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East LA Community Rallies to Reduce Home Fire Deaths

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"I want to thank the Red Cross because they don't just talk the talk, they walk the walk."

Early Saturday morning, June 4, more than 150 volunteers wearing Red Cross t-shirts and tennis shoes met at East L.A.’s historic Ruben Salazar Park on Whittier Blvd. to participate in the American Red Cross’ Home Fire Prevention Campaign, a grassroots effort to reduce home fire deaths in America’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. As part of the campaign, volunteers go door-to-door to install free smoke alarms on the spot and make fire escape plans with local residents. 

By 3 p.m., the East L.A. coalition of volunteers had visited 260 homes and installed 560 free smoke alarms. Volunteers included a diverse cross section of community members including representatives of the East Los Angeles Preparedness and Resiliency Coalition, employees from Mercy Worldwide and the Ford Motor Company, and a group of “promotoras” – Latina health service advocates. Country music star Drake White entertained volunteers and also installed smoke alarms, and East L.A. native and 40th District Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard rallied volunteers, in addition to visiting homes. 

“I want to thank the Red Cross because they don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk,” said Congresswoman Roybal-Allard. “They are doing a tremendous amount of work throughout the community.” 

Promotora Victoria Mercel echoed this sentiment and was excited to provide Red Cross smoke alarms to community members. “Many residents were not aware that you only have two minutes to escape a home in flames, and sadly, many also didn’t have working smoke alarms or smoke alarms at all”, she said. After meeting with a 102-year-old woman and her daughter in one of the homes that lacked smoke alarms, she commented, “Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable. I was happy to help people become more aware but more importantly to empower them to share the message and protect more families in community.” 

Jarrett Barrios, Los Angeles Region American Red Cross CEO recognized the importance of the coalition’s work by pointing out, “At least seven people lose their lives to home fires in America every day.” The East Los Angeles Preparedness and Resiliency Coalition is supported by the Red Cross’ free disaster preparedness programs and smoke alarms. “We are moved to say we have worked with hundreds of leaders, artists, local partners and volunteers who have been inspired to help us install 7,000 free smoke alarms across Los Angeles since our program began in 2014.” 

The Los Angeles Region American Red Cross partners with elected officials, local authorities, such as the Los Angeles Fire Department, and local community organizations to make a greater impact. Between October 2014 and June 2016, the LA region campaign has taken place in 34 cities on Saturday mornings, creating 1,417 evacuation plans and 2,045 in-home visits so far. 

“There are people waking up on a Saturday morning doing good things, saving lives and helping folks out,” Drake White said. “I feel really good to be partnered with the Red Cross, I feel really good to be singing music, doing what I love to do and just helping people out. We’re living the dream and we’re definitely giving the dream.” The American Red Cross responds to nearly 70,000 disasters a year and most of these are home fires. For more information, visit  

Photos by volunteers Roxanne Schorbach and Sunny Lu.