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A Client Story: Stroke Victim Survives Fire but Loses Everything

With the help of his Red Cross client caseworker, Collis was able to find a long-term affordable housing alternative.

Patrick Collis was sleeping soundly when a fire engulfed his apartment in a residential hotel. He woke to the shouts of neighbors but didn’t perceive the danger because he couldn’t smell smoke. Collis was wearing his sleep apnea breathing apparatus. He said he is lucky to be alive.

Three volunteers from the California Northwest Region were at the Red Cross emergency shelter where Collis spent two weeks in October—at the Minami Community Center in Santa Maria, Calif. Collis was surviving on disability payments after suffering three major strokes, and he walks with the aid of a walker. When he realized the danger the night of the fire, Collis instinctively left his walker behind and crawled down the hallway toward the front of the building. It was engulfed in heavy flames which singed the skin and hair on his arms. In turning back, he was overwhelmed by thick, black smoke. He said, “Picture what it’s like when you close your eyes tight. That’s how thick the smoke was—pitch black.” Collis remembers praying for help but doesn’t know how he ended up on the landing at the back of the building. Two firefighters were there, and they helped him down the fire escape.

He was taken to the hospital for treatment of his burns and smoke inhalation, and there he was given a walker and breathing machine before being discharged to the Red Cross Minami Shelter. “I’d heard that the Red Cross makes people pay them back for their help,” he said, “but it’s not true.” With the help of his Red Cross client caseworker, Collis was able to find a long-term affordable housing alternative. He lost everything he owned in the fire, but Collis was most sad about losing his laptop and desktop computer. A student at a nearby community college, he had to drop an online course after the fire struck. Collis kept a positive attitude in spite of it all saying, “Really, all that stuff can be replaced. At least we got out alive.” He expressed deep thanks for all who’d helped him at the Red Cross and its partners, including the Southern Baptists who provided three hot meals a day at the shelter and the Salvation Army who assisted with transportation. “There was so much generosity and kindness,” he said.

You can help people affected by disasters like this residential hotel fire, as well as countless crises at home and around the world, by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters. Visit or call 1-800-RED CROSS.