Sampson County Fire Claims Lives, Inspires Hope

Link to FayObserver story - Sampson County Fire

Fire quickly engulfed and destroyed the home in Sampson County.

by: James Jarvis, American Red Cross

Andre Smith, or ‘Dre as his friends called him, loved video games, playing basketball, and watching professional wrestling. At ten years old, he was a full-loving child who always had a smile on his face and enjoyed goofing off with his cousins, said Sabrina Sheridan, ‘Dre’s aunt. “He said that he wanted to be a policeman someday so that he could help people,” Sheridan said. ‘Dre’s sister, Tashiya, had dreams of her own.

Tashiya was younger than ‘Dre, only nine years old, but she was certainly no smaller personality. “She lit up the room, “ Sheridan said. “She was always singing, dancing, laughing, or playing. She loved to ‘dress up’ and hoped to become a teacher someday.”
Two beautiful children, full of life and brimming with potential, will unfortunately never achieve their dreams, as they lost their lives along with four others in a tragic mobile home fire in Garland, NC on August 30, 2014. Six lives lost and three families left to grieve over what could have been.

Sabrina Sheridan remembers her sister as a hard-working mother. When Anita Robinson, 33, was not playing games with her children, ‘Dre and Tashiya, or helping them with their homework, she was hard at work to try to provide them with a better life. “She had a personality that everyone loved. Her family was her life and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her,” Sheridan said.

‘Dre and Tashiya were not Anita’s only loves. For the past seven years, Johnnie Newkirk, 35, better known as Kent, was Anita’s man. Kent loved working with his hands, said his aunt, Ms. Lizzie Murphy. “He was always working on car stereos, electronics, anything he could get his hands on. If you needed it fixed, he could do it!”

Kent was a family man, Murphy explained. “He tried to see his son [age 7] as often as he could and he loved Anita’s children as if they were his own.” He remained close to his mother, Laura Ann Newkirk, 63, until his final day.

“Laura Ann was a very quiet person,” said Murphy of her youngest sister. “She read her bible, looked out for everyone, and was really involved with ‘Dre and Tashiya. She cared for them when Anita had to work late and helped them with their homework and basically kept them on track,” Murphy said. When Murphy retired, she reconnected with Laura Ann and the two spoke by telephone sometimes three times a day. “We were very close growing up and it was great to become so close to her again,” she said.

“Everyone loved Possum,” said James Wilson’s mother, Queen Esther Wilson of Clinton, NC. James Wilson, known simply as Possum from the time he was a baby, was the eldest son from among 15 children. Possum was a rugged man – a product of 30 years of hard work as a farmer in nearby Clinton, NC. For nearly 25 years, Possum was Laura Ann’s companion and never far from her side. Queen Esther remembers her son as a God-fearing man who had a heart of gold.

Six lives, three generations – gone. Shortly after 12:30 a.m., in the early morning hours of Aug. 31, 2014, Laura Ann’s mobile home caught fire. “My grandson (Solomon) was the first person to arrive on the scene,” said Joyce Miles, a neighbor and Laura Ann Newkirk’s cousin. “He ran as fast as he could and tried to kick in the door, but the fire threw him backwards. There was nothing anyone could do. In a little less than seven minutes, the whole structure was gone!”

By all accounts, this tragedy could have been prevented if Laura Ann’s mobile home had been protected by smoke alarms. Fire investigators determined that there were no working smoke alarms in Laura Ann’s home.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, three out of every five home fire deaths result from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. To help ensure that no other family endures the pain and intense grief that these families endured, the Office of the State Fire Marshal, numerous fire departments of Sampson County, the American Red Cross, and several other local, state, and national organizations partnered October 4th to install nearly 800 10-year smoke alarms in at-risk communities across the county.

Hundreds of volunteers canvassed dozens of neighborhoods across the county to teach people about fire safety, and properly install working fire alarms in their homes. “Fire is everyone’s fight,” said Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Wayne Goodwin. “By working together, by pooling our resources, and by reaching out to the most at-risk communities, we can prevent future tragedies.”

Through their grief, the families of the people lost that fateful night are grateful to see something positive come from their tragedy. “What they are doing now is just a Godsend and a blessing,” said Murphy. “It’s as if our family has been through a horrible storm and then when it seems darkest, the skies turn blue and all that’s left are little pieces. God will help us put the pieces back together and see us through. Hopefully this program will help ensure that no one else loses their lives unnecessarily.”

“We’re all grieving. We’re all hurting,” said Miles. “The trailer is a constant reminder for me (as it rests across the street from her home). Not an hour goes by that I don’t think of them. I remember Tashiya being so happy the day before… she was singing and laughing and it’s hard to comprehend not hearing that laughter again or seeing them run into the house from the school bus. It’s so sad to see so many generations lost in one tragedy. It’s truly amazing how many people and resources have flowed into our community following this tragedy. Hopefully their efforts will help ensure that no one else will have to experience this.”

