Written by Charles Davis Press-Gazette Media: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @pgcharlesdavis.
The American Red Cross of Northeast Wisconsin helped two families put their lives back together this month after an apartment building fire on Green Bay’s east side.
Firefighters called volunteers to the scene the morning of Feb. 3 to help eight people, including four children, with debit cards for clothing, food or shelter after a child playing with a lighter caused a fire at the four-unit building at 511 Hartung St. No one was injured in the fire.
Helping people in a moment of crisis is what the organization does best, said Barbara Behling, spokeswoman for the Oshkosh-based Red Cross chapter.
“We wrap a warm blanket around them while they watch their home go up in smoke and flames. At that point, we want them to know they’re safe. Then we help them figure out the next couple of hours, the next couple of days, and the next couple of weeks,” she said.
Behling said the local Red Cross has seen an increase since July in the number of people across the region who had been displaced from local disasters, most due to fires. The nonprofit now has a greater need for donations to help families in need, but she added that services aren’t in danger of being cut.
“When you have a business in the private sector and you have more clients, your business grows, your revenue grows and your profit grows. When we have more clients in the Red Cross, our expenses grow and we need to cover those additional costs,” she said.
Volunteers always are needed, too, she added.
The local Red Cross serves 20 counties across the region, including Dickinson and Menominee counties in Michigan. Volunteers have responded to at least 107 incidents from July 2012 to Feb. 4, Behling said. That’s on track to top the 171 incidents reported from July 2011 to June 2012, she said.
Since July in Brown County, volunteers have responded to 26 incidents and assisted 157 people, which matches the total number of people the nonprofit helped during the previous fiscal year, despite volunteers responding to eight more incidents during that period. More than 75 percent of Brown County’s local disasters have happened in Green Bay, which makes up 42 percent of the county’s population of roughly 251,000.
Behling said more people are being impacted by local disasters because a large number of fires have occurred at multi-family homes and apartment buildings, like this month’s fire on Hartung Street. Volunteers also respond to carbon monoxide leaks, home collapses and other accidents, she said.
During fiscal 2012, the chapter operated on a $4.5 million budget, with close to 15 percent of those funds going toward local disaster services, which includes volunteer training and providing clients with food, shelter and even medications, Behling said. If local disasters continue at the this rate, it is likely that a greater percentage of this year’s budget will go toward helping disaster victims, she said.
Green Bay fire Lt. Nick Craig acknowledged that apartment fires tend to impact more people and that oftentimes it’s those who don’t have renter’s insurance, which means they have a very hard time replacing items destroyed in a fire or other mishap.Cooking is the leading cause of home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association, and Craig said most of those fires can easily be prevented if people didn’t leave the kitchen while cooking.“Fires start when your attention stops. That sums up the majority of the fires we have,” Craig said.
In 2011, U.S. fire departments responded to 370,000 fires at homes, which includes apartments and other structures where more than one family lives, according to the National Fire Protection Association. These fires caused 13,910 civilian injuries, 2,520 civilian deaths, and $6.9 billion in direct damage.
Craig said residents can prevent fires by checking smoke detectors monthly, paying attention while cooking, remembering not to put flammable items near heat sources and making sure not to overload extension cords.
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