Mary Nelms was a freshman at the College of William and Mary in 1982, experiencing life away from home to attend college. One night after she and some friends were out late, they woke up to the sound of a fire alarm, and the Resident Advisor (RA) banging on doors, demanding they get up and get out. There was a little smoke and confusion but every student made it outside and stood nearby waiting for the “all clear” that did not come. The dormitory went up in flames as a result of an electrical fire. As the firefighters began to soak the buildings, Mary began to realize that she had nothing, except for what she had on.
“It's amazing that 135 students walked out of that building and were saved, starting with the RA’s to the Fire Department evacuating us. And the Red Cross was there setting up tables in the campus center to provide support and basic necessities,” Mary said. As confused students waited to hear what to do next, Red Cross volunteers assembled at 1 a.m. to bring help and hope. “The Red Cross was there to bridge the gap,” Mary said, “I was a fire refugee. It was a disaster that I never would have anticipated, and we had the support that the Red Cross provided. Thank God.”
Many years later, Mary still gets choked up when she talks about it. She has since integrated Red Cross preparedness into her and her family’s life. “What if there was no Red Cross? I remember they were there like it was yesterday, giving out clothes, information and food. It’s something that happened 34 years ago, but you never forget it.”