., and areas ravaged by natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires.

It was the kind actions of the Red Cross volunteers that responded to this event that inspired Martha to join the cause herself. Now as a DAT volunteer, Martha is the first person many come in contact with after their emergency. She provides water, hygiene kits, stuffed animals for children, and many other things that help these families begin to recuperate after tragedy. Martha has fond memories of her first time responding as a DAT volunteer.

Martha Preston

“It is so rewarding to be able to help out people on probably the worst day of their life, and get them on their way to recovery,” Preston said.

In addition to her participation with the Red Cross, Martha also volunteers with anti-human trafficking organizations. When she is not busy volunteering, Martha enjoys spending time with her husband and their three cats.

The winter of 2021 saw a recent high in the number of home fires and number of people in need of humanitarian relief from the Red Cross. That trend has continued with nearly three fires per day to start 2022 – with people like Martha there to help people in the response and recovery.

For information on how to become a DAT volunteer visit this link. To search for other volunteer positions and opportunities, go here.

Wisconsin Region spotlight: Q&A with Edita Emini

Every few months, we’re highlighting the incredible work toward the mission of the American Red Cross by one of our colleagues in the Wisconsin Region. Hopefully these short profiles provide a little light of positivity and inspiration across all lines of service in our humanitarian mission.

This latest profile is on Edita Emini, an Aquatics Sales Leader with our Training Services department, who has transitioned her passion for athletics into programs that make our communities healthier and safer. Questions were asked by members of the Region communications team, and edited for style and space.

American Red Cross: Tell us about your professional background and your role at the Red Cross. 

My career started at Carthage College where I was a graduate assistant for the soccer program. Upon completion of my graduate degree I then transitioned into the role of Manager of Athletic Faculties at Carthage College. Prior to the Red Cross, I was with Kiefer Aquatics as an Account Executive. The transition to the Aquatics Division within Red Cross Training Services from Kiefer Aquatics was natural, as I worked in the aquatics industry for four-plus years. 

The mission of the Red Cross connects us to so many people. Can you share an anecdote about someone whose life was affected by your role or work at the Red Cross? 

My father recently experienced cardiac complication. My role with the Red Cross and training within our CPR and AED program helped myself and my family react quickly, which made a big impact in his treatment!

How do you explain what you do to people outside the Red Cross? 

This is a good question! The Red Cross carries such a big brand. When I say I work for the Red Cross the assumption is with disaster or blood services. I explain to family and friends I work for the division that trains individuals and organizations in CPR, First Aid, Lifeguarding, etc. Not many are aware the Training Services Division is within the Red Cross. However, I am proud to say that our Red Cross brand and name is always talked highly upon when asked, where I work or what I do.

What is your hidden talent? Or a hobby you have that people may not know about?

I am a big sports nut! I follow college, NFL, etc.! I played college soccer at Carthage Soccer and grew up around sports my entire life.

What does the Red Cross mean to you?  

The Red Cross to myself and my family represents a brand and company that always does the right thing! This term is often used in our Division – do the right thing – and it has stuck with me. That term can be used in business, but most importantly throughout life. The Red Cross to me represents a company that is there during time of disaster to help and do the right thing; that same term applies to our division of blood services and training services.

What would you say to inspire someone to join the Red Cross – through a training, or as a blood donor, volunteer or supporter? 

The Red Cross is a great place to work and be a part of! Many of times when you bring up the Red Cross, almost immediately you can bring up a conversation and commonality with anyone. The Red Cross is a company that holds great values and ultimately is there to help and meet the need of the community.