When Barbara Gruener woke up to the sound of a smoke alarm in her Redwood City apartment, she did not know her building was minutes away from turning into a six-alarm fire.
“At first I thought the smoke detector battery was failing. It wasn’t that loud, many of the neighbors didn’t even wake up,” Barbara said.
Peering out into the hallway, Barbara could not see any signs of fire but decided to get outside to be safe. Within five minutes, she dressed and grabbed a bag containing her valuables.
But in that time, the door had jammed shut.
“When I tried to open the door and couldn’t, I became really scared,” Barbara said.
Just three days before the fire, Barbara had noticed her gas heater had a small pilot light. She started thinking about how each of the building’s 75 units had a similar appliance, and then about how she would react if there was a fire. Then, Barbara took the first step in becoming Red Cross Ready—she developed an emergency plan.
“My plan was to get dressed and get important things–visa, passport, cell phone, car keys, and purse,” said Barbara, who had been living in the Terrace Apartments since March after moving from Germany for her work in cancer research. With the front door no longer an option and smoke filling her apartment, Barbara went to the balcony. Waking her downstairs neighbors, the group climbed down to safety.
“It was dark, and I lost my grip at one point and thought I was going to fall three floors.”
Barbara and her neighbors made it to the second floor and exited through another apartment. By now, firefighters had arrived. Fortunately, all 75 residents escaped.
The American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter volunteers arrived in the middle of the night to help those affected by this fire—just like they do more than 400 times a year in the Bay Area.
“I’m really grateful to the Red Cross, they did a really great job,” said Barbara.