Tuesday, February 7, 2017

My Red Cross Volunteer Story: Bill Evans

Devoted to Saving Lives Through Fire Safety

By Clarice Nassif Ransom, Volunteer

Name: Bill Evans
Length of Red Cross Volunteer Service: 2 years and counting
Profession: Director of Claims, Insurance Associates

Resides: City of Fairfax, Virginia

What inspired you to be a volunteer and would you recommend it to others? I feel that we all have a responsibility to serve our community when we can. When my role as a volunteer firefighter changed from operational to administrative, it freed up time so that I could get involved with the American Red Cross, an organization that I have always respected. I would recommend that folks who are considering volunteering find a cause that they have passion for and focus on those causes. That way, you will stay energized and be more effective in the long run. The American Red Cross has such a variety of services and volunteer needs, there is something for everyone’s passion.

What do you do as a volunteer? I became a Red Cross volunteer nearly two years ago and have assisted during Winter Storm Jonas in 2016, as a Go-Team member during the Pope’s visit, and have really enjoyed helping at multiple Home Fire Campaign events. Besides volunteering for the Red Cross, I am still active with the Fairfax Volunteer Fire Department (FVFD), Food for Others, and other charitable events pursued with my rugby club. In four of our Home Fire Campaign events, we actually partnered with my fellow FVFD members and City of Fairfax crews.

What do you do for a career and how has volunteering complimented your professional life? I am Director of Claims for Insurance Associates, a local independent insurance agency which has a niche, the construction industry. Each day at work, I assist with unfortunate accident claims and the safety efforts to prevent them, so my volunteer life is an extension of my work life to some extent. Our company has a strong and supportive volunteer culture, so it is nice to work with others who enjoy community service. 

Why is the Home Fire Campaign important? Home fire safety is often neglected, but the Home Fire Campaign, where volunteers go to at-risk communities and install detectors and provide fire safety information, brings it to the forefront in the communities we visit. All home fires cannot be prevented, but our efforts can certainly improve the odds of surviving fires. It is important because it actually saves lives. Having a working smoke detector in your home cuts your risk of dying in a home fire in half! Besides installing free smoke alarms, we also discuss fire safety and emergency escape plans with the residents we meet. This education is particularly important when there are children, elderly or handicapped people in the household. If children are in the home, we include them in our education discussion along with the adults.

I have been a member of the Fairfax Volunteer Fire Department for 10 years and during fire school training we learned that during the stress and chaos of a home fire, there are needless deaths because occupants become panic stricken and disoriented and can end up getting trapped. For instance, it is not uncommon for young children to hide in a closet or under a bed during a fire instead of exiting the home as quickly as possible. Nearly one third of all fire deaths are among the elderly. So the education aspect of the home fire safety campaign is just as important as the installations we perform. An escape plan includes more than just getting out safely but also designating a rally point where all family members go, such as by the mail box or big oak tree so that everyone can be accounted for. Too often family members are injured or killed after rushing back into a burning home to desperately save a missing child when in fact the child was safe at a neighbor’s home or in the back yard. Our educational discussions help families make a plan together. Plus, when residents see the American Red Cross serving in their communities, it will hopefully generate more volunteer and donor support as well.

What are some of your favorite memories of how you helped others with your volunteer work?Three come to mind. We met a wheelchair-bound gentleman who also was a smoker. Both smokers and the handicapped are at increased risk of being injured in a home fire, so it was satisfying to install smoke alarms with 10 year batteries for him, knowing that he will be safer. We also met a single mother of four children who ran a catering business out of her home. Thus, her kitchen was often a place where people were busy cooking meals. Her children’s rooms were in a basement with only one means of escape up a set of stairs by the kitchen. There were no working alarms, but we were able to install alarms in the basement and the two upper floors, thus greatly increasing the fire safety for that family. We met a Chinese man who spoke zero English and did not understand what we were offering to do. Tina, a member of my team, was able to use Google Translate to effectively communicate and soon we had installed three new alarms in his house and educated him on home fire safety.    

What can a volunteer for the Home Fire Campaign expect on the day of the event? They will be given training as needed before going into the neighborhood. Each team of three or four will include an installer, educator and documenter. This gives every personality type a job that fits their skill set. Each team will be assigned certain streets to cover, with Red Cross support members always nearby to provide guidance, supplies or water. As Red Cross volunteers, you may be partnering with a fire department and or other safety teams. The Home Fire Campaign is a great way to serve our communities. The residents we assist are so appreciative and the knowledge that our work will save lives makes for a very positive experience to all involved.

Learn more about the Home Fire Campaign. 

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