Awakened at 3 a.m. on April 2, Taylor Ross and her boyfriend, Jarod, opened the door that led to the hotel hallway to find out what all the noise was about. People staying at the Wilmington Hotel near the Port of Los Angeles were not on vacation - they were long-term residents - and many had to get up early and go to work. The young couple meant to address the noisemakers then head back to bed before their alarm went off in a few hours.
Annoyance quickly turned to alarm when they opened the door, and smoke and flames leapt out at them. Realizing they had to quickly get out, they rushed to the window of their second floor unit without stopping to take anything but Taylor's purse. They jumped out and landed barefoot on the hard concrete below.
Other residents jumped from their windows, too, some landing awkwardly and breaking bones or injuring backs. The injured were rushed to local hospitals. Taylor and Jarod wandered around until help arrived. They soon boarded a bus that the city had provided to transport more than 20 residents to an evacuation center staffed by the Red Cross.
At the center, Red Cross workers provided Taylor, 21, and other residents with blankets, food, and water. Additional trained workers arrived throughout the morning to provide emotional support, serve breakfast and lunch, and interview each displaced resident to determine the best path forward.
The Red Cross worked side-by-side with the L.A. Mayor's Office Task Force, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, and the Wilmington First Assembly Church, the latter which coordinated a clothing and shoe drive with local churches for those forced to flee. City staff at the recreation center now functioning as an evacuation site helped residents call their workplace and get in touch with loved ones. Even nearby residents of this working class neighborhood stopped by to lend a hand.
With a few hours to gather her thoughts, Taylor looked back at the events of the day, wondering how much of their home had been destroyed. She was scheduled to start school in a couple of days. Coincidentally, she was enrolled in a Red Cross Certified Nurse Assistant training class - and worried that the loss of her paperwork, proof of payment, and medical scrubs would keep her from starting class on the first day of school. After speaking with a school administrator, however, she was assured that everything would work out.
When a fire takes a home, it takes everything. By mid-afternoon, residents had received monetary assistance from the Red Cross for temporary lodging, food, and clothing - enough to take care of their immediate needs while they put their lives back in order. "I only had my purse and the clothes on my back," said Taylor. "The Red Cross gave me food, support, and a place to stay for the next few days. I can't thank you enough."
Taylor is excited to start a career in the medical field and sees the fire as simply a barrier that she can overcome. "I want to give back," she says. "I want to help others. I can't wait."
She already is helping others. Less than 12 hours after waking up to a devastating fire, Taylor is propelled with a greater determination to serve and with some important advice to others. She said she would keep an extra pair of shoes and a flashlight by her bed from now on, carry important phone numbers on a piece of paper in her purse, and perhaps even put together an emergency kit. Taylor may not realize it, but her journey to help others has already begun.
Home fires are devastating, especially when families lose everything they own. Donations today can turn into tangible items tomorrow for those in need down the street and across the country. To help those affected by home fires, please visit redcross.org, call 1-800-REDCROSS or go to our Crowdrise page at crowdrise.com/givewhatfiretakes. Your donation could help provide care and comfort to families.