‘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.

Blessings, ‘Star Wars’ and home fire safety: local stories from ‘Sound the Alarm’ 2019

Words by Wendy Rociles and Justin Kern / Photos by Hannah Hudson, Rociles and Kern, American Red Cross

More than 1,620 smoke alarms were installed in just shy of 800 homes across Wisconsin this spring during “Sound the Alarm. Save a Life,” an American Red Cross campaign for home fire safety.

Nationwide since 2014, the campaign has involved 1.7 million alarms and home fire escape plans brought to more than 709,000 homes. Among other results, the campaign has saved 589 lives to date, including a family of three in Janesville.

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After training and a rally, teams pulled together home fire safety tools before heading out into Wisconsin neighborhoods.

For the 2019 home fire safety push, events large and small spread across Wisconsin in late April and early May, including installations in Janesville, Barron and Brothertown, and in La Crosse, Dunn and Taylor counties. The two largest installation days occurred in Milwaukee (593 alarms in 225 homes by 223 volunteers) and the Fox Cities (823 alarms in 276 homes by 159 volunteers).


You can still bring this home fire safety campaign to your home. Enter your info at GetASmokeAlarm.org for an appointment.


Here are vignettes from this campaign to make our state safer and better prepared when it comes to home fires, the top disaster response on almost a daily occurrence for the Red Cross in Wisconsin.

‘Thank God you’re here’

Aretha Robertson breathed a sigh of relief once she heard why volunteers from the American Red Cross were at her door.

“My smoke alarm just started chirping today, thank God you’re here,” Robertson said.

Robertson was one of 225 residents in Milwaukee who received nearly 600 free smoke alarms during a one-day home fire safety blitz in Milwaukee by the Red Cross and partners as part of the “Sound the Alarm.”

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Volunteer Kristen Forseth, right, discusses a home fire escape plan with Milwaukee resident Cora Martin during the “Sound the Alarm. Save A Life” event.

Three trained volunteers – Kristen Forseth, Anthony Marzien and Joey Schulteis – installed a trio of new alarms in the home where Robertson lives with her husband. And while they did the installation, Robertson rang up three of her Washington Park neighbors to let them know about the free alarms and home fire escape opportunity.

One of those neighbors, Cora Martin, welcomed this same team of volunteers into her home, where her adorable puppy, Bentley, even received some good scratches for his enthusiasm at the newfound friends.

Martin also received three smoke alarms and said she was very happy that her husband, who has a medical condition, wouldn’t have to handle the installation himself.

These volunteers were three of more than 220 involved during the April 27 home fire safety event in Milwaukee, which primarily fanned out eastward from host site Harley Davidson on West Juneau Avenue. Volunteers toted alarms, tips for home fire and tornado preparedness, Snap-on drills and other instructions, along with a determination to make their city a safer place.

“I was really excited to be able to do this,” said Forseth, a first-time home fire safety volunteer and an employee with Harley. “I didn’t expect as much thanks as we’re getting, so it’s really awesome to be able to go in the home and hear homeowners say, ‘Thank you so much, you answered my prayers today.’”

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At one Menasha home, Ayden Overson and Garred Blanthorn replaced alarms in the kitchen while team member Mark Gallert talked tornado preparedness with the owner.

Safety on ‘May the Fourth’

After stopping by a smoke alarm appointment in Appleton on May 4, a volunteer team of Sharon Holt, Dean Haas and Joanie Micke knocked on the door of a next-door neighbor.

Laura Leyh answered and soon admitted she didn’t know the number of alarms in their two-story home, nor the last time the batteries were checked.

“I had no idea you did this. Of course, please come in,” Leyh said to the volunteer team.

Micke began discussing home fire escape plans with the five-person family, around the kitchen table for lunch, as Haas got permission to check on smoke alarms around the home. In the meantime, Holt shared a safety coloring book with the smiling, rambunctious kindergartener in the home, Lillian. (Nationally, 1.3 million youth have been reached with home fire safety lessons and materials to this point in the campaign.)

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Sharon Holt, left, shares a preparedness coloring book with Lillian Leyh during a “Sound the Alarm” visit in Appleton.

The Leyh home was decorated with an intricate, colored pencil drawings of R2-D2 and an explosive poster that featured Rey donning a lightsaber. It became clear on this installation date of May 4 that the family chose to include home fire safety as part of their “May the Fourth” celebration of the “Star Wars” movie franchise. Exiting the home, the Leyh family replied to one volunteer with a “May the Fourth Be With You” cheer.

