This past Jan. 7, Lorrie and Glenn Harris’ home on Creek Road in Williamson (Wayne County) caught fire when Lorrie was using a heat gun on a wall and the wall caught fire. It was an accident that could have happened to anyone.
Lorrie, Glenn and their daughter, Rebecca, rushed to escape their burning house. Fortunately, two of their pet cats followed them out of the house. Lorrie called 9-1-1, and Pultneyville Fire and Water Rescue arrived at the scene within minutes.
With the two nearest fire hydrants frozen and buried in snow, the fire department called several other fire companies to assist. All were able to escape safely except for one cat. Glenn stayed at the house with the fire fighters while Lorrie took their other two cats to the vet.
As the fire department personnel assessed the scene, they knew the Harris family would need the American Red Cross.
“You stand in your driveway and watch your whole life engulfed in fire and thick acrid smoke,” Lorrie said.
When Red Cross volunteers arrived, they found the family at their neighbor’s house. The volunteers talked to them to assess their needs, and immediately provided vouchers for clothes and other necessities they would need to get them through the next few days. The Red Cross also provided financial assistance for temporary lodging at an area hotel, and their first month’s rent and a security deposit for an apartment that’s serving as their temporary home while their home is being rebuilt.
The Red Cross volunteers told the Harris family that if they needed anything else, just let them know.
“We would also like to thank the Red Cross for stepping in and helping us find shelter until we could get back on our feet,” Lorrie said. “Your compassion and caring meant the world to us.”
Lorrie Harris is an artist and writer. Glenn is an Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War, and is retired after 40 years at General Motors. And Rebecca is a professional photographer. All three are also Pultneyville firefighters with a combined 51 years of experience, and they’ve often called on the Red Cross when they’ve responded to fires. This time, they saw the Red Cross from the homeowners’ point of view.
“We are very grateful,” she said. “It made life so much easier because at that point we didn’t know what we were going to do or where we were going to go.”
Lorrie said her family greatly appreciates the kindness shown by everyone who responded to their situation. The family wants to thank the Pultneyville firefighters, the mutual aid companies (Williamson Fire, East Williamson Fire, Marion Fire), Ontario Baptist Church, Rev. Russell and Joyce Alexander, and the Red Cross.
“Firefighters are brothers and sisters and they take it very personally when one of their own is in peril,” Lorrie said. “We can honestly tell you that you will not find better trained people anywhere than in our area.”
The Red Cross is always there to help people during their darkest hours. When disaster strikes, the Red Cross provides shelter, food and emotional support to address basic human needs and assist individuals and families in resuming their normal daily activities independently.
To prevent fire tragedies, the Red Cross is offering free smoke alarms as part of its Home Fire Preparedness Campaign. To receive a free smoke alarm and schedule a free installation in the Finger Lakes Chapter (Chemung, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates counties), please contact American Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Judith Coleman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-936-3766.
To receive a free smoke alarm in other counties, please contact your local Red Cross. And for more Red Cross fire safety and preparedness information, visit redcross.org/homefires.
Home Fire and Smoke Alarm Facts:
•Home fires in the United States kill more than 2,500 people annually and cause an average of 13,000 injuries. (These figures do not include firefighter deaths or injuries.)
•Home fires cause nearly $7 billion in property damage annually.
•Smoke alarms are either missing or non-functional in 73 percent of rural home fires.
•Nearly two-thirds of all fire-related deaths occur in homes that have no functioning smoke alarms.
Photos courtesy of the Harris family.
Kimberleigh Powell is communications intern with the American Red Cross of Central New York. She is a senior at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Relations majoring in Communication and Rhetorical Studies.