When Anita and Dynell Fountaine signed the lease on their new Brooklyn apartment in late October, 2012, little did they know that their lives would be turned upside down by disaster twice in less than six months. Thankfully for the Fountaines and their three children, the American Red Cross was there for them each time.
“I’m amazed at the service the Red Cross gives,” Anita Fountaine said.
Anita, an administrative assistant at Medgar Evers College, and Dynell, a custodial assistant at the college, were preparing to move from their Far Rockaway apartment to their new home in Brooklyn when Sandy forced them to evacuate.
When they returned after the storm passed, they found their neighborhood devastated. Luckily, their apartment was still intact.
“The elevator wasn’t working, and we could only move during the daytime because the lights were out,” Dynell said. “Then, you gotta put gas in the truck.”
“But definitely Red Cross was there to help,” Anita said, praising the organization for handing out food, blankets, flashlights and personal hygiene kits to neighborhood residents, including them.
Help and comfort after a heart-wrenching experience
Eventually, the family did move to their new fourth-floor apartment on Cortelyou Road in the Flatbush–Ditmas Park area of Brooklyn, right near the parents’ work and the kids’ school.
They had not yet unpacked all their things when, on a Saturday in March, fire broke out in the building. Anita was home with Annaya, 8, and Aiden and Markell, the 6-year-old twin boys. Around 5:30 p.m. she smelled smoke.
“It was like someone burnt something on the hotplate,” she said. “But we had no appliances on. I always unplug all my things because the kids are around.”
The twins ran to her: “Mommy, mommy, smoke is coming out of the bathroom.”
Anita had on only pajamas and no shoes; the children were in various states of undress. As she hurriedly dressed them, smoke began to cloud the entire apartment, cutting off access to the fire escape. Anita grabbed the kids and their dog and ran up one flight to the roof, where firefighters were battling the blaze.
After a time, the firefighters helped them move to the roof of a neighboring building. They remained there for a couple of hours, until the FDNY deemed it safe for them to go downstairs and shelter on the first floor of that building.
Meanwhile, Dynell was out having their car serviced. When he got home, a fire truck was blocking his street. He parked, jumped out and saw smoke and flames pouring out of his apartment. Dynell walked around looking for his wife and children. He called Anita, but in the confusion, she had left her cell phone behind. Dynell feared they hadn’t survived.
“I was outside for hours,” he said, tears running down his face. “I walked around the block looking for them. The firemen just kept saying, ‘We didn’t find nobody,’…. it was horrible, horrible.”
Red Cross workers approached Dynell to offer assistance.
“They were trying to be very helpful,” he said. “But I couldn’t focus on anything. They asked me my name … and I couldn’t answer the question.”
Hours later, a firefighter pointed him to the neighboring building where his family had taken refuge.
Upon seeing his wife and kids, Dynell broke down crying.
“Red Cross came in right after that,” Anita said. “They were looking for us. The responder brought us shoes and a sweat suit, because I had my pajamas on and not all of us were wearing shoes. He was very, very helpful. We felt safe.”
A family grateful to be happily reunited
Red Cross offered the Fountaines temporary housing, but they chose to stay with family.
“I’m grateful the Red Cross was on the scene,” Anita said. “I felt much better; more secure. They were making sure my children were okay.”
“The Red Cross was very professional, attentive and detailed in how they deal with people suffering,” Dynell added.
A few days later, the family travelled to regional headquarters in Manhattan, where a Red Cross caseworker provided them with a referral for NYC housing, and a debit card with which to purchase food.
“I’m very, very grateful,” Anita said.
She added that she was considering becoming a volunteer. “I think that’s a good opportunity,” she said. “I can help somebody understand … because I’ve been there.”