Lehigh House Fire: A Volunteer’s Perspective

On Wednesday, August 10, the Lee County Chapter of the American Red Cross responded to a house fire in east Lehigh. The fire consumed the home displacing a family of 4 and 1 renter.

Every month, members of our Chapter’s Disaster Action Team (DAT team for short) respond to a variety of brush fires, house fires, and other disasters that displace members of our community. These local volunteers are able to provide displaced families with temporary housing and other forms of assistance to meet their immediate needs following a disaster. On Wednesday afternoon, I had the opportunity to provide that comfort to a family in east Lehigh after their home and all of their belongings were consumed in a house fire.

We often remind our volunteers that “you are never alone” and that there is always another Red Cross volunteer there to help you. We frequently follow this concept on our DAT responses, going out in two person teams. On Wednesday afternoon, I was the only team member available to respond, making it my first solo DAT call. Though I was a bit apprehensive, I was confident in my abilities and left less than 10 minutes after receiving the call from our disaster director.

When I arrived at the home in the eastern Lehigh area, the fire was still burning, and there was an array of fire trucks, police cars, and other emergency vehicles parked within a block of the fire. This wasn’t the first house fire I had seen, but it was easily one of the most destructive, taking the entire home and all of its contents.

I approached the Fire Chief and he led me to a young woman he introduced as the owner of the house. The mother of two, though distraught, was trying to remain calm for the sake of her children. The husband arrived shortly after I did, followed by another young woman who, the couple told me, had been renting a room for the past few months. All had lost everything in the fire that engulfed the house in less than 10 minutes.

Given the circumstances of the family and the resources I had, I was able to provide all members of the household with a hotel and money for food, toiletries, and clothing to help them through the immediate period following the disaster.  I was also able to provide the family with referrals to several of our partner agencies, including the Salvation Army, who will be able to help them in their long term recovery.

It’s always a challenge to see such a tragedy in the community, and though it never gets easier to see something like a family losing their home, it’s a relief to know that an organization like the Red Cross is there to help our families, friends, and neighbors in the local community. When I saw the appreciation in the eyes of the family I helped last night, I immediately understood why our volunteers give so much of their time, and why our donors are so generous. It’s so that we can provide services like these to people in need in communities all over the country.

 

If you have time that you’re able to give back to the local community, I can think of no better organization than your local Red Cross Chapter. Being a volunteer for the American Red Cross is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Though becoming a member of our DAT team isn’t easy, and can take several months of classes and waiting, it’s all more than worth it when you’re able to say: “I helped someone when they needed me the most.”

-Andrew Striker

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