To learn more about fire safety, please visit our Home Fire Preparedness page. To learn more about the American Red Cross’ Home Fires Campaign, please visit our Home Fire Campaign page.

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Community partners come out to support the fire prevention campaign

Oct 4 fire camp 1

The 100 volunteers attending the Office of State Fire Management Fire Alarm training in a church hall before going out into the community.

A mobile home fire took the lives of six individuals on September 1st 2014 in Sampson County, NC and a result the community partners within the county and state banded together to do a fire prevention campaign on October 4th 2014. On the morning of the 4th approximately twenty community partners, over one hundred volunteers, approximately one thousand fire alarms, a few hundred carbon monoxide detectors and other materials came together for a one hour training session before forming task forces and hitting the communities.

Oct 4 fire camp 2

One of the task force groups, includes seven partner groups, ready to start the installations.

Among the volunteers and community partner groups, one group stood tall on the day. Red Cross Ready When the Time Comes partner Murphy Brown. The volunteer group was approximately thirty strong and many had a reason to come out. The fire on Sept. 1st took the life of one of their employees. There was a consensus among the volunteers at the beginning of the day was that this campaign is “a great way to save lives and help in the community”.

However, it was through the experiences with the task force group that I went out that made that quote come alive. The task force group that I went out with included two fire chiefs and fire fighters from Salemberg, NC, Farm Bureau, Murphy Brown  and a young girl who’s mother asked her to volunteer with her and assist as a Spanish Interpreter The very first home that we entered was a person who was well connected in the Salemberg community and the fire department felt comfortable with going to his home. The Fire Chief, David Hairr, explained to me that this was a gentleman who could assist in making connection with those in the community whom may not open the door to them and were the same residents who most needed the alarms installed. He was right. This gentleman rode his bike around the community, opened doors to homes of people who were out for the day but wanted us to do the alarms, he was there at more than half the residents we went to. It was a similar story with another resident, who was home-bound, she called her friends and in one conversation reminded the person that it was just the week before that they talked about having their fire alarms checked. By the end of the day the quote ” a great way to save lives and help in the community” had taken a life of its own. The volunteer from Farm Bureau, said “it was great to actually see streets where his clients lived and know that the fire departments know the community and his clients have smoke alarms now”.

Any community organizations or businesses interested in learning about volunteering opportunities with American Red Cross, please contact Wendy Flynn, Regional Volunteer Relations Specialist, at Wendy.Flynn@redcross.org or at (910) 610-8887.

Partners Included:

Union Grove Baptist Church

Murphy Brown

American Red Cross

Emergency Management staff- various counties

Clinton Fire Dept.

Harrells Fire Dept.

Office of State Fire Management

Clinton Police Dept.

Garland Fire Dept.

Rockingham Fire Marshal

Clement Fire Dept.

Halls Fire and Rescue

Newton Fire Dept.

Salemberg Fire Dept.

Plainview Fire Dept.

Turkey Fire Dept.

Crossroads Fire Dept.

Hollands Baptist Church

Farm Bureau

Nationwide Insurance

Taylor’s Bridge Fire and Rescue

NC Baptist Builders

 

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Volunteer Orientations with a Twist

One very resourceful Program Specialist, Shannon Kelly-Miller, needed to be in two places at once – what to do? After some brainstorming and with the assistance of Disaster Lead, Debbie Williams, these two Red Crossers, decided to do Skype Volunteer Orientations. The Red Cross Volunteer Orientations are an important first step for new volunteers to meet our experienced volunteers and staff and hear first hand about what we do as an organization.  Prospective volunteers not only are provided details about what the role of a Red Cross volunteer is and how they can serve their communities; but it tells them the history of the Red Cross and the impact our organization has in the community, in Eastern North Carolina and the organization nationally. Our instructors are able to answer questions and assist in finishing the application process so that our volunteers are ready to have boots on the ground in all program lines Disaster, Services to Armed Forces, Blood and Preparedness, Health and Safety Services.

Shannon Kelly-Miller and Debbie Williams testing their technology for the Skype Volunteer Orientations.

Shannon Kelly-Miller and Debbie Williams testing their technology for the Skype Volunteer Orientations.

Shannon and Debbie worked through all the possible technology challenges to ensure that both the Wayne County and Lenoir County Chapters in Eastern North Carolina would work successfully. On the day of the orientations Shannon, using her Kindle Fire, and Debbie, using the laptops in the office worked with the new Red Cross volunteers to orientate how the Red Cross works and what the role of a  Red Cross volunteer is in the community.

