Home Fire Preparedness Campaign Kicks Off in Crete

Home Smoke Alarm Briefing

On Saturday, November 8th, nearly a dozen Crete High School students donned a Red Cross Disaster vest before pounding the pavement in their community. The goal, to install lifesaving smoke alarms in the community of nearly 6,900 people. “I’m here to make a difference in my town,” said 17 year-old Barbara Ortiz.

Smoke Alarms

The piercing sound of smoke alarms could be heard radiating through the fall air as teams of Red Crossers knocked on doors to talk about home fire safety and make sure residents have a working smoke alarms.

The Red Cross is making sure working smoke alarms are in homes because of this heartbreaking statistic – seven times a day someone in this country dies in a fire. The Red Cross Home Fire Preparedness campaign is designed to reduce deaths and injuries from home fires by as much as 25 percent over the next five years. The initiative focuses on joining fire departments and community groups nationwide to install smoke alarms in communities with high numbers of fires and encouraging everyone to practice their fire escape plans.

“Installing smoke alarms cuts the risk of someone dying from a home fire in half, so we’re joining with  groups from across our community to install smoke alarms,” said Jill Orton, Region Executive. “We also will be teaching people how to be safe from home fire.”

Installing smoke alarm

The Red Cross also is asking every household in America to take the two simple steps that can save lives: checking their existing smoke alarms and practicing fire drills at home.

For Ortiz, knowing how to evacuate during a fire hits home, just last year her family escaped their burning house. “I had a space heater too close to the curtains. They caught fire in my bedroom,” said Ortiz.

The teen recalled yelling for help to put the flames out, but the fire spread too fast. A team of Red Cross disaster responders answered the family’s call for help and provided assistance with basic needs. Things like food, clothing, and a safe place for them to stay.

Barbara Ortiz

Barbara Ortiz on right creates an escape plan with Andrew Francis.

Barbara spent time with each homeowner drawing a map of their home and walking them through an evacuation plan. “I want to make sure people know how to get out if a fire  happens to them.”

In all, 40 Red Cross volunteers visited 250 homes. With the support of Fire Chief Tod Allen and the Crete Volunteer Firefighters, 85 lifesaving smoke alarms were installed in homes.

The Red Cross responds to nearly 70,000 disasters each year in the United States and the vast majority of those are home fires. You can help people affected by disasters like home fires and countless other crises by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

The American Red Cross – Providing Comfort, Care and Assistance to Families after an Apartment Fire

Written by: Weysan Dun
(Lincoln, Nebraska, October 26, 2014)

The American Red Cross responded in early morning hours of Sunday, October 26, 2014 to provide assistance, comfort and shelter when a fire caused serious damage to an apartment building at 1615 Garfield Street, in Lincoln, Nebraska. The fire resulted in the closure of the entire multi-unit apartment building. A team of well-trained Red Cross workers responded to the fire scene and then set up a shelter at the Red Cross facility in Lincoln to provide a safe and comfortable place to spend the night for three families who were affected by the fire and had no place else to stay.

The Red Cross provided more than just shelter for those affected by the fire. Red Cross workers assisted the apartment building tenants with contacting their landlord and setting up a meeting so they could get details about returning to their homes. When the Red Cross was unable to contact a number of the tenants in the affected building, Red Cross staff posted a notice on the door of the sealed building to let affected tenants know a shelter had been opened and provide a Red Cross contact person who furnish assistance. People staying at the Red Cross shelter were provided meals, toiletry kits and other assistance for their immediate needs, as well as comfort and encouragement during a stressful time.

Robert Rice and Nancy Towns were one of the families who sought refuge at the Red Cross Shelter after the fire. Robert said he and Nancy were both asleep when Robert’s son woke them in the middle of the night, telling there was a fire in the adjacent apartment. They heard lots of noise and could see the flames in the apartment next to theirs as soon as they stepped into the hallway outside their apartment so they had to flee the building with no time grab any possessions or clothing. Having no place else to stay, they were very grateful for the availability of the Red Cross shelter and for the assistance in coordinating with their landlord.

Meet Jill Orton, Region Executive

Jill Orton, Region Executive

The American Red Cross Nebraska/SW Iowa Region is excited to welcome Jill Orton as the new Region Executive. Jill is a Nebraska native with a long standing Red Cross career. She has served as Executive for the Loess Hills Chapter in Council Bluffs, IA from January 2010 until August 2013. Jill came to her first paid Red Cross position in 2000 as part of the Health & Safety staff for the Heartland (Omaha, NE) Chapter and became Director of Health & Safety in 2006, prior to that, Jill started as a volunteer in Hastings, NE.

“I’m excited to be now leading a great group of volunteers and staff in the best region of Red Cross,” said Jill Orton, Region Executive. “The Midwest is my home and Red Cross is one of my loves. I’m proud to serve them both.”

