Josh Lockwood, CEO of the American Red Cross Greater New York Region, spent a day – a very cold day – in the shoes of his army of volunteers.
As part of a mission to raise awareness about fire safety – particularly in light of the spike of fires we experience in the northeast at this time of year – and to highlight the important work Red Cross volunteers do daily around the clock, Lockwood himself spent Monday through this morning on 24-hour disaster relief duty.
The first fire his team responded to on Monday was the residential fire on North Washington in Sleepy Hollow that left one family with “half of their apartment with major damage from the fire itself” and the whole thing “definitely uninhabitable," Lockwood said.
Extended family lived in the one apartment, with a total of three adults, one young child, and three teens. Among them was a “very sweet” four-year-old boy who was overjoyed that his ruined Christmas presents would be replaced by something very special.
“This time of year around the holidays, we have donors who provide gifts and we come with packages pre-made,” Lockwood said.
Red Cross spokesperson Carolyn Sherwin further explained that these "comfort kits" are handmade and assembled annually, on Valentine's Day, by Somers elementary school children and Red Cross volunteers in honor of Stephanie Crispinelli, who died in the Haitian earthquake in 2010.
This 19-year-old from Somers was on a humanitarian mission in Haiti with fellow Florida college students. Since her death, the Red Cross helped her family and her family has donated much in turn to the Red Cross, funding this comfort kit project. "Her family really became a part of our family." Sherwin said. "It really brings everything we do together."
The comfort kits contain a pillow, a blanket, a care bear, coloring book, storybook and more for kids displaced by fire. "We heard there was a four-year-old and we brought a bag for him," Sherwin said. "His eyes lit up. It took away the stress of the fire, telling him he could go to the hotel with his own pillow."
Reactions when one’s home is ravaged can cover the spectrum; this family, said Lockwood, were only full of thanks for the help and generosity they were offered. He described the Spanish-speaking family as “so wonderful and incredibly grateful."
They are also lucky to have family here and many friends. Sherwin thanked the Sleepy Hollow Police Department for immediately setting up a reception area for the family in Village Hall, a "place where they could be warm, out of the way, and regroup." Immediately, she said, the husband's phone started ringing with calls offering housing for his family.
As Lockwood joined his volunteers in assisting this family with emotional support, getting clothing and food and securing temporary housing (for now, at a local hotel), he talked to reporters on the scene about how Red Cross volunteers make themselves available for emergencies 24-hours-day, 365 days a year.
As early indication pointed to an electrical problem behind the Sleepy Hollow blaze, Lockwood also talked about the escalation of fires in homes this time of year and preventative measures.
Lockwood learned first-hand the challenges his volunteers face of serving such a wide region with so many fires. There are six to 10 disasters every day in the greater New York region, he said, “and you can’t be everywhere at once; that’s what I’m finding.”
There were three simultaneous fires on Monday morning – one in Mount Vernon, another on Long Island -- and he could only be at one at a time.
From Sleepy Hollow, Patch caught him in the car en route to the next fire of the day in Astoria, Queens. All in a day’s work.