Shannon summonded up the whole experience, “Debbie Williams  was a great help, there is no way I could have done it without her! She rocks!! She allowed me to be there to do my normal orientation and give them the additional information that they needed about disaster and was there to be able to take up paperwork and be my hands on, while I wasn’t able to physically be able to get to the Chapter. A wonderful way to combine our knowledge that allowed me to be two places at once!”

Two prospective volunteers having a Skype Volunteer Orientation with Program Specialist, Shannon Kelly-Miller.

Two prospective volunteers having a Skype Volunteer Orientation with Program Specialist, Shannon Kelly-Miller.

The volunteers who took the orientation were all asked afterwards for truthful opinions of the experience and they shared that they thought it was “a neat idea for future orientations and classes” and despite a few technical glitches at the beginning really enjoyed the meeting.

For more information on becoming a Red Cross volunteer please contact Sandy.Stewart@redcross.org , Regional Director of Volunteers, 919-231-1602 or go to www.redcross.org and click on Ways to Help.

 

Red Cross Shelters Provide Safe Haven from Hurricane Arthur

In response to Hurricane Arthur the Red Cross has:

Mike Ray, Evacuation Shelter Manager playfully gets down to greet a puppy resident appropriately named Arthur.

One thing that many people worry about when they need to evacuate is whether they can bring along their four legged family – it is not safe for your pet to leave them behind when you evacuate.

The Red Cross works with local partners, both government and non-government, to allow companion animals in shelters, encouraging people in coastal areas to evacuate their homes and move to safer locations.

“What we have found is that people are less likely to evacuate if they cannot bring their family pets,” said Barry Porter, Chief Executive for the American Red Cross of central and eastern North Carolina.

“We’ve developed a number of ways to help families do that, but the best way to keep your pet safe is to be responsible. Owners should create a disaster kit for their pets that include carriers or crates, food, leashes, treats and toys, medications and anything else your pet may need for several days.”

When the Red Cross and our partners sheltered hundreds of people in eastern North Carolina in the hours before
Hurricane Arthur, and through the most harrowing hours of the hurricane, many of those shelters were places where
families could feel safe from the storm with the family pet in tow. There is a bonus to creating pet friendly shelters -
other shelter residents as well as Red Cross staff have the pleasure of the calming presence of companion animals.
Charlotte Rodriguez is a volunteer who spent the night in a pet friendly Red Cross shelter in Onslow County North
Carolina on Thursday night as the storm made landfall.

“The staff loves greeting the puppies, kittens and dogs. Onslow County is integral to our being able to manage an animal population. All in all, I think having pets here is a positive thing for our shelter community,” Rodriguez said.

The Jacksonville Commons shelter took on a slightly different role when a lost puppy, nicknamed Arthur, of course,
was found wondering in the storm and delivered to the shelter. With Jackie Sickle and Rachel Collins from Onslow
County Animal Services on hand, the team was able to provide a safe place for Arthur to ride out the storm, and
arrange for his care until his owner can be located.

Making shelters safe for people and pets is critical in an evacuation, because it helps move people out of harm’s
way, and there are few more harmful things than a hurricane.

In response to Hurricane Arthur the Red Cross has:

• Provided more than 260 overnight stays in shelters
• Served nearly 2,200 meals and snacks
• Distributed over 500 relief kits and supplies
• Mobilized dozens of staff and 6 Emergency Response vehicles

 

 

Onslow County Annual Meeting and Awards Ceremony

The American Red Cross – Onslow County Chapter held its Annual Meeting and Awards Ceremony on June 17, 2014, at the Living Hope Community Church in Jacksonville. More than 70 community members attended the event which included highlights from the current fiscal year of the vital programs and services provided by the local Red Cross to residents in Onslow County.

Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown was there to accept an in-kind check for the people of Onslow County for the investment of Red Cross volunteer hours in the community over the course of the year – 14,389 volunteer hours valued at $324,471.95

Special recognition was given to the following award recipients for their exceptional service:

Future Red Cross volunteer Gloria Hite receives her award from Board Chairman Mike Ciccarelli

Future Red Cross volunteer Gloria Hite receives her award from Board Chairman Mike Ciccarelli

Service to Armed Forces Award

Cathy Lagasse

Disaster Action Team Award

Priscilla Gallagher (over 15 fire calls)

Disaster Services Award

Helen Miller

Rookie of the Year Award

Tylane Seevers

Youth Award

Brittany Bates

Volunteer of the Year Award

Cynthia Wheeler

Partnership Award

Bank of America

Shirley’s V Bar

Jacksonville Mall

Special Recognition Award

Bob & Shirley Woodard

Future Volunteer Award

Gloria Hite

 

President’s Volunteer Service AwardsRecognition of volunteer service hours completed.

