It was a blustery February day and it had been a busy one for Bill Sien, 77. He was one of 25 volunteers, coordinating with the fire chief and his crew, to fan out to 185 homes in Manassas, VA, offering fire safety tips and smoke alarms free of charge to residences. At the end of the day, they had installed 156 alarms in 46 homes as part of the Red Cross’ house fire prevention program called Sound the Alarm.
One of those homes, in particular, stood out for Bill.
He had been inside for about a half-an-hour installing smoke alarms on both floors and two bedrooms. As he was preparing to leave, the women living in the home broke into a big smile and said, “I know you.” It clicked for Bill. It had been a far less pleasant experience the last time they’d met. A few months earlier, she and her family – a boyfriend and a small child – had lost their home, also in Manassas, in a fire.
Bill, a DAT (Disaster Action Team) lead responder had arrived on the scene to find chaos. The residents were immigrants from Nepal and had no other family to turn to for help. The anxiety and confusion were typical of a house fire scene.
“They’re very distraught,” Bill says. “They’re confused. They don’t know what to do. I mean, this is the worst day of their life and they’re so happy to have someone help them walk it through. We give them a list of things they need to do.”
“They need to get all of their essential items out of the house – items like a charger for their phone, wallet, drivers license, anything that they can’t live without, prescription drugs and things like that.”
The family was able to get out essentials but little else. Bill arranged for lodging for them and gave them blankets and a Red Cross pamphlet that goes through all the things that need to be done to recover from a fire, step by step. He also gave them “comfort bags” filled with toiletries, including a toothbrush and comb. The woman was so grateful that she gave him a big hug when he left.
Flash forward to the February day when she was in her new home with four new fire alarms.
“I told her this is so much better than that last experience and you could see the joy in her face. I said you know you’re doing something preventative here so you can avoid what you went through the last time.”
When Bill isn’t volunteering for the Red Cross, he’s running his own business. He coordinates wireless mikes on game days for the NFL, the Washington Nationals and the University of Maryland. He lives with his wife, Teresa, in Haymarket, VA, and likes to spend time with his two children and five grandchildren, including a set of twins, all who live in the area.