Gene Welsch, 72, was sitting in his home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, one night, watching a local news program about a home fire preparedness campaign in the city.
That night, Welsch learned that over 1,000 homes had been canvassed in his neighborhood in 2014 as part of an effort convened by the American Red Cross and other community partners. This work in South Dakota builds on the national Red Cross initiative to reduce home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent across the nation in the next five years. Red Cross chapters and partners go door-to-door distributing home fire prevention information, disaster education and escape planning and installing smoke alarms in homes that need them – all free of charge.
Later that summer, Welsch called the local fire department to get new smoke detectors installed. It turned out his smoke alarms had been in his home for about 30 years.
“It was one of those things you just don’t think about a whole lot,” Welsch said. “But we should be.”
Then one cold January night, as he relaxed in his bedroom, his television screen went blue. As a smoke detector in his hallway went off, he sat up to discover smoke was already level with his head. He found the fire and tried to extinguish it for a moment, but after his attempt failed, Welsch escaped from his house as it became engulfed in flames.
Welsch’s life was saved, but his home was destroyed. He lost everything, including his glasses, driver's license and clothing.
"I don't know how to say thank you," Welsch said as he got emotional. “That [smoke detector] saved my life.”
Welsch escaped with his life and now he wants others to take action.
"Do it,” he said. “Get it done. Don't put it on the back burner until next week or next month.”
Tony Burke, Red Cross executive director in eastern South Dakota, was instrumental in bringing various community partners to the table for the campaign that provided Welsch his smoke detector.
"He's alive today because of what community can do together, working together," Burke said.
TWO WAYS TO DONATE
To support home fire survivors across the country, the Red Cross launched a new social media campaign this month called #GiveWhatFireTakes, in conjunction with the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign.
SET GOALS AND FUNDRAISE WITH CROWDRISE Whether you form a team or fundraise as an individual, Crowdrise puts you on the front lines of fundraising for home fire prevention and recovery. We even helped provide easy goals to help fundraise through your networks.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN AMOUNT A new donation page on redcross.org allows you to choose a support amount based on how much you can give. Donation levels represent a range of items that the Red Cross typically provides after a fire.