’We want to try to help them deal with the grief and begin their recovery’: Red Cross brings fire victims relief in time of crisis

’We want to try to help them deal with the grief and begin their recovery’: Red Cross brings fire victims relief in time of crisis

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Less than three weeks before Christmas, two families have been displaced from their homes after a late-night fire.

Just before midnight Thursday night, the ten people who lived in a duplex on Penn Street in Wilmington rushed out of the burning structure and called 911.

All ten people were able to escape unharmed, but the family dog of those living in the unit where the fire appears to have originated was killed, despite firefighters administering CPR to the pet.

The family in the adjacent unit said they were awoken by the smoke and flames, but were able to get everyone out, including their service dog.

In addition to the multiple fire, EMS and police crews dispatched to the home, the American Red Cross was called in to assist.

James Jarvis, executive director for the Cape Fear chapter of the organization, said the service is one of the less familiar things his organization does to help those in crisis.

Here’s how it usually works: If firefighters determine the structure to be unsafe for the inhabitants and they determine the people desire the help, dispatchers at the 911 call center will reach out to the American Red Cross, which will send volunteers to the scene.

Those volunteers meet with the family and can provide accommodations at a hotel for three nights, as well as clean clothing and meals. Jarvis said there are also nurses available that can acquire replacement medical equipment or medication that is destroyed.

“The goal is to bridge the gap from the time the fire department leaves their house until either their insurance adjuster shows up, or as is often the case they don’t have adequate insurance, we’re trying to connect them with other charitable organizations that can help,” he said.

In cases where there is a death, including that of a pet, Jarvis said the volunteers are trained in emergency mental health first aid, and can offer immediate grief support.

“Ultimately we want to try to help them deal with the grief and begin their recovery,” he said.

Jarvis said his region sees six to eight house fires every week, with those numbers spiking during the holiday season due to decorations, space heaters or other winter fire hazards.

“Ultimately when you have a tragedy like this, you know, we are the only organization that’s there in the middle of the night, standing on the curb with you looking at what used to be your house, and so I think it’s very important for those that are dealing with a situation like this to really have some breathing time,” he said.

That time can be immensely helpful for those going through such a difficult situation.

“To have some time to get into a hotel, get out of the clothes that you’re wearing that smell like smoke, and get a chance to start thinking about what your next steps are going to be.”

Jarvis said they can always use volunteers for the house fire response program, as well as donations to support it.

“This is a wonderful program if you’re looking to volunteer, because you’re meeting with somebody on what could be the worst day of their entire life, but you were giving them food, you’re giving them a place to stay. It’s really very satisfying for you as a volunteer to know that you’re helping somebody get to a better place,” he said. “And if you’re thinking about making a charitable donation this year, this is something that’s happening in your community right now, and the American Red Cross and our volunteers are meeting with these families and really helping them begin their recovery right here and your community.”

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