American Red Cross assists disaster-stricken families

Disaster strikes and the Red Cross is there. From hurricanes, fires and floods,  to urban disasters that happen in our neighborhoods.

PIX11 visits volunteer Greg Davidson, of Mount Vernon.  He's recounting the day he lost nearly everything in a fire.

"Like it was yesterday."

Like countless other families, he had his home burn to the ground early one morning. He was working at the time and rushed home.

"The house was completely in flames. The neighbors were outside watching. The firefighters were there. My daughter, barefoot. My mother, barefoot. A complete disaster. Something you think would never happen to you,” he said.

Like so many other disaster victims, the first face he saw was a Red Cross volunteer.

"When you experience a fire, it's unexpected. When someone is there providing care, it's almost unreal."

And, inspiring. Greg, already studying for his nursing degree, has found another calling — To volunteer to do for others what has been done for him.

We are at the Midtown headquarters of the Red Cross in New York. President Josh Lockwood takes us through a URV: Urban Response Vehicle.

"We have water, supplies, food, blankets. Everything that families need when they have run for their lives at a moment's notice."

He's responded around the nation, and in our city and says the needs are the same. Basic physical necessities when all has been lost, and emotional comfort.

"In North Carolina during hurricane Florence. Folks who had no restaurants, no food, no power. This would be their one square meal for the day."

The biggest need in New York are home fires.

The past few years have brought sharp increases in the number of people dying in home fires in New York, coming in at just under one hundred deaths, double what other recent years have brought.

Even more devastating, they are lives that could have been saved.  Two-thirds of those who perished did not have a working smoke detector in their home.

Red Cross volunteers are doing work to change that by delivering and installing smoke detectors for free all across the U.S. and in New York, New Jersey, Westchester, Long Island.

About 1.7 million so far; 550 lives estimated saved across the nation.

Volunteers Jesennia and John are going door-to-door in Washington Heights, knowing they've got the gift of life in their hands

Deadly fires take seven lives every day, and 2, 500 people a year.

Often due to no working smoke detector.

It's galvanized the Red Cross and their corps of volunteers.

On average, they respond to a disaster every eight minutes in our nation.

They are the familiar and comforting faces who are often the first to help. Jesinnia takes a few moments to explain her motivation.

"It gives me gratification knowing i'm potentially saving a life."

She explains her own tragedy that sparked her desire to help, now volunteering 40 hours a week for the past two years.  "In the black out of 2003. I ended up losing my son who was 6 years old at this time. It was children playing with matches. He ended up starting the fire.  I turned my grief into something positive.  I decided to volunteer and I liked the cause."

The majority of people who perish in a home fire had no working smoke detector. A simple save. A life saving mission.  Jesinnia vows to keep going. "It's almost like I'm a hero without the cape.'  To the families who have a life saving smoke detector installed, they would agree as well.

The life saving standard for smoke detectors are ones that have a permanent, ten-year battery installed.

Once the ten years is up, the unit should be replaced.

Visit redcross.org/nj or redcross.org/gny to learn more about their work and upcoming drives to install detectors.

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