When a family experiences a devastating home fire, American Red Cross volunteers are there to help. Whether they are providing financial assistance, a warm blanket or a much needed hug, volunteers are the friendly faces that provide compassionate care to families when they need it most. For many Trenton families who have experienced home fires, that friendly face was Bob Hassmiller’s.
A few months ago, Bob noted that many of the home fires in Trenton occurred on South Clinton Avenue and suggested that a Red Cross Home Fire Campaign event be held in that area. Sadly, a tragic accident claimed Bob’s life earlier this month.
The Red Cross Home Fire Campaign is a multi-year effort to help reduce the number of home fire-related injuries and fatalities in New Jersey and across the county. As part of the campaign, the Red Cross is partnering with municipalities, fire departments and community organizations to visit homes in high fire-risk cities installing free smoke alarms in homes that need them and educating families about fire safety.
In honor of Bob, the Red Cross and Trenton Fire and Emergency Services held a Home Fire Campaign event on Tuesday, October 25 fulfilling his vision of helping protect South Clinton Avenue area families from home fires.
“We have lost a dear friend and valued colleague. Bob was committed to carrying out the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross,” said Ana Montero, regional chief executive officer, American Red Cross New Jersey Region. “He was a true embodiment of the humanitarian spirit. His positive outlook on life was most admirable, even contagious some would say. He always had a smile on his face or a joke to tell and was highly regarded by everyone who met him.”
More than 70 volunteers from the Red Cross, Trenton Fire and Emergency Services, PSE&G, Church & Dwight and Signature Information Solutions went door-to-door, educating families about fire safety and installing 230 free smoke alarms.
“Working smoke alarms can cut the risk of someone dying from a home fire in half,” said Montero. “This cross-sector collaborative demonstrates the collective impact of government, the private sector and the non-profit sector to help save lives and protect against home fire disasters with preventative action.”
The home of Trenton resident Steven was among those volunteers visited during the event. Steven suffered a home fire three years ago when a lightbulb in a closet malfunctioned. While Trenton firefighters installed smoke alarms in his home, Red Cross volunteers talked with Steven about fire safety and how he and his family can create a fire escape plan.
“I hope I never have to experience something like that again,” Steven told volunteers. “Thank you for doing this.”
Marisol was also grateful volunteers visited her home, telling volunteers that her Trenton neighborhood has had numerous home fires and that she was appreciative of the new smoke alarms the firefighters installed in her home.
“I have friends who had a fire and they lost everything, so I’m very happy you all knocked on my door,” she said. “Thank you so much.”
As the Home Fire Campaign event was coming to a close, volunteers were stopped by a man named Ed who was excited to see Red Cross in his neighborhood. Ed told volunteers he had experienced a home fire and was grateful to the Red Cross and the disaster responder who came to his aid.
The volunteers explained to Ed that they were in Trenton installing smoke alarms and helping families take steps to prevent home fires in memory of a disaster responder who helped Trenton families affected by home fires and showed him a photo of Bob.
“That was him,” Ed said, visibly upset. “He was the man who helped me.”
From home fires to hurricanes, Bob touched the lives of countless people like Ed during his 37 years with the Red Cross. He volunteered during numerous disasters, September 11 Recovery, Florida Hurricanes in 2004, Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. Bob was also Chairman of the Board with the Red Cross in Central Virginia where he was active on their Board of Directors until his retirement in 2012. Since his retirement, he has dedicated his life’s work to the Red Cross in New Jersey. In addition to serving as a disaster responder, Bob was also active in Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces and International Humanitarian Law programs and routinely donated blood to help patients in need.
“We will all miss a great human being,” Montero added. “Our thoughts are with his wife Sue and the Hassmiller family.”
Since the launch of the Home Fire Campaign two years ago, the American Red Cross New Jersey Region and its community partners have installed more than 14,000 smoke alarms in cities across the state.
PSE&G has joined Home Fire Campaign efforts with a $375,000 donation supporting the campaign in New Jersey and Long Island. The utility company is also supplying manpower, offering employees the opportunity to lend their support by volunteering at canvassing and installation events throughout the state. A team of 12 PSE&G employees assisted with canvassing in Trenton during the October 25 event.
The Red Cross responds to nearly 66,000 disasters each year in the United States and the vast majority of those are home fires. The Red Cross responded to 767 home fires in New Jersey last year, offering comfort and providing emergency assistance to more than 1,800 families to help meet needs such as shelter, food and clothing, as well as referrals and mental health services as needed.
SIMPLE STEPS TO SAVE LIVES As part of the Home Fire Campaign, the Red Cross is calling on everyone to take two simple steps that can save lives: practice fire drills at home and check their existing smoke alarms.
There are several things families and individuals can do to increase their chances of surviving a fire:
- Create a home fire escape plan that includes at least two ways to escape each room and a meeting spot to reunite after escaping.
- Practice the plan until everyone can get out in less than two minutes.
- If someone doesn’t have smoke alarms, install them. At a minimum, put one on every level of the home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Local building codes vary and there may be additional requirements where someone lives.
- If someone does have alarms, test them today. If they don’t work, replace them.
People can visit redcross.org/homefires to find out more about how to protect themselves and their loved ones from fire, access free fire safety resources, and learn more about how to become a volunteer.