By Paula Jemison/American Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer

 American Red Cross volunteers, employees and partners throughout the Texas Gulf Coast recently came together on Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr Day of Service for a common purpose: saving lives through a nationwide Red Cross campaign to reduce the number of home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent over the next five years. They visited homes in multiple counties throughout the Gulf Coast to install more than 1,200 smoke alarms—with more alarms to be installed in the coming weeks.

“The American Red Cross responds to disasters across the nation nearly every eight minutes and approximately 93 percent of those are home fires,” said Steve Vetrano, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of the Texas Gulf Coast. “With the help of our volunteers, we hope to be able to reduce those numbers by installing smoke alarms and educating homeowners on ways they can be better prepared.”

This Red Cross initiative, known as the Home Fire Campaign, was launched in October 2014 in recognition of National Fire Safety Month. By December 2015, more than 125,000 smoke alarms were installed across the country, with approximately 1,600 of those along the Texas Gulf Coast. The newly-installed alarms on this year’s MLK Day of Service bring this number to approximately 2, 800 this year with the goal of installing 5,000 throughout the Texas Gulf Coast by June.

As always, volunteers are critical to the work of the American Red Cross and the Home Fire Campaign is no exception. For example, volunteers from the Tzu Chi Foundation helped install 240 home alarms through the Greater Houston area alone, more than doubling their goal!

Tzu Chi Foundation Volunteer Leader Tom Hisao explained why his organization has been there since the beginning of the Home Fire Campaign and intends to support it long term.

“I feel it’s part of our duty to prevent fires from impacting our communities, not only in this region, but across the entire United States,” said Hisao. He added that along with the 20 volunteers joining him in Houston, other volunteers from the Foundation were doing the same thing in California, New York, New Jersey and Chicago.

Tirtha Kharil and John Martins, sophomores at Bellaire High School and members of the Red Cross Club, agreed with Hisao. “We live in the same community and we need to contribute to it to make it better,” said Martins. “Not wasting time sitting at home when we have a break from school.”

Neighborhoods were selected to receive smoke alarms based on the number of fires reported in their area, homeowners’ requests, and/or by the local Red Cross office pre-canvassing the area beforehand. Houston homeowner Douglas Gray stated that what the Red Cross was doing was a blessing. “The ones I have now are electric and go off all the time. I needed some new ones and you all came at the right time, because there’s no telling when a fire will happen. I was in a fire when I was young. My brother was using a match to find his shoes under the bed and before we knew it, the whole bedroom was on fire.”

Many community partners helped make the MLK Day of Service a success, including those listed below.

Said Vetrano, “We thank our volunteers, partners and employees for making our Home Fire Campaign MLK Day of Service initiative a success. I strongly encourage people to click on Home Fire Safety to learn all they can about preventing home fires and keeping their families safe.”

Community Partners

The American Red Cross of the Texas Gulf Coast would like to thank all partners who participated in its MLK Day of Service Home Fire Campaign activities, including:


Tzu Chi Foundation, Houston

Bellaire High School Youth Club, Houston

Church’s Fried Chicken, San Benito

Little Caesar’s Pizza, San Benito

Vicky’s Mexican Food, San Benito

McDonalds, San Benito

University of Texas, RGV Brownsville

San Benito Fire Department

John Fuller, Tyler County Constable

James White, State Representative

Lions Club, Woodville

True Vine Baptist Church, Woodville

Elijah’s Restaurant, Woodville