Jill is currently a participant in the Red Cross Leadership, Education and Development (LEAD) program. In 2014, Jill accepted the Mount Marty College Alumni Service to Church and Community Award; was elected President for the Council Bluffs Noon Rotary Club, and President for Pottawattamie County Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD). She serves as the Lakin Legacy Family Campus Board President, and has sat on the local organizing committee for the USA Olympic Swimming Trials. Jill is an alumnus of the Institute of Career Advancement Needs (ICAN), Influence Defining Leadership for Women, Leadership Council Bluffs Class XXIII, and the Non-profit Association of the Midlands Executive Institute. She earned the Nebraska/SW Iowa Red Cross Region Employee of the Year award in 2012, and in 2004, she accepted the prestigious The Ector Thyfault Health & Safety Services Award. Jill is a graduate of Mount Mary College in Yankton, South Dakota, with a double major in Chemistry and Biology.

As Job Director this past year during the southeast Nebraska Tornado outbreak, Mother’s Day tornado outbreak, and Pilger Northeast Nebraska tornado storm, her leadership assisted the Red Cross to deliver food, clothing, shelter, comfort and care. In addition to answering the call for help in Nebraska, Jill has served on disasters including Superstorm Sandy, Thurman Tornado, and Missouri River Floods.

Jill and her husband, Doug, have two children, Zach (15), Jamie (12) and their rescued kitties, Ziggy and Smokey.

Wakefield, Nebraska Family Finds Comfort with Red Cross Following Tornado












Written by: Liz Dorland, Communications Manager


Jerez Family Sifts Through Home

Through scattered debris in farm fields and piles of rubble, the Jerez family searched for familiar pieces of their home, a place torn apart by a massive tornado on June 16, 2014.

“When I came home, there was nothing left. I was sick,” said Clarita Roblero.

With no where to go, Clarita, her husband Carlos and their two children came to the American Red Cross emergency shelter in Wakefield, which is where I met them. At the safe shelter, the family of four joined 23 others who were also displaced and needed a safe place to sleep, a warm meal, comfort and compassion from Red Cross disaster workers.

“We feel good being in a Red Cross shelter because we don’t have any family or friends here,” said Carlos Jerez.
Jerez Family in Wakefield Shelter
Side-by-side with new-found friend and Red Cross Shelter Manager Martha Connot, the Jerez family told me they’re lucky no one was home when the tornado hit because they’re certain they would not have survived. Carlos works in Sioux City and that Monday morning, he and Clarita decided 10 year old Andie and 6 year old Reggie would also go to Sioux City for the day because Clarita had to work.

Clarita worked at the Luna Cafe in Wakefield. Even though Wakefield is only about an hour away from the Village of Pilger, Clarita said she could see the tornado rapidly close-in on the sleepy northeast Nebraska town.

“I saw the black sky, it was swirling and I saw the debris falling from the sky,” she recalled.

Clarita along with her eight Luna Cafe co-workers got into the basement moments before the tornado ripped through the building. “When I came outside, debris was still flying. I had no idea what my home looked like.”

Clarita finds a picture

Sadly, like many houses and farms in rural Wakefield, the  monstrous tornado shredded their home. The Jerez Family took  me to where their house once stood and I decided to walk the fields  with Carlos, both of us were on a  mission to find pieces of their  home that now lay in miles of farmland. Carlos told me he and his  wife came to the United States 12 years ago with nothing. They  settled in Wakefield where they both had good jobs and started t  their family. As he finished sharing their story, I watched him look  the ground and his eyes fill with tears as he realized again he would  need to start over.


I offered Carlos comfort with a hug and reminded him the Red Cross is here to help them get back on their feet.  He nodded and said, “I know. I’m grateful for the support. The Red Cross has helped us with food, clothing and given us a place to stay until we move into our new home.”


Comforting Beaver Crossing Residents

Written and edited by: Weysan Dun and Liz Dorland
Photos Credit: Randy Eshelman/American Red Cross

As sunlight glistens through wood beams and dangling insulation, Mary Ann and Ron Schernikau took a few minutes to talk with a
well-trained American Red Cross disaster action team. Along side friends and family, the Schernikau’s pick-up the pieces of their home, after a devastating tornado that ripped through their hometown of Beaver Crossing the night of May 11th.

“It was a terrible feeling to know that your home is in potential jeopardy and unable to do anything about it” recalled Mary Ann.

Schernikau Family Home

The Schernikau’s had been in York, Nebraska at their daughter’s home for a Mother’s Day celebration when they heard on the news that a tornado was approaching Beaver Crossing. Soon, they received a call from another daughter who lives in Beaver Crossing saying that her home’s garage had been destroyed by the tornado.

When Ron and Mary Ann were finally able to get back to their home, they discovered it had been severely damaged, many out-buildings on their farm were gone, and much of their farm machinery had been damaged. Their dog, Sparky, survived the tornado alone in the house. While he had been obviously terrified by the experience, thankfully, Sparky was unharmed.



