Step-by-step, 16-year-old Dominick Woodraska can recall every moment of September 5th, 2018, with strong emotion.
“I came home from school sick. I was asleep. I heard beeping and I was like what's that noise? I want to know what that noise is,” Woodraska said.
Spending an afternoon at home for some much-needed rest, Woodraska received an unexpected wakeup call, but one that saved his life.
Just outside his bedroom door, smoke was building in his family’s kitchen from a fire that started on the stove causing the smoke alarms to go off.
“I open the door. I smell something burning and there was smoke,” Woodraska said. “I needed to prepare, I needed to get ready to go outside. So I went to put on my pants and I ran out of the house.”
Woodraska is both blind and hard of hearing, but the smoke alarms installed by the American Red Cross just a few months prior were able to alert him, giving him just enough time to escape.
The rest of his family was away at church, with no idea what they’d end up rushing home to find.
“We had just gotten out of church and we had seen the fire department fly by,” his mom, Tamara Dolney explained. “All of this was on fire, just in flames. I just started bawling,” she added as she walked around what was left of her family’s old home. “I was like oh my goodness. You know because I had all those fears of what I was going to find when I got there. He's going to be dead.”
Red Cross and Yankton Fire Department Install Alarms
Dolney credits a friend for signing her family up to get smoke alarms through the Home Fire Campaign - an effort provided by the Red Cross in partnership with the Yankton Fire Department. But Dolney initially wasn’t so sure about going through with it.
“Me and my family was in a really, extremely bad way. I mean we were living, we had a house. We were doing good on that end. But when they came in and installed them. I didn't have any lights at all. We were living in the dark,” Dolney said.
The Red Cross and its partners will install smoke alarms for anyone, regardless of living circumstances. The goal is to educate families about home fire safety and make homes safer.
“The lady that came inside was like, we don't care what your house looks like, we don't care what your situation is. We just want to make sure that you and your family are covered,” Dolney said.
After the Fire
Red Cross Volunteer Barb Mechtenberg, along with Yankton firefighters, recall installing the smoke alarms in the home.
“It blew me away because I thought, my gosh, we saved a life!” Mechtenberg said.
“With his challenges, having the smoke detector in place and for him to be able to hear the smoke detector and get out, it was vital. I don't think he would've gotten out without it,” Yankton Fire Chief Tom Kurtenbach said.
“It's a signal right away. Trailer houses are so small and if you've got nothing of a signal telling you there's a fire in the house – especially in a trailer house – you're not going to get out,” Second Assistant Fire Chief Bill Zeigler said.
Knowing it was a simple sound that ultimately saved Woodraska’s life, the family knew they needed to install smoke alarms in their new home. What they didn’t know was the American Red Cross and the Yankton Fire Department would be there for the family again.
“They had been looking for us. They were trying to help us without us even knowing. They had intentions of trying to locate us and put in more,” Dolney said.
The American Red Cross installed 10 smoke alarms inside the family’s new home, just in case anything were to happen again.
“Thank you for putting smoke alarms up because if they didn't put those smoke alarms up, I wouldn't have known,” Woodraska said. “I wouldn't know that there was a fire.”
“I was very thankful that they did come in and put those in because that is really what saved his life, Dolney said. “If I wouldn’t have had them my son would have been dead. There's no doubt in my mind.”
The American Red Cross and community partners install free smoke alarms all year-round. If you or someone you know needs smoke alarms, go to getasmokealarm.org to make a request. And If you'd like to help make homes safer in your community, volunteer as a smoke alarm installer! Learn more here.