Sheriff Ed Brown accepts the volunteer in kind check from board chair Mike Ciccarelli

Sheriff Ed Brown accepts the volunteer in kind check from board chair Mike Ciccarelli

 

Lifetime Award (4,000+ hours)

Margaret Idol

Helen Miller

Carol Schwarzenbach

 

Gold (500+ hours)

Cathy Lagasse

Cindy Wheeler

Joanne Condra

Mary St. Clair

 

Silver (250-499 hours)

Carol Ann Schwarzenbach

Mike Ray

Charlotte Rodriguez

 

Bronze (100-249 hours)

Virginia Kinsman

Ty Seevers

Shirley Woodard

Amber Wyman

Additionally, the Onslow County Red Cross unanimously elected its 2014-2015 Board of Directors officers and members.  The following leadership team will take office on July 1, 2014.

Chairman of the Board: Mike Ciccarelli, Jr.

Members: Cathy Barton, Jim Barton, Amy Chisholm, Cathy Goodson, Austin Hobbs, Margaret Idol, Joel Kane, Adam Keifer, Steve Otto, Carol Schwarzenbach, Joy Thompson, Naomi Thompson, Lee Ann Wagner.

Red Cross Eastern NC Tornado Response Update

More than two weeks after tornadoes struck eastern NC, damaging and destroying, hundreds of homes in Beaufort, Chowan, Perquimans and Pasquotank counties, the American Red Cross continues to help residents recover.

A Red Cross volunteer offers comfort and support to a Beaufort County resident whose home was damaged by the tornadoes.

A Red Cross volunteer offers comfort and support to a Beaufort County resident
whose home was damaged by the tornadoes.

Volunteers met with and reached out personally to dozens of families to discuss disaster recovery planning and provide individualized support.

In response to the tornadoes, the Eastern NC Region of the American Red Cross has:

  • Served 4,929 meals and snacks.
  • Opened 99 cases providing individualized support to 258 residents including direct financial assistance.
  • Mobilized 161 disaster workers from across the region.
  • Distributed 2,384 supplies including blankets, comfort kits with hygiene items, clean up kits and items including gloves, hand sanitizer, storage containers, sunscreen, bug spray, heavy duty trash bags, tarps, rope, duct tape, first aid kits, rakes.
  • Made 192 health and mental health contacts providing access to medical services and emotional support.

Disaster Mental Health Support

A tornado leaves people bewildered, confused and afraid. Often much of what they have is gone, and sometimes friends and family are killed or injured. For those affected, the future is unknown, but the fear is present.

Additionally, a disaster can take away a person’s sense of control and what’s known and comfortable to them. Those affected by a tornado often feel emotionally and physically drained or incapable of making decisions.

Most people are eventually able to cope but for other is takes longer and isn’t something they can do alone. That’s where the Red Cross helps with Disaster Mental Health volunteers, which include psychologists, counselors and other experts. Teams go where the people are, including shelters, client service centers or out in the damaged areas.

If a person needs additional assistance, the Red Cross provides the names of local resources that can offer long-term assistance.

Preparing for Future Disasters

Severe weather is all too frequent in eastern NC, and directly following disasters people are more receptive to learn how they can prevent and respond to future emergencies. The Red Cross has taken this time to canvass tornado damaged communities to speak directly with residents about preparedness and how to stay safe during severe weather.

Teams of volunteers spent several weekends going door to door in affected communities handing out flyers with preparedness information, talking to residents about ways to secure their homes and keep their families safe, and showing them how to download Red Cross preparedness apps on their mobile devices.

How to Help

Those who would like to help people affected by disasters like tornadoes, floods and other crises can make a donation to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. People can donate by visiting http://www.redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. These donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small.

Rebuilding the Family Home

The Harris Family receives supplies and support from Red Cross volunteers.

The Harris Family receives supplies and support from Red Cross volunteers.

Caleb and Shirley Harris have lived in their house since they built it in 1957. They raised their children there and now their grandson Derrick Meads lives there with them. However, the recent tornado took its toll on their home.

The Harris’ and their grandson were all home when the tornado touched down on their property. “It just came right in under the roof and tore up the back bedroom and then left to do damage to our buildings out back,” said Caleb.

Trees on the family’s mini farm were uprooted, the interior and exterior of the house were damaged, and part of an outbuilding was tossed across the street.   Caleb is grateful that his family and their animals were unharmed by the tornado.

The Red Cross stopped by the Harris’ to offer their support and provide the family with cleanup supplies as they worked to repair and rebuild their home. The Baptist Men, a partner organization of the Red Cross, went to the Harris home and cleared the uprooted trees. Because partnerships like this are established before disaster strikes, the Red Cross and other organizations can more readily respond to the needs of an impacted community.

Caleb’s daughter, Darlene Wharton, was in the area to help her parents with the cleanup and expressed her gratitude for the help from the Red Cross as well as the Baptist Men’s group.

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