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the red cross is fighting fire fatalities
by Audrey Hanes, photo by Melissa Donner

Since the American Red Cross was founded, it has saved and touched countless lives through many different areas, including health and safety training, disaster services, service to armed forces, international services and lifesaving blood. As the area’s humanitarian organization celebrates a century of lifesaving service and programs, American Red Cross Serving Northeast Arkansas is focusing on smoke alarm installation with the Centennial Home First Campaign Mega Blitz later this month.

The driving force behind the campaign, executive director Pam Knapp-Carver, has been with the American Red Cross (ARC) for 33 years. After her mother-in-law, who was the executive director in Mississippi County prior to Knapp-Carver, introduced her to the organization, she began as a volunteer for the swimming program before moving into program areas such as CPR training, service to armed forces and disaster relief.

“It was due to my volunteer commitment that I gained a love for the organization and a desire to make it a career,” said Knapp-Carver.
As the area chapter of the ARC celebrates 100 years of service to those in need during times of emergency, Knapp-Carver said she wanted to do something special to commemorate the milestone that also paid tribute to the organization’s mission.

“Whether it be a large disaster such as tornado, a home fire, assisting a military member and their family, or training new parents in CPR and First Aid, the Red Cross has been there,” said Knapp-Carver. “We wanted to celebrate this milestone by doing what we do daily – assisting families in need while keeping to our mission. 

“The American Red Cross nationwide is committed to reducing the number of deaths and injuries due to home fires by 25 percent over a five-year period ending in 2020. In many surveys, Arkansas ranks number one in fire fatalities, and we see too many deaths and injuries in Northeast Arkansas. Once an alarm goes off, individuals have no more than two minutes to exit the home. We want to educate families and install over 1,000 alarms to ensure more families are safer during times of fire. We are also trying to raise $100,000 to support this campaign and the services we provide daily in Northeast Arkansas to those who have home fires.”

The ARC launched the Home Fire Campaign on a national level in 2014 with a focus on installing smoke alarms in homes that did not have them and educating families about how to get out of their homes in under two minutes should a fire occur. Since then, more than 700,000 smoke alarms have been installed that have saved a verified 197 lives.

Locally, the ARC of NEA will push the Home Fire Campaign on April 29 with a centennial event that will involve between 300 and 400 volunteers installing 1,000 smoke alarms at specific at-risk areas across NEA.

“We know that a person has two minutes to get out of a home once the alarm goes off,” said Knapp-Carver. “Our objective is to install the alarm and then educate the families and help them come up with a plan to get out and where to meet outside.”

Fire Marshal Jason Wills said that the Jonesboro Fire Department appreciates all that the ARC does. He says that of the fire fatalities he has worked during his career with the fire department, almost all of them can be attributed to the home not having a working smoke alarm; people think they’ll smell smoke and be able to exit their homes, but that’s just not the case.

“We as the fire department respond and fight fires and do our best to save lives, but it’s the Red Cross we call when people are displaced and lose their homes,” said Wills. “They’re the ones picking up the pieces. I don’t think a lot of people realize that’s going on. … That happens a lot. They’re the first call we make when a family is affected like that.”

The ARC serving NEA and area firefighters will also receive help on the day of the Mega Blitz from the Arkansas State University Athletics Department. Head Football Coach Blake Anderson and Athletic Director Terry Mohajir will both speak at the breakfast program, which will start at 8 a.m. at St. Bernards Auditorium. A-State athletes and staff have also committed to participate on the teams who will be sweeping NEA to install the smoke alarms.

Anderson said the American Red Cross does a great job of responding to those who are affected by disasters and that he and members of the A-State football team are happy to assist in this effort.

“We just want to give back to the community in any way we can,” said Anderson. “It’s a great opportunity to affect people’s lives in a way that is noticeable. It’s something you don’t think a lot about until it happens to you.”

Anderson also said that members of the football team are always enthusiastic about community service.

“When we ask for volunteers, we always have more than we can use, but in this instance, we’re going to try to use everybody to try to get as many people out as possible,” said Anderson. “They always love to give back to the community, and they like the idea of helping the people that come out and support them every week. We have a lot of hands and people who are willing to help, so we might as well put them to work.”

Knapp-Carver says that Candy Hart, the preparedness lead for NEA, has been instrumental in planning the Mega Blitz, along with a dedicated board that includes Ken Copeland, Donna Fincher, Lynn Brandon, Beverly Nix, Steve Smith, Mark Smith, Marcia Raeber-McClain, Carla Hurt, Mariah Bryson, Michael Patterson, Ross Thompson, Johnny Terrell and Randy Bearce.

“I’ve been with this organization for more than 30 years,” said Knapp-Carver. “When I started, we had more than 40 chapters in the state of Arkansas. Now we have three, plus the addition of a few satellite offices. Because of the technology today, we are able to work with fewer brick and mortar places in the state, but I feel very blessed that we still have a presence in NEA, and that’s due to the number of volunteers that we have and the incredible work that they do.

“Just because we do not have brick and mortar, it doesn’t mean the Red Cross isn’t there. The Red Cross is working in every county in the country. To know that we have experienced so many incredible changes in 100 years – from knitting socks for service members to sending electronic messages overseas, there have been a lot of changes, but we are still here carrying out our mission every day.”

For those unable to participate on a smoke alarm installation team on April 29 who still want to help, there will be a blood drive that morning at St. Bernards Auditorium.

To volunteer or for more information about the American Red Cross Serving Northeast Arkansas or the Centennial Home Fire Campaign Mega Blitz, call (870) 932-3212 or visit redcross.org. To track the installations on April 29, visit 21212.myactions.org/ArkRedCross.php.