“You’ve got two minutes or less to get your family out of the house before it’s too late.” — Barbara Mariscal, disaster program manager for the American Red Cross Northern Valleys chapter.

Two minutes before the smoke and flames overcome you. Not a lot of time to grab your most valuable possessions, and run. So, what’s your escape plan? Don’t have one? Neither do I. Most people don’t.

You can’t fix stupid, but the Red Cross is trying this month. It’s asking for 20 minutes of your time for a one-on-one, virtual training class in safety tips so you can prevent house fires and keep your family safe.

Twenty minutes – an afternoon nap, a walk around the block. They’re not asking for much, and so far they’re not getting much. Red Cross LA is hoping to reach 800 homes in Los Angeles County by May 8, when the “Sound The Alarm” education program ends.

So far, 23 families have responded since it began April 8th. Twenty three. Certainly we can do better than that, can’t we?

“With COVID keeping so many people home, our largest disaster response now is house fires,” says Barbara Mariscal, a Red Cross disaster program manager. “Single and multi-family fires account for 90 per cent of disaster responses.”

In 2021 alone, not even four months into the year, Red Cross LA has supported more than 670 people displaced by 120 home fires. They were there last month when the Los Angeles City Fire Department responded to a three-unit apartment house fire in Panorama City.

By the time the Red Cross Disaster Action Team arrived on the scene, the fire had already spread to a second complex, and had been escalated to Greater Alarm level. It took 96 firefighters an hour and 11 minutes to fully extinguish the fire, which is believed to have been caused accidentally, not incendiary (purposely started).

The Red Cross paid the hotel and food bills for 14 families — 43 people — while they struggle to get back on their feet. Fortunately, all the smoke detectors were working and all the residents made it out safely, but those 14 families still living in hotels and motels across the Valley, lost everything they had, which wasn’t much.

“We had some families shy away from our help when we got there because they were undocumented, and thought we were a government agency, so they were fearful to talk to us,” Mariscal says. “We told them we weren’t and that it didn’t matter to us what they were. We welcome everyone who needs our help.”

I think nurse Clara Barton said that first when she founded the American Red Cross in 1881. Yeah, they’ve been helping this country for a long time, and still are — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Many of the 14 families have lived in those apartments for 10, 15 years, and could afford the rent. Now, they’re looking at rents beyond their reach unless they pick up another menial job to add to the other two they already have.

Whether they will find a new place to live remains an open question. For now, the Salvation Army has stepped in to provide long term recovery, while the Red Cross disaster relief volunteers move on to help the next family who had two minutes or less to make it out.

Last weekend in Los Angeles County, there were four families who lost their homes to fire, and needed the Red Cross to help them.

To schedule a virtual, fire safety training class with a Red Cross disaster volunteer, visit redcross.org/lahomefire to make an appointment for a time you choose. Earthquake preparedness will also be discussed.

Twenty minutes to keep your family safe from facing two minutes or less of sheer terror and heartbreak. Certainly we can spare the time, right?

Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at dmccarthynews@gmail.com.

California

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