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Sounding the Alarm in Portland

Jimi Hardin was exhausted after a long day of fishing on the Washington coast. He caught several salmon and had started to smoke them on the evening of June 20, 2016. After making sure the smoker was working properly, he dozed off, dreaming of the fish he would soon enjoy with his girlfriend, Stevie Mercer and friends in the coming days. But his bounty would never be shared. The next thing he knew, it was 3:30 a.m. When Jimi opened his eyes, still foggy from sleep and looked outside through a nearby window, the eerie glow of orange flames stared back. He opened his eyes wider, wondering if it were a bad dream. The flames were real—his home was on fire.

Still in a daze, Hardin called out to Stevie, his son and his son’s friend to get out. 

“I didn’t even recognize his voice and it bypassed my brain and went straight to primal brain I think and I jumped out of bed, I ran down the stairs and out the door, like we had talked about," said Stevie Mercer, Jimi's girlfriend and owner of the home where the fire occurred.

Up until that point, the home’s windows had kept the smoke outside but just as suddenly as the fire had erupted, the glass in the windows blasted into the house, exploding from the heat of the fire.

“It was like a tornado, it just happened so fast,” recalled Hardin. “By the time I got to the front door, there was fire on three sides of the house.”

Hardin’s son and his son's friend escaped through one of the bedrooms while Stevie made it safely to the backyard with their two dogs. Hardin remembers watching the fire consume nearly the entire house.

A neighbor called the fire department. Crews quickly responded, and the fire was brought to a smolder, but not before it rendered the home a total loss. Hardin and his family stood helplessly in the street, wondering where to turn next. That’s when Red Cross volunteers arrived.

“The coals were still hot when you came and you told us that everything was going to be okay,” Hardin said. “We were still in shock and didn’t know where to turn. It was so comforting and encouraging. It let us know we were going to get through this.” 

The visit on the night of the fire was not the first time the Red Cross had been to Hardin’s home.  A year earlier, volunteers had come to his neighborhood and installed free smoke alarms. They also explained fire safety and helped Hardin develop a fire escape plan. He says this plan is the reason everyone escaped their home fire safely.

“We had never talked about what to do until the Red Cross came to install smoke alarms," Hardin said. “I wouldn’t have thought about it before that. When the fire happened and I screamed for everyone to get out, we all went into motion and everyone got out and knew what to do because we had had that conversation.” 

“A lack of hesitation is what saved us," Stevie said. "Maybe we would have made it out based off what we had talked about years ago, but the fact it was fresh in our mind [because of the Red Cross visit] and we had gone over it, made a crucial difference.”

Thankfully, Hardin and his family escaped the fire in their home unharmed. Many people are not as fortunate – an average of seven people die every day in home fires. That’s more deaths than hurricanes, floods and tornadoes. Since 2014, the Red Cross has been working to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by home fires. The Red Cross has installed more than 13,000 smoke alarms in homes that need them in Oregon and Washington alone. Nationwide, Red Cross efforts have saved 350 lives so far with these efforts. 

Jimi and Stevie continue to rebuild their life. More than a year after the fire, they are still cleaning up the lot and preparing to build a new home. But they say the experience of losing their home was not in vain. Jimi and Stevie want to share their experience in order to educate others on the importance of having smoke alarms installed and a home fire escape plan in place.    

"I think it’s really important that people understand the gravity of what can happen and how quickly it can happen,” said Hardin. "I’m just really grateful that we had met with the Red Cross earlier and for the service they provided. Thanks to the Red Cross, the escape plan was in the back of our minds when the fire happened.”

Hardin says he’s now a fan of the Red Cross for life.

“You guys are awesome,” Hardin said. “Just a beacon of light at the end of a dark tunnel. Thank you for being who you are and doing what you do.”