Mary Ann and Ron told Red Cross disaster workers they’re “thankful no one had been hurt” and they expressed pride in how their community rallied to support each other. The Red Cross provided Mary Ann and Ron with comfort kits and clean-up kits, items they said are  “a real blessing” because supplies had been scarce in Beaver Crossing for days. More importantly, Ron said, the fact that Red Cross workers stopped in to offer assistance and encouragement was deeply appreciated.


An Unforgettable Mother’s Day Card with a Red Cross Twist

From left to right: Betty Nisly, Bree Nisly and Red Cross shelter worker Lisa Ashby.

Written and edited by: Weysan Dun & Liz Dorland

The Nisly Family lost just about everything when a large tornado roared through their Beaver Crossing, Nebraska home, including a handmade Mother’s Day card that was carefully crafted by little Bree. Knowing that her mom had really enjoyed the card, Bree made another with materials at the American Red Cross shelter in Utica.

The Nisly Family sought refuge in the Red Cross shelter after the tornado destroyed their home. Betty Nisly said they heard sirens about 10 or 15 minutes before the tornado hit and they immediately went into the basement. They emerged after the tornado had passed to find their home had been completely leveled and they had lost all their belongings. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Betty Nisly said they “really appreciated the shelter and care provided by the Red Cross.”

The American Red Cross provided assistance to the residents of Beaver Crossing, Nebraska after a tornado caused serious damage in the community on May 11, 2014. Red Cross disaster workers helped those who were impacted by the tornado with food, clothing, shelter, comfort and care.

“As soon as the storms passed, our disaster teams were in damaged communities to help. Since Sunday night, 44 well-trained Red Cross workers have provided shelter to 13 people, delivered hundreds of meals, snacks, waters to crews and homeowners who are in the clean up process,” said Jill Orton, Region Disaster Officer. “In the days and weeks to come, the Red Cross will continue working with emergency officials and local community partners to help people get back on their feet.”


Many homes in Beaver Crossing sustained damage during Sunday night's storm.

Many homes in Beaver Crossing sustained damage during Sunday night’s storm.

While the clean-up process is in full swing, many areas are still littered with debris. The Red Cross offers the following tips for those in the affected area to stay safer:

  • Avoid damaged areas as your presence might hamper rescue and other emergency operations and put you at further risk from the residual effects of tornadoes.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings.
  • When it is safe to return home, wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and sturdy shoes when examining your walls, doors, staircases and windows for damage.
  • Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and report them to the utility company immediately.
  • Use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights when examining buildings. Avoid using candles.
  • If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone out of the building quickly. Turn off the gas using the outside main valve if you can, and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
  • Clean up spilled medications, bleaches, gasoline, or other flammable liquids that could become a fire hazard.
  • Take pictures of the damage, both of the building and its contents, for insurance claims.
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls. Telephone lines are frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations. They need to be kept clear for emergency calls to get through.
  • Watch your animals closely. Keep all your animals under your direct control. Your pets may be able to escape from your home or through a broken fence. Pets may become disoriented, particularly because tornadoes and the heavy rains that accompany them will usually affect scent markers that normally allow animals to find their homes.

The Red Cross depends on the generosity of the American people to fulfill our mission. To help disaster victims please contact the American Red Cross redcross.org, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

Struck twice by tornadoes, Friend, NE couple receives comfort from the Red Cross


The Schweitzer home

In a thick haze of a cold drizzle, Kati Schweitzer’s family and friends pack up what’s left of their Friend, Nebraska home as a team of American Red Cross workers pulled into the driveway. With a smile, Kati greeted the team and said “Welcome to our home and backyard!”

Kati and Liz Dorland


Gazing at the piles of tin, clothing, and debris, Kati recalled the terrifying moments leading up to last night’s tornado. “I was standing outside and all of the sudden I saw storm chasers stop at the front of my house. The high wind suddenly stopped and it got real quiet, and the storm chaser took off. That’s when I knew it was coming.” Kati and her husband Dolen grabbed their four dogs and dove for cover in a tub in the basement bathroom as the first tornado swept over their home.


“When we came out everything was gone and it was raining in the house. I knew it was bad. My husband was standing outside and it was really cold, but then all of a sudden it got really hot and my husband said, ‘It’s here again’.” Once again, the Schweizer’s and their four dogs took shelter in the bathtub as the all too familiar roar of wind started.


With tears in her eyes, Kati looked at Red Cross’ Liz Dorland and said, “I picked up my cell phone and called my sister. I said ‘the tornado is on its way to Lincoln, it’s over my house right now. I can’t talk. I love you.’ and I hung up the phone.”


Minutes passed after the second twister passed, Dolen, Kati and the dogs emerged to a home reduced to rubble.


As family and friends load what is left of the Schweitzer home into the back of a horse trailer, Kati is happy her husband, dogs, horse, goats and chickens are all okay, knowing “stuff” can all be replaced adding “our safety is more important. We will rebuild.”


The Schweitzer’s are just one of many families that the American Red Cross will be working with over the weeks to come to rebuild lives after an unforgettable Mother’s Day tornado outbreak.

A hug goes a long way