2019 American Red Cross of Wisconsin “Sound the Alarm. Save A Life” Milwaukee and Fox Cities partner roster

  • Fox Valley Technical College
  • Menasha Corporation
  • Festival Foods
  • WHBY
  • Lands’ End
  • United Way Fox Cities
  • Appleton Fire Department

    Mark Thomas tests alarm NW STASAL 2019

    Mark Thomas, CEO, American Red Cross of Wisconsin, tests an alarm during a home fire safety stop at a home in Dunn County. 

  • Appleton City Hall
  • Menasha Health Department
  • Hmong American Partnership
  • Great Northern Corporation
  • Harley-Davidson
  • Wisconsin Tiffany Circle
  • We Energies
  • Lands’ End
  • Forest County Potawatomi Community
  • Milwaukee Fire Department
  • Nicholas Family Foundation
  • Laureate Group
  • HOPE Worldwide
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County
  • Coffee Makes You Black
  • Pete’s Fruit Market
  • Near West Side Partners, Inc.

 

‘Grateful’ installers, recipients of free smoke alarms and fire escape plans

By Wendy Rociles, American Red Cross

Dora Hogan was singing a grateful tune after a friend in her choir said she could get free smoke alarms installed in her Milwaukee home. American Red Cross volunteers who made the installations were grateful, too.

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American Red Cross volunteer Jordan Davis, right, talks over a home fire escape plan with Dora Hogan, left, & Alisa Jones. 

Hogan, a grandmother living on the west side of the city, said a smoke alarm in her living room had fallen from her ceiling, which made it difficult for her to replace. With family – including her beloved grandchildren – visiting often, Hogan found it essential to reach out to the Red Cross on their standing offer to provide free smoke alarms to those who need them.

Hogan made an appointment for the alarms (click here to find out how) and two Red Cross volunteers came to check out her home fire safety needs. Along with the living room replacement alarm, Red Cross volunteer Jordan Davis found another alarm in one of the bedrooms with a 1997 expiration date. A few additional alarms were in order, too, posted in important spots in the home to give Hogan peace of mind. Davis tested the alarms and, with a beep, everyone knew that the home was a safer place.

“The smoke alarms could save a life, especially with a lot of grandkids here all the time,” said Alisa Jones, Hogan’s daughter, who was present during the installations. “They could be doing anything: cooking, curling irons left on … I’m very grateful that we have the smoke alarms.”

Along with the alarms, Davis sat with Hogan and Jones to review fire safety tips and a fire escape plan. With these plans, in case of a fire, Hogan’s family will know exactly what to do and how to stay safe outside the home.

Sound the Alarm logoIn addition to installing smoke alarms, Davis volunteers on the Milwaukee area Disaster Action Team (DAT), a role that puts him in a place to comfort and help families involved in many local home fires. Davis said smoke alarm and home fire escape plan events like one coming up April 27 in Milwaukee are “crucial” when it comes to family preparedness.

“Responding with DAT in the aftermath of a home fire to provide comfort and resources to community members can be extremely challenging – and especially when one learns just how many residences in Milwaukee do not have working smoke alarms. Installing smoke alarms before a fire occurs, however, truly brings my service experience with the American Red Cross full circle,” Davis said.

If you don’t know if your smoke alarms are working or think you need new ones, please reach out. Red Cross volunteers are always here to help, such as numerous, day-long smoke alarm installation events coming up:

  • April 13 – Chippewa Valley
  • April 27 – Milwaukee
  • April 27 – La Crosse
  • May 4 – Fox Cities
  • May 4 – Janesville

Sign up for your free smoke alarm and home fire escape plan by entering your information at GetASmokeAlarm.org or by texting the word “Alarm” to 844-811-0100.

Mosaic partnership brings “extra protection” to northwestern Wisconsin homes

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Rebecca Eliasen signed up for cable and phone service at her Barron, Wisconsin home. Her telecommunications installer also brought her peace of mind.

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Rebecca Eliasen, right, chatted with Nate Froehlich as he installed a new smoke alarm in her Barron home.

Nate Froehlich, a service technician with Mosaic Telecom, installed a smoke alarm at Eliasen’s home recently, as part of a trailblazing partnership with the American Red Cross of Wisconsin. Eliasen lives in the home with her boyfriend and her son, and she said she was relieved to be able to have the Mosaic technician check her existing smoke alarms and add one in the basement.

“It’s nice to have the extra protection, the extra safety,” said Eliasen. “You can never have too many, in case you can’t hear it or you’re a heavy sleeper.”

In the partnership, Mosaic technicians have been trained by the Red Cross to install free smoke alarms during scheduled service calls in and around Barron County. Mosaic is the first telco in the U.S. to perform these types of installs with the Red Cross. As of Nov. 15, one month into the partnership, Mosaic technicians had already installed 38 smoke alarms in homes across Barron County. The timing of the partnership is important, too, as winter weather brings with it an increase in home fires.

