By Dana Simmons, American Red Cross
“I became an American Red Cross staff member the same week of my home fire,” said Bixi Howe, Disaster Program Manager for the American Red Cross Southern California Region. “Ironically everything is interconnected.”
In 2014, Bixi started volunteering with the Red Cross helping with disaster preparedness and response. What she didn’t know at the time was that she would be on the other side of a Red Cross response: receiving help after being displaced by a home fire.
On February 10, 2016, Bixi woke up at 5 a.m. in her San Diego home to the sound of smoke alarms and smoke so thick that she couldn’t see. She frantically called 911, collected her dogs and exited her home through her patio door. The fire department arrived quickly, started working to put out the fire and called the Red Cross to respond. “There was an electrical short in the ceiling of the garage,” said Bixi. “Everything was burning inside the walls.”
With no shoes on and no leashes for her dogs, Bixi knocked on her neighbors' doors asking for their help watching her two pugs. Shortly after one of her neighbors took her dogs, a Red Cross disaster action team van arrived at Bixi’s home. She recalls that Dave Maloney, a fellow Red Cross volunteer then and colleague now, thought Bixi was at the scene of the fire responding as a disaster action team member and asked her how she got there so quickly. That’s when Bixi shared, "That's actually my fire and I’m displaced.”
The Red Cross provided Bixi with financial assistance, water, a blanket, shoes, sweatpants, a sweatshirt and additional recovery resources. She recalls using the financial assistance to get a hotel room and using the Red Cross blankets that were provided as dog beds. “The Red Cross helped me get through the first day and night when I was in shock and physically sick from the smoke inhalation,” said Bixi. “With that initial support, I felt empowered the following day to tackle insurance matters, reaching out to contractors and navigating temporary housing through my provider.”
The morning of the fire, Bixi learned about an open staff position at the Red Cross. “I went in the next day to interview for the job,” said Bixi. “That’s how this journey started. After getting the job, I got charged with the task to build the recovery program while I was simultaneously going through the recovery process myself.”
During Bixi’s recovery, she used the Red Guide to Recovery and even reached out to the author for help with navigating advocating for herself, rebuilding her home and making a full recovery. This book is a resource that the Red Cross gives to families after home fires and similar disasters. “Without the support I got from the Red Cross in recovery, I wouldn’t be here today,” Bixi said.
Bixi built a resource directory, which is a collection of contacts at organizations that can assist those recovering from home fires and other disasters. She also shared that the Red Cross serves as an advocate and supporter for those in need. “As someone who is recovering from a disaster you never believe in deserving that kind of help because you're so beaten down during that time in your life,” said Bixi. “A lot of the time our clients just need to be told that you can do this. That’s what the Red Cross does.”
Bixi’s work helping others didn’t stop there. While her home was being rebuilt, she deployed to Baton Rouge for two months to help those recovering from Louisiana floods. She also got involved with the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign’s Sound the Alarm program and she continues to provide home fire safety information to local residents today. After Bixi’s home was rebuilt, she started opening her doors for volunteer appreciation events. She continues to serve those in need as a Red Cross staff member and will never forget what led her to the place she is in today.
“My home fire is part of why I’m at the Red Cross today,” said Bixi. “It’s part of my history. It's defined me. It changes the course of how you live. You have a whole other appreciation for life and everything that you have.”