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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Volunteers visit homes in Fort Collins most at risk for home fire losses

By Melody Storgaard
On October 18, volunteers from the American Red Cross, Poudre Fire Authority and Hope Worldwide went door-to-door in a Fort Collins neighborhood surrounding Putnam Elementary School in an effort to save lives. The group of volunteers were targeting 139 homes that were selected due to higher risk of loss caused by home fires. Their goal: to provide education and resources to help prevent those home fires in the first place and save lives and reduce property loss in the event of a fire.

The effort is part of a new, nationwide campaign by the American Red Cross to achieve a 25% decrease in fatalities caused by home fires. In Colorado, volunteers are going door-to-door in the highest-risk neighborhoods, asking to test smoke alarms, providing replacement batteries, installing smoke alarms and providing safety tips and preventative information.

Before heading out for the day, the Fort Collins volunteers got a brief training detailing the campaign’s procedures, specifics about smoke alarms being used that day, and important information about the carbon monoxide detectors that Poudre Fire Authority was providing. Everyone gathered their supplies and off they went into the neighborhood to go door-to-door.

When homeowners welcomed the volunteers into their home, the volunteers tested the fire alarms and checked that they had been correctly placed in the homes. When needed, the volunteers replaced batteries or the entire smoke alarm. They also talked to homeowners about being prepared for home fires -- covering the importance of having an escape plan, communication plan, and a meet-up point.

 In one of the homes visited on Saturday, volunteers found that the home had smoke alarms, but the alarms were not working. The volunteers removed the “old” alarms and replaced them with new ones, then tested the new alarms to make sure they worked. The volunteers noticed that the date on one of the non-functioning alarms was 2014!

Yes, you read that right! The smoke alarm had been installed this year. The alarm was not working even though it had been recently installed.

“This is a good example of why you need to always test smoke alarms,” said Susan Ferrari from Poudre Fire Authority. “You never know when one has a problem.”

The Red Cross recommends testing your smoke alarms once a month by pressing the “test” button. If you can’t reach the button, try using the end of a broom stick. Having smoke alarms and knowing that they work could save your life – in fact, the risk of dying in a home fire is cut in half in homes with working smoke alarms, according to The National Fire Protection Association.

The outreach campaign reached more than just the homes near Putnam Elementary – as they delivered messaging and supplies during the campaign, the volunteers found themselves talking about the smoke alarms in their own homes. They discussed when (and sometimes if) their own smoke alarms had been checked – and then started to make plans to replace the batteries or update the alarms in their own homes.

The Home Fire Preparedness Campaign launched on Oct. 11 and will continue over the next five years as the Red Cross and its partners reach out to communities all over Colorado, including additional neighborhoods in Northern Colorado.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Western Colorado Volunteers Train to Serve Community through Red Cross


Instructors teach the fundamentals of Disaster Assessment at the
Disaster Academy  in Grand Junction learn about Disaster 
 The American Red Cross is always looking for dedicated volunteers to help carry out their mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. Once enrolled a new volunteer needs to be trained so that they can respond when called. Training and recruitment are ongoing efforts at every Red Cross chapter.

In western Colorado those two efforts came together when they held Disaster Academy - 2014 in Grand Junction. During the weekend of Oct. 10-12 volunteers, both old and new, came together to learn how they can play a stronger role in the Red Cross mission. 

Each day was filled with instructor led classes covering many different topics. Friday featured classes about shelter operations,  supervision and  public affairs. Saturday was a full day of workshops on topics like, Disaster Action Team,  client casework, logistics and disaster assessment. Volunteers learned how the Red Cross is structured during a disaster response and how we collaborate with our community partners.

Instructor Bill Fortune presents the Intro to Public Affairs
at the 2014 Disaster Academy
Sunday, the final day, was packed with knowledge featuring classes such as psychological first aid, First Aid/CPR and training for our Red Cross nurses to better understand how they will participate in a disaster response.

This was the second Disaster Academy held in Grand Junction. The first was roughly a year ago and many of the attendees at this year's academy were there as the experienced volunteers helping to train the "newbies". 

First Aid/CPR class was offered at the Western Colorado
 Disaster Academy  to ensure that our volunteers  are
skilled and ready to respond
Thirty volunteers attended the 2014 Academy in Grand Junction. There were 11 different courses taught with a total of 40 hours of instruction.

Many of the attendees were brand new volunteers and all were excited about learning new skills and meeting new people. "These training academies truly help build the capacity of the Red Cross to respond to emergencies," said Eric Meyers, Executive Director for the Western Colorado Chapter. "The three days provided an opportunity for both new and veteran volunteers to gain the skills and training they need to be Red Cross volunteers."






When All Other Communications Are Down - Gold Hill Now Has a Solution

by Patricia Billinger
Drive into the mountains west of Boulder, and you feel transported back in time: rustic wooden mining buildings from the Victorian era hug the hillsides, many roads remain unpaved, and cell phone service is rare. Residents have continued a long-standing tradition of rugged self-reliance because they know that when bad weather or disaster strikes, they may find themselves cut-off from the outside world, often without power, Internet or even phone service.

