On March 26, American Red Cross volunteers Theresa Parker, Lisa Zerniak and Rebecca Fitchpatrick visited several homes in Seneca Falls with the goal of preventing home fire deaths.
As it turned out, they also saved a life.
Theresa, Lisa and Rebecca, who are volunteers from the Finger Lakes Chapter, were visiting homes that day as part of the Red Cross’ Home Fire Campaign, which aims to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by home fires by 25 percent over the next five years. As part of the campaign, the Red Cross is joining with fire departments and community groups to install free smoke alarms in homes that need them.
Debi Acker, who lives on West Bayard Street in Seneca Falls, had signed up to receive free smoke alarms at a Red Cross table at the local Tops Friendly Market. When she signed up, Debi explained that because she’s a little hard of hearing, the volunteers should knock loudly on the door and then open it to announce their arrival.
That’s what Theresa, Lisa and Rebecca did, but they became concerned when Debi didn’t come to the door. They heard a faint noise coming a back room and found Debi in bed, breathing sporadically and unresponsive as they tried to wake her. When she didn’t respond, Lisa called 9-1-1 and the Seneca Falls Police and North Seneca Ambulance arrived within minutes.
The paramedics were able to stabilize Debi’s breathing and they rushed her to Geneva Hospital, where she was treated and released a few days later.
“My heart was not beating right, apparently,” said Debi, who lives alone. “I’m guessing if (the volunteers) did not come, I may not have awoken.”
“I was concerned because her breathing wasn’t what it should be and something dire was happening,” said Theresa, an 11-year Red Cross volunteer and current AmeriCorps employee with the Red Cross. “There was a reason we were supposed to be there and I’m so thankful that we were.”
Debi, who’s 61 and the mother of two children, said she underwent triple bypass surgery three years ago and her doctors say she won’t need another surgery after this incident. Lisa and Rebecca recently visited Debi along with Joel Robinson, Executive Director of the Finger Lakes Chapter, and Judy Coleman, Disaster Program Manager for the Chapter (Theresa had a prior commitment and couldn’t make it).
It was the first time Debi had formally met the volunteers who helped save her life. Watch a video of their reunion.
“I feel bad (the volunteers) had to go through that,” Debi said. “I’m certainly grateful that they came, and I’m glad I’m still alive and have a chance to see my children again.”
As Red Cross Disaster Action Team leaders in the Finger Lakes Chapter, Theresa and Lisa have assisted hundreds of people who needed help following a home fire or another tragedy. This time, they were able to prevent a tragedy.
“This is what we’re here for,” said Lisa, who’s also an AmeriCorps volunteer. “We didn’t quite figure we’d go in and save a life in a different way, but I’m glad we were there.”
To receive a free smoke alarm and schedule a free installation in Chemung, Seneca, Schuyler, Steuben, Wayne or Yates County, contact Judy Coleman, Disaster Program Manager, at 607-936-3766 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive free smoke alarms in other areas, please contact your local Red Cross office.
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.
Photo on this page: Debi Acker is visited at her home by, from left to right, American Red Cross volunteers Lisa Zerniak and Rebecca Fitchpatrick, Red Cross Finger Lakes Chapter Executive Director Joel Robinson, and Finger Lakes Chapter Disaster Program Manager Judy Coleman.