Each year, home fires affect more Americans than floods, hurricanes and tornadoes combined. As part of our nationwide effort to prevent and alleviate human suffering, the American Red Cross has set a goal to reduce the total number of home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent within five years. Your gift supports this work through coalitions of community partners to install smoke alarms and provide fire and disaster safety education in local, at-risk communities.
This holiday season, choose gifts to donate in honor of the special people in your life. Send free holiday greeting cards to announce your gifts or send a Red Cross eCard. Know your gift will help people when they need it most.
Your gift of fire safety training and installation of 6 smoke alarms for 2 homes, fire safety training and installation of 3 smoke alarms for 1 home, or fire safety training and installation of 1 smoke alarm could potentially save a life.
Out of the American Red Cross Greater NY Region, in Brooklyn, New York, no one can better describe the help received when needed the most than Velma Cole. And Cole chose to use one word: heroes.
She first connected with the American Red Cross on August 29, 2013, a seemingly ordinary day for Cole and her four children. As the family began their day, no one could image how drastically their lives were about to change.
Her three-year-old was running a fever. She had just settled him with a bottle when she thought she smelled smoke. Cole raced toward the door to find her hallway transformed into a raging furnace, filled with choking smoke.
Velma Cole screamed “Fire!” and raced her children toward the back of the apartment where she pushed out the air conditioner to gain full access to the window. Outside, a crowd gathered as smoke and flames erupted from the building. Cole dangled her children down to an NYPD officer who heard her cries for help. Only after the children were safe did she escape the blaze that was rapidly consuming the building. From the sidewalk, they watched in horror and disbelief as friends remained trapped inside the burning building.
Thankfully, all the families were eventually rescued from the three-story building but sadly, all the apartments were destroyed. “We escaped from the fire with only the clothes we were wearing; some of us didn’t even have shoes,” Velma recalled. “I had nothing for the babies. Here we were, left standing on the sidewalk.”
Frightened, Velma Cole and her neighbors did not know where they were going to go next. “Then you guys came,” she said, “like a genie out of a bottle.”
Red Cross volunteers navigated her and her neighbors through the early hours of the crisis.
The Red Cross provided emergency housing to all the families in need from the building in need. “The Red Cross helped us get situated for the night,” she said. “They made sure we had food and arranged to meet us the following morning.”
“When I arrived at Red Cross headquarters, packages were waiting for us; mine included Pampers,” Cole recalled. “My caseworker, Lilliam, was really sweet. I was a wreck; I kept crying and crying.”
Velma Cole also received emergency funds from the Red Cross, with which she was able to buy new clothes, sneakers, food and a couple of toys to comfort the children. Velma said she was grateful to the Red Cross volunteers who went out of their way to soothe them. A year later, Cole returned to the Red Cross headquarters to express her gratitude. “You guys are amazing! I had to reach out to share that I am rebuilding my life.”
She and her children are now living in a new apartment in Brooklyn, and she describes it as nice and peaceful. “I think back to all that the Red Cross has done for me, and is still helping me with, a year after the fire,” she said. “Without the Red Cross, I don’t know where I would be today.’”
Velma’s experience with the Red Cross has inspired her to volunteer.
“The Red Cross means a lot to me. You guys are amazing! I want to repay, in some way, all that you have done for me.”
Once Cole finishes her volunteer training, she will be working alongside the same volunteers who helped her and her family, bringing a unique perspective to her volunteerism. “I would like to touch someone’s life the way you guys helped me. You are my heroes.”
This holiday season, give a gift that means something – potentially saving the life of someone you know. Home fire preparedness keeps families safe and informed.
Shoppers can also go through the online Red Cross gift catalog and purchase a variety of symbolic gifts that are tax-deductible donations to support the mission of the Red Cross.