The American Red Cross of Greater Pennsylvania helped more than 7,000 people who were affected by home fires in 2022. Every disaster is different, and so are the needs of each affected family.
In June 2023, Mayra Laracuente was one of more than 50 people affected by a fire at an apartment building in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.
Laracuente is deaf; she woke up to the smell of smoke in her apartment building at 3 a.m. and began banging on her neighbors’ doors to wake them up.
After the fire, Laracuente worked through the recovery process with Red Cross disaster program manager Danielle Henkel, who is also a member of the Deaf community.
“She showed me empathy from the very beginning until the end. I feel like I gained a friend through the process.”
“We communicated through a combination of ASL (American Sign Language) and speechreading,” Henkel said.
Henkel’s own hearing loss and knowledge of ASL helped their conversations “be fluid and natural rather than depending on written communication, which is less personal,” Henkel said.
The Red Cross met Laracuente’s communication needs by setting up in-person meetings in quiet environments, affording her the best opportunities to utilize ASL, speechreading and the use of her cochlear implant.
“My experience with Danielle was a wonderful one,” Laracuente said. “She showed me empathy from the very beginning until the end. I feel like I gained a friend through the process.”
“It was rewarding to be able to do the work I love while supporting someone from the Deaf community,” Henkel said. “It’s my hope by sharing this story that more people from the Deaf community will seek support from the American Red Cross before, during and after disasters.”
As part of the work of the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, Henkel made arrangements to install a specialized alarm in Laracuente’s new apartment, commonly referred to as a ‘bed shaker.’ It is installed next to the bed and alerts those in the home using a strobe light and vibrating pad that can be placed under the mattress or pillow. The bed sharker alarm is activated when an accompanying traditional smoke alarm sounds.