By Noreen Walton, American Red Cross volunteer
The devastating impact of a home fire is a subject that American Red Cross volunteer Arthur Chew knows all too well. In 1977, at the age of 25, he lost his father, stepmother and 9-year-old twin sisters to a home fire in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego.
“I had just moved out two months earlier,” Arthur explains, “and I had terrible guilt that I wasn’t there.” As the oldest surviving son, Arthur was responsible for meeting with insurers and fire officials. “They found out that it was a brand new $2 fuse in the foot pedal of a sewing machine that started the fire.”
Two years later, Arthur’s guilt turned to pride when he had the opportunity to save a young SDSU student trapped in a burning car on Interstate 8. Arthur remembers seeing sparks coming out of the dashboard as he approached the car. He began digging up dirt on the hillside and piling it around the dashboard. “I needed to put a barrier between the man and the fire.” Using willpower and a lot of muscle, Arthur succeeded in freeing the man from his car. “He was a big guy, a lot bigger than me,” Arthur says with a smile.
Arthur’s personal experiences with fire safety continued. Soon after the car rescue, Arthur tracked a strong, lingering smell of smoke in his apartment complex to a neighbor’s apartment. Banging and kicking on the door, he finally roused his neighbor, a father who had passed out in the living from smoke inhalation. He then rescued the man’s wife and child from the bedroom. “I like to do things right,” said Arthur. “I had to find out where that smoke was coming from.”
Fire has obviously played a major role in Arthur’s life. It has also inspired him to use his personal experiences to help others. Arthur and his wife Sheera volunteer frequently to support efforts for the local Red Cross Home Fire Campaign and Sound the Alarm smoke alarm installation events. Together, they visit homes, installing free smoke alarms and providing residents with important fire safety education. Arthur and his wife like to work as a team to help community members prepare for home fires. According to Arthur, “We work together 90% of the time. Sheera is installation. I am documentation and education.”
That education sometimes involves Arthur sharing his own story. “I don’t tell everyone, but when I feel I need to get through to someone, to let them know why they should have these smoke alarms installed, I’ll look them in the eye and tell them my story. I need them to understand how important it is to be able to escape, to get out.”
In addition to his work installing smoke alarms and responding to home fires and other emergencies with the Disaster Action Team, Arthur also volunteers as a Blood Transportation Specialist, driving blood products to area hospitals. He speaks of the deep satisfaction that comes from volunteering with the Red Cross. “If you’re looking for something that can be internally rewarding, for the satisfaction of knowing you are doing something important for someone else, that reward is more than you can expect.”
To learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, please visit redcross.org/volunteer.