Thankful to be alive and for the services of the Red Cross 

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross 

Oscar Balderas and Kisiah Johnson are two long-time residents of the Monona Hills Apartments, and both woke to the sounds of smoke alarms and commotion at 3:42 a.m. on a Saturday morning, March 18 2023, in their respective apartments.

Monona Hills Apartments, photo by Laura McGuire

Johnson called the fire department to confirm that the smoke alarms were indeed a fire warning and not a false alarm. Grabbing her coat, purse, and keys, she went out of her apartment. While walking down the smoke-filled halls, she saw other residents in a dazed state still waking up. She escorted one lady out of the building in a nightgown and another lady who is visually impaired down the stairs to find safety outside as firefighters and police were knocking on doors asking all to exit the building.

The day before the fire, Balderas moved from one apartment to another apartment within the building never expecting the worst to happen. When hearing the alarms, Balderas retrieved his coat before heading out the door and helping others out of the building. “I help. That’s me,” Balderas said. “If I can help you, I’ll help you, but I mean the people that live there are like my family. We’ve known each other for you know, a long time and we just have to help each other. It doesn’t matter what race you are; you have to become one people and I just helped them as much as I could.”

Kisiah Johnson and Oscar Balderas, photo by Laura McGuire

All apartments in the 70-unit apartment building have been evacuated.

The temperature was a blustery 9 degrees Fahrenheit with 15 mph winds making conditions frigid. “It was really, really cold,” said Johnson. The Red Cross was there handing out socks and blankets to help comfort the residents exposed to the cold temperatures.

St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, across the parking lot from the apartment building, opened its doors for those displaced, serving as a reunification center for residents which turned into a Red Cross shelter.

Newton being comforted by his owner, photo by Laura McGuire

Balderas and Johnson have no family in the area, so for them they were glad to see the Red Cross in action providing comfort and care in their time of need. Both had been through fires before. Johnson surviving a fire in her youth in Chicago. “Things can be replaced,” explained Johnson. “I am just thankful to be alive. I am so thankful for the Red Cross services that they were “Johnny-on-the-spot” so soon after and for all the first responders who helped.” 

Both Balderas and Johnson were distraught, and their adrenaline was running high, but it was clear their attitudes of positivity will carry them through their recovery. They were glad to receive a hot meal, hot coffee, a Red Cross personal hygiene kit providing essentials, and hugs and comfort from Red Cross staff and volunteers.

Johnson was also proud to say, she gave blood to the Red Cross as recently as a couple of days before the fire. While seeing the Red Cross hold a blood drive at her work, she was happy to learn that she was eligible to donate, and she rolled up her sleeve and gave a pint of blood.

When the dust settles for Johnson she hopes to become a Red Cross volunteer and help others.

If anyone is impacted by this fire and needs help please call the Red Cross at 1-800-236-8680.

The Red Cross is always looking for volunteers to provide hope to those in need. Please see our website for more information on how you too and become a Red Cross volunteer:

Red Cross disaster action team volunteer, photo by Laura McGuire

Sounding the Alarm for Home Fire Safety 

By Tom Ruse, American Red Cross 

Home fires claim an average of seven lives every day! As the American Red Cross of Wisconsin gears up for the annual Home Fire Campaign to encourage home fire readiness, we are sharing practical experiences from residents who’ve “been there”. 

Evelyn Rodgers from Milwaukee explains how she, and her mother and daughter have learned from experiencing fire in their home in Milwaukee.

“It was an electrical fire, which means it was in the walls,” said Evelyn Rodgers. “You could smell it. I had no power to the upstairs part of my house. When I went upstairs to the bathroom, I felt the heat. I looked towards the shower and saw smoke. I yelled down to my mom and daughter to put their shoes and coat on as I dialed 911,” said Rodgers.

Rodgers continues to say, “(The Red Cross was) very helpful. I spoke to a mental health/spiritual advisor, my daughter talked to a counselor, and my mom was able to get her medication replaced. They constantly checked on me to see where I was on my house journey and how I was doing overall.” 