The devastating Four Mile Canyon fire of 2010 spurred residents in the tiny mountain town of Gold Hill to take action to protect the safety of their residents and their neighbors in nearby communities: they formed a neighbor-to-neighbor “NeighborLink” system to ensure everyone is quickly informed of emergencies, and set up a “SafeSite” location with provisions and a staffing plan to assist residents fleeing neighboring canyons and towns during emergencies.

The Fourmile Canyon fire also inspired the idea of creating an “AirLink” system that would allow for uninterrupted emergency communications between and within isolated mountain communities in Boulder county.
This new HAM radio repeater sits at a high point near Gold Hill
to enable emergency communications.

The danger, isolation and destruction of the 2013 Colorado Floods brought the realization that there was still a gap in their ability to communicate quickly with other towns and with emergency management in order to access and share vital emergency information – at a time when information is needed most, and could make the difference in saving lives.

“Unfortunately, during emergencies, we may lose all usual means of communications: phones, internet, and road. During the floods of September 2013, phone service was not available for several weeks during and after the event. Internet was down as well…We do not have cell phone coverage up here even during normal times. Power was out,” explained Pamela Sherman and Dina Elder in a proposal for the solution: an amateur radio system with a strong enough repeater to carry its signal out of the rough mountain corridors surrounding the town.

On Saturday, Oct. 18, community leaders in Gold Hill installed a radio repeater that is key to the communications system.  Additionally, Gold Hills is also purchasing a variety of other equipment, such as antennae, hand-held radios and power supplies to support the HAM radio network.
A closer look at the HAM radio repeater in Gold Hill, which sits inside a pick-up truck.

The Red Cross is providing a large portion of the funding for the project – up to $5,000. It’s one of several projects the Red Cross is supporting in communities like Gold Hill to improve their disaster preparedness and resilience. In addition to the Gold Hill project, the Red Cross is also supplying VHF radios, HAM radios and related tools, weather radios and pagers to BCARES  and multiple volunteer fire departments, including Pinewood Springs and Big Elk Meadows. The communications equipment will improve the communities’ ability to receive and share vital information during times of emergency.

“We realized that the town could not provide 100% of the needed funding [for the HAM radio network] and requests were made to other organizations to fill the gap. The Red Cross, almost immediately, was the first to step up. You not only showed enthusiasm for the project, but provided substantial additional funding so that it could be completed,” wrote Peter Swift, Chairman of the Gold Hill Town Council in a letter to the Red Cross. “It is this kind of proactive response in anticipating future emergency needs that will not only help the community respond to future emergencies, but could potentially save lives and protect property.”

Pulpit Rock Neighborhood Evacuation Exercise

By Kathleen Rowland, Media Relations Volunteer

On Saturday morning, October 18, the Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross participated in a neighborhood evacuation exercise held at Russell Middle School in Colorado Springs. The cool, bright morning began early for volunteers setting up the mock shelter. Around 9 a.m., after receiving notification to begin the exercise, participating residents of Pulpit Rock neighborhood began to arrive at the shelter, line up, and sign in.  
Pulpit Rock residents file into Russell Middle School
during Saturday’s neighborhood evacuation exercise.
Photo by Arnett Luce, American Red Cross.

Residents were directed to the cafeteria while the Red Cross demonstration shelter was set up in the gymnasium. Several agencies set up tabletop displays in the corridor. In the cafeteria, a large screen displayed a computer-generated map of the simulated fire zone and communicated information about the progress of the fire.  After a briefing from city emergency management, fire department and police department, Pulpit Rock residents were permitted to explore the Red Cross demonstration shelter in the gymnasium. Residents learned about how client care is handled at a Red Cross evacuation shelter. They had opportunity to talk with volunteers about how the Red Cross handles things like medical care, feeding, and sleeping.

Pulpit Rock resident, Pam Harlor,
tests a Red Cross cot and finds it "very comfy."
Photo by Bill Fortune, American Red Cross.
Resident Pam Harlor took a few moments to test one of the Red Cross cots. She said with a laugh that the cot was “very comfy.” When asked about her experience with the exercise, she thought for a moment and said, “I feel much more prepared. I feel much more comfortable. After the Black Forest Fire [the possibility of disaster] became very real. We had friends stay with us.”

Pam was appreciative of the opportunity to walk through and see a Red Cross shelter for herself. “I can hear about it, but until I participate, I don’t know what’s going on. Now I feel much more prepared.”

Red Cross volunteers answer resident questions
as part of the shelter demonstration.
Photo by Arnett Luce, American Red Cross.
Multiple agencies cooperated to stage the exercise: The City of Colorado Springs Office of Emergency Management, Police Department and Fire Department organized the exercise; the Salvation Army used their mobile food service truck to provide a hot breakfast for volunteers and participating residents; Red Cross volunteers set up and ran the shelter; the Humane Society provided residents with information about sheltering family pets; and FEMA Corp volunteers assisted in all aspects of the emergency management exercise.

At the end of the exercise, Rich Garcia, Lead Volunteer for Mass Care summed it up by saying, “This was a win-win event. We were able to train new volunteers and educate the community.”