After a disaster, the first organization with volunteers on the ground, ready to help disaster victims is most often the American Red Cross. Such was the case after nine people were displaced by a three-alarm fire that devastated a West 26th Street home on April 18.
The Bayonne Community News spoke with Diane Concannon, communications director for the New Jersey Region of the American Red Cross. “A lot of people think of the Red Cross with large disasters, like Sandy, or down in Texas where they’re facing massive flooding,” she said. “That is disaster relief. Every day we are responding to home fires in New Jersey.”
The Red Cross relies on an organized network of on-call volunteers called the Disaster Action Team. “When the call comes in from the Bayonne Fire Department, our dispatcher notifies the responders to get on the scene,” Concannon said.
“They are there for the family,” she continued. “They’re there to provide needs for the family at that time. Our responders make sure the families have a place to stay and clothing. If they’ve lost any medication in the fire that are of urgent need, like eyeglasses, we work with the family to help them get those immediate needs at that time.”
Last year, The Red Cross helped more than 1,820 families, and 889 house fires in New Jersey. Last week alone, the organization provided disaster relief to victims of house fires in Hackensack, West New York, Gladstone, Paterson, Vineland, Jersey City, Washington Township, and Bloomfield.
“Families should practice having a fire escape plan.” – Diane Concannon
Donations and prevention
The Red Cross launched a home fire campaign in 2014. It’s teaming up with municipalities, fire departments, and other community partners throughout the state. The goal of the campaign is to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities caused by home fires by 25 percent in the five-year campaign period. “Families should practice having a fire escape plan,” Concannon said. “You should be out of your house in two minutes. You can’t just talk about it… you need to practice it.”
Disaster relief needs help from the public to help families affected by disasters big and small. To donate to the Red Cross, visit redcross.org/firesafety.
Bayonne Spokesman Joe Ryan says the best way to help fire victims is to buy them gift cards so families displaced by house fires can buy what they need. The gift cards should be put in envelopes that say “26th Street Fire Victims” and can be dropped off or mailed to the Office of the Mayor.
What caused the fire
According to Bayonne Fire Chief Keith Weaver, the fire was likely caused by an electrical malfunction inside a wall in the attic kitchen. It was reported just before 6 a.m. and the Bayonne Fire Department had it under control by 8 a.m. Three firefighters sustained non-life-threatening injuries, and the building was deemed an imminent hazard and demolished that evening.
Without much separation between the blazing building and the building right next door, the firefighters were able to contain the flames to just the one building. “The firefighters did an excellent job,” Weaver said. Each side of the house had minimal separation from its neighboring structures (18 inches on one side and a few feet on the other). The flames could have very easily led to a larger disaster without the professionalism of the fire department.
Online sources report the building owner, Humberto Valdez, will be issued a summons by the Building Department for having an illegal “sleeping area.” Weaver said that evidence of a kitchen sink, a stove, and a bathroom were found before the demolition.
The cause of the fire is important to know in order to better prevent these kinds of tragedies from happening in the future.
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.