Red Cross volunteers provide care and assistance after fire destroys Quebec family’s home

Topics: Quebec, Emergencies and Disasters in Canada, Our Impact on the Ground
Colin Smith, Canadian Red Cross | January 27, 2017

Firefighter talks to Canadian Red Cross responder following a house fire

In 2016, the Canadian Red Cross responded to 2,752 personal disasters across the country.

On a Sunday in October 2016, Cindy Baillargeon was stirred from her sleep by a 6 a.m. phone call. She had answered many similar calls during her past two years as a Canadian Red Cross Disaster Management Team Leader in Lanaudière, Quebec. This call, however, was one Cindy says she’ll never forget.

This was her third call that month. A family of three, a mother and adult daughter who had moved in with the mother’s partner, just had their home completely destroyed by fire only days after moving in. Cindy remembers it was a cold fall day. The sky was grey and firefighters had the blaze under control when she and her fellow volunteers arrived at the scene.

“Everyone reacts differently following a fire,” Cindy says. “Some might cry, some are anxious and can be angry or upset. Others will close in on themselves and become disconnected with reality, unable to believe it. Some may have injuries or relatives who have been taken to the hosiptal and then some have lost pets that are dear to them. As volunteers, we adapt to the situation, to what they are going through.”

This family of three had been woken up by the fire, which Cindy says appeared to have been caused by a water heater explosion in the daugther’s room. They had no time to gather belongings or dress properly for the conditions and neighbours had come to lend them clothing to keep warm.

As the mother and her partner met with Cindy’s Red Cross colleagues to assess their needs and complete some paperwork, she stayed with the daughter.

“She was around 20 years old and she had an intellectual disability,” Cindy says. “Her distress made my heart ache. I tried my best to tell her she was safe but she kept repeating that she was scared. At one point I took her by the hand, unsure if she would be okay with that. But she held onto me and I told her again and again that she would be safe now, trying to reassure her. I told her she would be safe and warm in a nice hotel room with her mom and that she would be able to get new clothes. I tried to find a way to make it seem brighter for her, to keep the fire from haunting her thoughts.”

“It can mean everything.”

In 2016, the Canadian Red Cross responded to 2,752 personal disasters across the country, 937 in Quebec alone. That means every four hours the Canadian Red Cross was called on to provide direct assistance such as food, shelter, clothing and essentials for up to 72 hours to Canadians in need. This family was just one of many the Canadian Red Cross helped last year by the more than 5,300 highly trained disaster management volunteers spread across the country.

As a Red Cross volunteer, Cindy has not only assisted many of those affected by personal disasters, she has participated in major responses such as the temporary location assistance for First Nations people in Ontario to the Ontario Abitibi-Témiscamingue reserve in the summer of 2013, the Syrian Refugee Arrivals in 2015-16 and the Alberta Fires in the summer of 2016.

“Human contact can often be reassuring,” Cindy says. “In situations like this you so badly want to take away that fear, that insecurity, that memory.”

Cindy says the only way families such as the one she helped in November are able to receive such vital care and compassion is through the generousity of donors.

“Without donors, we would have been unable to help that family,” Cindy says. “Lots of people don’t have insurance or just haven’t had the time to get insurance organized. They lose everything."

“The people who are affected appreciate it. Sometimes it’s families, sometimes it’s individuals. Many don’t even know that the assistance comes from donations. They are surprised and touched when we tell them.”
Personal disasters happen in Canadian communities every day and only a handful of them make the news, Cindy says.

“We talk about big disasters that affect hundreds or thousands of people, but there are so many people who go through personal disasters. People have no idea how important donations are,” Cindy adds. “To them, it’s nothing. To those affected by disasters, it can mean everything.”

Show your support

The Canadian Red Cross strives to assist those affected by emergencies and disasters each day with programs that offer access to essential items like food, clothing and shelter.

To show your support for the Canadian Red Cross' impact on the ground, please donate online or at your local Canadian Red Cross office today.