Nine months after Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera and his wife, Stephanie, were forced from their home by an early morning fire, the couple expressed gratitude to the Red Cross for having volunteers quickly on site that night to offer emergency help.
Stephanie Rivera extended their thanks as a guest speaker at the Red Cross Corporate Leadership Preparedness Summit, held Tuesday at Foundation for the Carolinas. The event, which featured a series of speakers, was staged to encourage corporations to better prepare for disasters.
“We were prepared to get out of the house, but what we weren’t prepared for was what came next,” Stephanie Rivera told the crowd.
“I and Ron had nothing but our pajamas, and the Red Cross was there asking if we needed warm clothes, toothbrushes … anything. We were in shock, standing there watching our house burn, and the Red Cross was there to talk us through it, telling us they had anything we needed.”
Their home in south Charlotte caught fire early in the morning on Jan. 5, causing no injuries but leaving the brick house uninhabitable. The fire started in a subfloor and was later linked to installation of a first-floor fireplace.
Stephanie Rivera said she was first to awake at about 4 a.m., noticing her eyes were burning. When she turned on the bedroom light, she said she saw the bedroom full of smoke. Her gasp awoke her husband, and not long after, the smoke alarm went off.
Both fled the house wearing nothing but matching Carolina Panthers pajamas and coats. Four other relatives were inside at the time, along with two dogs. All made it out safely. “You’re disorganized, adrenaline rushing, trying to decide what to do …,” she said. “You don’t realize until later that all the stuff you need is in your house.”
An emergency team from the Red Cross was on site for nearly 12 hours, to help both the family and the 50-plus firefighters who needed hot drinks and protein in the frigid temperatures.
Rivera said she and her husband arranged to stay with friends for two weeks, which meant they didn’t need money or emergency shelter aid from the Red Cross. “But I left with an appreciation for what the Red Cross does for people, no matter their economic status,” she said.
Last year, Red Cross disaster volunteers responded to 193 disasters in the Charlotte area and provided assistance to 307 families, said Red Cross spokeswoman Jennifer Franklin, who was among the Red Cross personnel on scene at the Rivera fire.
Red Cross volunteers typically work to assess the immediate needs of house fire victims and begin the first steps of recovery. This can include lodging arrangements, groceries, clothing and other needed comforts.
There are currently 280 volunteers in the program, but it continues to need people willing to attend fires at odd hours.
Rivera told the summit attendees that she was making it a personal mission to promote the need for smoke alarms in homes, particularly for the elderly.
“It may not save your house,” she said. “It may not save your stuff. But it could save a life.”