I was eating lunch on the first floor of the Red Cross building and watching the news. There was a breaking story about a 5-alarm fire at the Indigo apartment complex. I watched the flames rise 40 feet above the roof and I worried about the 300 people inside. I wondered what was going on in the building, behind the scenes, beyond the reach of the cameras. I wanted to help. Then I remembered that I work at the Red Cross.
After lunch, I found out that I was going to the fire. I had no idea what to expect, but I must have had some expectation in the back of my mind because it was nothing like I expected. I would not do the scene justice if I said it was chaotic, although I can’t think of a better word. There were people everywhere, who could probably be classified into three categories: the media, people in uniforms, and evacuees and bystanders. The fire was actually put out by the time we got there, so thankfully I didn’t have to see the flames in person because I probably would have run away. I also did not expect, or maybe had just never considered before, that there would be water everywhere. Not fire, water. Huge streams of it were pouring down the sidewalks, hills, and grass. The parking lot was an obstacle course of fire hoses which I struggled not to trip over.
At first I was scared to go inside the building because I had seen the flames on TV and it just seemed…dangerous. In the lobby, firefighters were helping the elderly descend the eleven flights of stairs safely and guiding them to the waiting DART buses. There were babies, teenagers, younger people, and older people. Some were holding kittens or leading dogs on leashes.
After we told everyone that the Red Cross was opening a shelter at Keist Recreation Center and that people should go on the air-conditioned buses, we left for the shelter. Inside was this large and wonderfully cold room with nothing in it except tables and chairs. After the disaster response vehicles arrived, everything happened quickly. Nurses, EMT’s, firefighters, and Red Cross case workers set up the room to prepare to help the fire victims. By the time we left about an hour and half later, the room was transformed into a shelter. It was amazing to talk to the evacuees, normal people just like you and I, some of whom were at work or shopping when they heard their home was on fire. And the most incredible thing was watching families being reunited at the shelter; everyone was so happy that their loved ones were okay.
Back at the apartment complex, I filmed a Red Cross team assessing the extent of the fire’s damage. Fortunately, there was no damage to the interior of any of the apartments. However, there was water damage in the hallways and the faint smell of smoke. As I walked down the eleven flights of wet, slippery stairs, I thought about how thankful I was that not one resident lost their possessions. Thanks to the work of many dedicated people, every resident was safe.
By the time I got home, I was exhausted—but that didn’t stop me from staying up for the 10:00 news to show my family where I was and point out the people that I had spoken to at the scene of the fire and the shelter. What an amazing experience!