IM this article to a friend!

October 20, 2002

Fires drain charity coffers

From: Idaho Statesman, ID
Oct. 20, 2002

Organization needs money, volunteer help

An organization dedicated to saving Idahoans in times of crisis is quickly approaching an emergency of its own.

The American Red Cross of Greater Idaho has responded to an average of one house fire every day since July 1.

Between Oct. 12 and 15, the organization responded to seven home fires in Idaho, including four in the Treasure Valley.

It´s double the workload the agency typically handles, officials say, and resources are running dry.

“It´s hurting us because contributions to the Red Cross are not keeping pace with the need,” Public Affairs Director Dave Fotsch said.

Red Cross representatives strive to respond to a home fire within two hours of receiving a call from a fire department, Fotsch said. When a fire occurs after regular business hours, volunteers take the calls.

Katie Kilgrow, executive officer of emergency services, said there are 200 volunteers throughout Idaho.

“That´s not nearly enough for what we need to do,” Kilgrow said.

Volunteers typically work for one or two weeks at a time and are assigned cell phones in order to receive after-hours phone calls at any location.

Angela Vause of Boise decided to volunteer after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. But until recently she hadn´t put her training into action.

Her phone rang at 4 a.m. this past Tuesday morning, and she was dispatched to a house fire on the 4300 block of Cochees Way. The fire had started on the back porch and quickly spread throughout the house and into the upstairs bedrooms where a woman and her two children were sleeping. A man driving on South Cole Road saw the flames and helped the family escape. Police have not determined the cause of the fire.

It was Vause´s first job as the lead Red Cross respondent, and she wasn´t sure she was ready for the responsibility, she said.

When she arrived at the home of Rob and Virginia Kimbro, she was told that Virginia was severely hearing impaired and had lost her hearing aid in the fire. She saw a unique opportunity to help after a firefighter located the hearing aid among the debris.

Her husband, Mark Vause, is an audiologist for the Boise School District. He conducts hearing tests and also repairs hearing aids for children at the schools. She called her husband and asked if he could repair Virginia Kimbro´s hearing aid immediately.

“I could see she was really distressed because she couldn´t hear,” Vause said.

A task that could have left Kimbro without a hearing aid for several days was completed within a few hours.

And it made a world of difference to the family, Virginia´s husband, Rob Kimbro, said.

Without the hearing aid, his wife is almost completely deaf, he said, and the hearing aid is difficult and time-consuming to replace.

“This is something you can´t buy across the counter,” Rob Kimbro said.

“This job has increased my confidence by helping others,” Vause said. “If people are depressed, this is a great thing to do. It´s an exhilarating feeling to help someone.”

Red Cross volunteers and employees aim to meet immediate needs for clients in the wake of a disaster. Although the organization responds to a vast range of disasters, house fires are the most common type, Fotsch said. Red Cross workers supply vouchers for people to purchase basic essentials, such as clothing, shelter and food. Fotsch said vouchers are used so families can select exactly what they need. Other essentials, such as prescriptions or items like Kimbro´s hearing aid, also are replaced by the Red Cross. After the family finds a new place to live, the Red Cross pays the deposit and first month´s rent.

“We´re trying to make it as easy as possible for people to get back to their lives,” Kilgrow said.

To provide basic living essentials for a family displaced by a house fire, the Red Cross spends between $2,000 and $3,000, Kilgrow said.

Families often must live in temporary housing situations while they slowly rebuild their lives.

“Imagine trying to buy everything you own again,” Kilgrow said. “A house fire can take someone who is doing very well and wipe them out financially.”

Volunteers and community donations are essential to the organization´s success, she said. The Red Cross does not receive government funding or grants.

“If it wasn´t for the volunteers, there is no way we could do what we do,” Kilgrow said.

The Red Cross began its new fiscal year with a $500,000 deficit, Fotsch said. But a slim budget won´t stop the agency from providing services to people in the wake of a disaster.

“This is a must-do service,” Fotsch said.

Virginia Kimbro has endured a string of recent misfortunes. Her hearing dog died suddenly and she was thrown from a horse about a month ago. She was wearing a helmet when she was thrown but still suffered bruising on her head.

“She´s a tough lady,” Rob Kimbro said. “She´s a survivor.”

The family used vouchers provided by The Red Cross to stay at The Ameritel Inn until Friday and then moved into a rental house located in their neighborhood. The restoration of their Cochees Way home has already started.

“Things are moving on,” he said.

“We´re well cared for by our insurance company, but the Red Cross really came through for us.”

Edition Date: 10-20-2002
© 2002 The Idaho Statesman