Barron ARC Mosaic install house

The Mosaic and Red Cross partnership brought more than 30 smoke alarms into northwestern Wisconsin homes in just the first month.

Across Wisconsin, the American Red Cross brings together volunteers, fire departments and corporate partners to install thousands of smoke alarms in homes. Some are done in single-day events, others in sporadic scheduling. It’s part of a nationwide campaign that, since 2014, has directly saved the lives of more than 470 people, including a family from Janesville.

Kyle Kriegl, Chapter Executive for the American Red Cross of Wisconsin – Northwestern Chapter, said the addition of Mosaic’s team “will make great strides toward improving home fire safety and awareness for residents in this part of the state.”

Shanna Roe, Marketing Specialist at Mosaic Telecom, said that it was easy to add the smoke alarms to their work flow when considering the wider aims for the community.

“The decision for Mosaic to partner with the Red Cross in the implementation of this program was simple – we are working together to save lives,” Roe said.

Along with the Mosaic partnership, free smoke alarms and home fire escape plans are available to anyone in need. To sign up, go to GetASmokeAlarm.org.

Installing smoke alarms and peace of mind

by Justin Kern, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

For Renee Hovland and Ms. Bowman, volunteers installed peace of mind along with smoke alarms during recent communitywide events.

The two Wisconsin residents welcomed Red Cross volunteers and partners into their respective homes as part of “Sound the Alarm, Save a Life,” a national campaign to reduce injury and death from home fires.

Madison STASAL volunteers prep

Volunteers receive tools, alarms and instruction in Madison at event host, American Family Insurance HQ.

Hundreds of volunteers teamed up with a goal to install 1,400 smoke alarms during separate, daylong events in Milwaukee and Madison. Other cities and counties have or will hold their own installation roundups. (Click here to sign up for a free smoke alarm installed as part of this ongoing campaign.)

During the recent communitywide events in Milwaukee and Madison, Renee and Ms. Bowman shared the stories behind their installations.

‘It means the world to me’
Renee Hovland and her family know firsthand the impact of a house fire.

On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, 11 years ago, a candle burned out of control and “took down our whole house,” she said. Seven fire crews came to the site of their house in McFarland, on the outskirts of Madison, even tapping a neighbor’s pool to help contain the blaze.

The Hovlands – Renee, her husband Eric, their two daughters, plus three dogs and two cats – lost that home and all their possessions. But, they were alive and unscathed. They rebuilt on the same property.

Madison Sound the Alarm install family

Charles installs an alarm at the Hovland house with his family team, Crystal (center) and Samantha.

So, when they received a flyer about the fire department and Red Cross teaming up to install smoke alarms on May 5, Renee made an appointment.

“We had hardwired smoke detectors when we rebuilt and some of them are past the date that they’re still working,” Renee said. “It’s been something that’s bothering me, knowing that don’t have current alarm equipment that’s working. To me, this is a huge deal.”

A volunteer team of four family members installed five smoke alarms in the Hovland house and talked through an escape plan with Eric. As Renee brought their dogs outside to prevent a distraction, she reflected on the sense of security she’s gained from the free installations.

“It means the world to me,” she said. “I honestly can’t afford to buy that many [smoke alarms] and putting them up on a ladder, with my health, I can’t do that. It’s huge, a huge help.”

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In his Milwaukee kitchen, Donta Geter, right, talks through a fire escape plan with Red Cross volunteer Shelly Grasso.

‘That’s a blessing’
Donta Geter invited a team of Red Cross volunteers from Marquette University into his family’s majestic, three-story red brick home in Milwaukee’s Cold Spring Park neighborhood on April 28. Donta pointed to a few spots in and around the living room that lacked a working smoke alarm. Then, he helped his grandmother – who introduced herself as “Ms. Bowman” – into the kitchen to establish a fire escape plan with volunteer Shelly Grasso.

Shelly drew an escape map onto a dry erase board with input from Donta and Ms. Bowman, as the other volunteers snaked their way up the home’s back stairwell to install alarms on the second story and in the attic.

“Nope, we don’t have a plan,” said Ms. Bowman. “We were always under the assumption that if there’s a front entrance and a back exit, you go out [of one of those]. But … you might have to go out of one of these windows!”

Milwaukee Sound the Alarm pin 2018Ms. Bowman and Donta talked with Shelly about the best ways to get out in the event of a disaster, and then posted that map on their refrigerator. In the meantime the other volunteers had finished installing three new alarms and replacing another.
Ms. Bowman remarked: “Thank you for all of this. That’s a blessing.”

For more information on the home fire safety campaign – including installation signups and volunteering – click here.