Lois Beckman, American Red Cross executive director for Riverside County and Morongo Basin (left), is seen here with Red Cross campers at Idyllwild Pines, Joseph Nguyen (center) and Ryan Neis. Both campers assisted with installing smoke alarms in Idyllwild residences as part of the Red Cross campaign to prevent home fires. Photo by Marshall Smith
Lois Beckman, American Red Cross executive director for Riverside County and Morongo Basin (left), is seen here with Red Cross campers at Idyllwild Pines, Joseph Nguyen (center) and Ryan Neis. Both campers assisted with installing smoke alarms in Idyllwild residences as part of the Red Cross campaign to prevent home fires.
Photo by Marshall Smith14

Eighty high school students from Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties attended Red Cross training at Idyllwild Pines Camp this past week. Their primary focus was in learning about and assisting with the Red Cross Home Fire Prevention Campaign. The five-year national initiative, begun in October 2014, aims to reduce residential fires through installing smoke alarms. Fifteen youth leaders and staffers, from the ranks of tri-county high school Red Cross clubs, acted as trainers and facilitators in the fire-prevention training intensive.

Of the 80 campers at Idyllwild Pines, 16 came from Riverside County, 61 from Orange County and one from San Bernardino County. There was no representation from Hemet High School because HHS currently has no Red Cross club. Any local high school students interested in starting a Red Cross club may contact Chris Fielder at [email protected]

While in Idyllwild, campers assisted local Idyllwild residents in installing smoke alarms — 188 alarms installed in 79 homes over a two-day period, Tuesday, Aug. 4 and Wednesday, Aug. 5. Team leaders/installers were adults (some Idyllwild residents, some Red Cross staff) tasked with installing alarms. Campers performed various functions. Some were documenters, taking notes about the installation process, number of alarms installed in each home and other pertinent documentary evidence. Some were educators, responsible for ensuring residents knew how the alarms worked, how to test them monthly and how to develop a home fire-evacuation plan. Others, known as floaters, acted as journeyman assistants to the adult installers, handing them equipment, taking alarms out of packaging, assisting with the installations and answering questions posed by residents about the process.

The aim of the national Red Cross campaign is to reduce deaths and injuries from home fires by as much as 25 percent over the next five years. Red Cross surveys that served as impetus for the campaign found that most Americans have a false sense of security about the amount of time they might have to exit a burning building. Most think they could have five to 10 minutes when fire experts estimate only two minutes before it is too late. Nearly 69 percent of parents surveyed believe their children would know what to do or how to escape with little or no help.

The survey also revealed few families had taken specific actions to ensure their safety: only 18 percent of families with children age 3 to 17 had actually practiced fire drills; only 48 percent of parents have talked to their children about fire safety; and only 30 percent have identified a safe place to meet outside their home in the event of a fire. On average, seven people die every day in the U.S. in a home fire; 36 people suffer injuries as a result of home fires every day; and each year, $7 billion in property damage occurs.

These were key factors that motivated the national Red Cross to mount this five-year campaign.

Many of the Red Cross campers at Idyllwild Pines were veterans of high school Red Cross clubs and other service organizations. They were not strangers to serving the greater good within their home communities. Part of the process of assisting in alarm installation was for campers to interact with Idyllwild residents, to develop their social skill sets, and learn about Hill communities and rural lifestyles. For many, that was a dramatic change from the largely urban sprawl communities of the tri-county area.

Two campers, Joseph Nguyen, 17, of Huntington Beach in Orange County, and Ryan Neis, 16, of Eastvale in Riverside County, were articulate promoters of their high school Red Cross clubs.

Joseph, an aspiring dentist, interned for two years for the Red Cross Measles and Rubella Initiative, in which Red Cross club members raised money to fund lifesaving vaccinations in countries with active outbreaks of the disease. “Measles is the number one killer of children in developing countries,” said Joseph. He also assists at University of California, Irvine, with cancer imaging research.

Ryan is an officer in his Red Cross high school club and a regional officer for the county. With his high school club, he is a volunteer coordinator and fundraiser, and oversees club member retention.

Both spoke emotionally of the richness of their Idyllwild camp experience. “I got to know Idyllwild residents and my team members while installing the alarms,” Ryan said. “I had been previously to AstroCamp and it was so good to be back in nature.”

Said Joseph, “The camp experience was life changing.” He described the evening “rap” sessions, facilitated by camp staffers for the purpose of bringing students of different backgrounds and social status closer together. “We talked about our values in life, our priorities, we shared our stories and we cried together. But most of all we learned who the others were on the inside, not just how they appeared on the outside.”

Said Lois Beckman, American Red Cross executive director for Riverside County and the Morongo Basin, “These young people are an inspiration. They are our future.”

In addition to the Home Fire Prevention Campaign and the Measles and Rubella Initiative, Red Cross youth are actively involved in the Youth International Humanitarian Law Campaign. Campaign topics have included child soldiers, refugees, gender discrimination and international justice.

For more information about the Red Cross Home Fire Prevention Campaign, visit www.redcross.org/prepare/location/home-family/prevent-home-fires.