2 minute readDisaster, Home Fire
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Finding Strength and Resilience After Queens Fire

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the Red Cross of Greater New York blog. Story by Kylie Davidson.

On April 11, 2017, Kevin Rojas was picking up his girlfriend to go see a movie when fire trucks raced by his car. When he turned onto his street, Kevin discovered with great anxiety that the fire trucks were headed to his own apartment complex.

“I was watching the fire happen before my eyes,” said Kevin. “It was like being in the movies.”

As his building burned, Kevin stood across the street in shock watching firefighters battle the blaze well into the night. He was so focused on the fire, he didn’t realize Red Cross volunteers had arrived on scene to assist those affected and displaced by the fire.

The Red Cross established a reception center and shelter at PS-13Q, a nearby school, and provided food, temporary housing, and other emergency relief services to the more than 300 residents affected by the fire. It was at the shelter that Kevin reconnected with many of his neighbors.

“They were there so quickly,” said Kevin.

The damage from the fire was extensive. The sixth floor was completely destroyed, and the fifth floor sustained severe smoke, water damage and mold. Kevin’s apartment was on the fifth floor.

“Everything was lost,” he said. “We left everything behind.”

Along with meals for several days after the fire, Kevin turned to the Red Cross for emergency financial assistance for basic necessities.

As for housing, Kevin’s girlfriend lives a half a block away from his apartment, so he and his mother had a place to stay after the fire. They will continue to live there until they are able to return home in several months.

Over the years, the apartment complex had grown into a tightly-knit community. Many of the neighbors have known each other for decades. Following the fire, they’ve stayed connected, offering each other support as they cope with the loss. Kevin, who has lived in the building for the past 30 years, adopted an informal leadership role among the tenants. He’s spent his time since April 11 advocating on their behalf to help ensure they’re receiving the assistance and information they need.

Two months after the fire, Kevin visited the Red Cross on behalf of his family and many of his neighbors, reconnecting with Red Cross caseworkers and inquiring about additional resources available to them, like gift cards provided by Stop and Shop and vouchers for furniture.

“It’s a blessing honestly… tremendous amount of help,” said Kevin. “Without the Red Cross, I think we would be lost.”


Red Cross Home Fire Campaign

In an ongoing effort to reduce death and injury from home fires, the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign is hosting a series of installation and fire safety events across the country. Red Cross volunteers, along with fire departments and other partners, canvass high-risk neighborhoods, installing free smoke alarms, replacing batteries in existing alarms and helping families create escape plans. Since 2014, the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign has saved at least 258 lives and installed more than more than 886,000 smoke alarms in cities and towns across the United States.

Learn how you can help us Sound the Alarm to #EndHomeFires this fall.