Officials, researchers and organizations have labeled house and wildfires the biggest disaster threat across the nation, affecting thousands of innocent people every year. The American Red Cross has become one of the key organizations in responding to these emergencies, with 93 percent of their responses being fire related. From its establishment in 1881, the American Red Cross not only helps victims of fire emergencies but has also evolved to educate society and prevent these disasters. The incident that started the campaign for fire relief began in Michigan in September of 1881.
Disaster struck the Lower Peninsula of Michigan when high winds combined with dry lands and small fires to form a wildfire that burned more than a million acres in only 24 hours. The fire devastated the area causing $2.5 million in damages, killing nearly 300 people and leaving thousands of survivors homeless.
Eager to help and prove that the Red Cross could contribute more than wartime relief, Clara Barton formed an auxiliary in Dansville, New York that began collecting food, clothing, household items and monetary donations to ship to Michigan. The Red Cross contribution totaled approximately $80,000 in cash and supplies.
The relief effort of the Michigan Forest Fire of 1881 helped to convince President Chester Arthur and the U.S. Senate to officially recognize the American Red Cross by signing the Treaty of Geneva on March 16, 1882. The initial purpose of the American Red Cross was to aid wounded and sick soldiers on the battlefield. However, Barton had a hunger to do more -- she wanted to extend the Red Cross services beyond wartime and offer assistance to peacetime emergencies, as well. Based on what has become of the American Red Cross, it is apparent that she accomplished her goal.
Over 130 years later, wildfires remain a significant piece of the American Red Cross response, with volunteers responding to approximately 170 home fires every day. The 2012 summer alone has required the major relief efforts of Red Cross chapters in western states who have suffered from extreme wildfires. The organization has progressed to offer shelter, food and clothing through opening Red Cross shelters while also delivering information and communication to fire victims through their Safe and Well program that connects victims to loved ones. National and local chapters routinely provide tips and preparedness facts on how to plan before, during, after, and through recovery for fire emergencies.
“During a fire, every second counts and being prepared can greatly reduce the effects of these devastating disasters,” Charley Shimanski, senior vice president of Red Cross Disaster Services, said on the importance of being prepared.
The key things the Red Cross suggests are to:
· Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Test them every month and replace the batteries at least once a year (65 percent of home fire deaths occur in homes with no working smoke alarms).
· Plan an escape route and practice at least 2x a year
· If a fire occurs in your home, GET OUT, STAY OUT and CALL for help.
For over a century, Red Cross workers and volunteers have succeeded in helping those affected by fire. With the occurrence of fires increasing each year, the American Red Cross continues to develop and improve its services as it has done since the beginning.