Better days ahead! Evelyn and her mother and daughter (Left-right Pat, E’Monni , Evelyn )

Having lived through this, Rodgers explains how they now prepare for the future.

“Any time my daughter hears a smoke detector she thinks it is a fire. She constantly touches the walls to make sure they are not hot. She does not like crawl spaces. She is 5 so I know it was scary for her. We check the smoke detector regularly. My daughter even makes sure we check them every night. We also have an escape plan and a spot to meet up if the situation ever occurs again. I also had my in-laws come check the wiring to see if it was up to code.”  

Shanetta Hudson, from Milwaukee, experienced a fire in her apartment building when a neighbor fell asleep while cooking. While she and her son were alerted in time and got out safely, they lost everything they owned. 

“The fire department came, kicked the door in, told us to leave. It was terrifying! Hudson explained, “We lost everything. But the Red Cross was very helpful in a major way. I appreciate everything they did and so quickly. They help me get moved to a new location very quickly. And they provided us with air mattresses so we wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor when we first moved in. I actually had them before we moved in. They gave us vouchers to use at Salvation Army for clothes and supplies and such. If it were not for the Red Cross, I’d still be in a shelter.” 

“We did have working smoke alarms and will continue to make sure we do,” said Hudson.

Home fires claim seven lives every day but having working smoke alarms can cut the risk of death by half. 

The American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign helps save lives by installing free smoke alarms in homes that do not have them, and by educating people about home fire safety. 

To schedule a FREE smoke alarm installation visit: or call 1-888-376-4056.  

We are also rallying volunteers to install free smoke alarms, as part of our nationwide Sound the Alarm events. See the following volunteering opportunities in the area:

Saturday, April 15, 8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. 

M3 Insurance 
828 John Nolen Drive 
Madison, WI 53713 

To volunteer CLICK HERE 

Saturday, May 6, 8:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. 

Milwaukee Safety Academy 
6680 N. Teutonia Ave, 
Milwaukee, WI 53209 

To volunteer: CLICK HERE 

Learn more about the Home Fire Campaign and how you can prevent and prepare for home fires visit: 

Red Cross health history assessment helped a cancer patient seek medical attention 

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross  

Amelia Heider, a local American Red Cross blood donor, was deferred from giving blood three months in a row. Before her blood donation and after a health history assessment, Heider’s hemoglobin level produced a low result which prevented her from donating blood. This action led her to seek the advice of her doctor. In April 2022, she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. 

Heider is battling refractory high-risk Acute Myeloid Leukemia, also known as AML, with a rare genetic mutation. AML is a cancer of the blood that starts in the bone marrow and spreads to the bloodstream. 

Cancer patients use nearly one-quarter of the nation’s blood supply – more than patients fighting any other disease – but only 3% of Americans donate blood each year. To date, Heider has received over 50 whole blood and/or platelet transfusions during her treatment. 

The Heider family have been loyal blood donors and longtime residents of the Lodi community. “We strongly believe that by Amelia being a regular blood donor and being deferred from giving blood led to her Leukemia diagnosis,” said Maureen Heider, Amelia’s mother. “We did not realize just how much blood products cancer patients used.”  

To help keep blood the blood supply stable, the Heider family is holding a blood drive in honor of Amelia on Tuesday, April 11, 2023, from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Lodi Veterinary Care, 705 N. Main in Lodi. “We hope this blood drive will encourage people to donate blood on a regular basis to help all in need,” said Maureen Heider.

The Red Cross is proud to provide important health information through the donation process. This health assessment is performed on each blood donor prior to their donation. The private health history assessment includes questions about the donor’s health history, places traveled, use of prescription and over-the-counter medications, temperature, pulse rate, and blood pressure reading. The assessment also includes checking the donor’s hemoglobin level from a single drop of blood obtained from a finger stick to ensure the donor is healthy enough to donate. Empowering our blood donors with meaningful health information is critical to maintaining donor person well-being as well as the broader care of our communities.

To make an appointment to give blood, visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS or download the Red Cross Blood Donor App.