The Canadian Red Cross helps New Brunswick mother after house fire

Topics: New Brunswick, Emergencies and Disasters in Canada, Volunteer
By: Tyler Munro, Canadian Red Cross | January 25, 2019

Canadian Red Cross volunteers Carolyn Wanamaker (left) and Tonya Bradley (right) were on site to help Treena after the fire.

Treena Smith’s holidays started normally. Her sister was hosting Christmas dinner, and the whole family would be there. She left her house in rural New Brunswick early in the afternoon. It was set to be an early dinner, and yet not long after sitting down at the table, Treena would get a call that would forever change her life.

It was 3:15, and her house was on fire.

Treena rushed to get home not knowing what she would see when she got there. But because of the holidays, and because she lives off the town’s back roads, the nearby firefighters first had to gather together before heading to the scene. “By the time they got there, the house was pretty much engulfed,” Treena says.

Everybody really did their best, we know that,” she says, adding that she heard one firefighter say that they fought the flames for more than six hours. “It just burned so hard.

Treena had been renting the house for about a year, and her 21-year-old daughter, enrolled in school in Halifax, kept a room there. They both lost everything; clothing, furniture, pictures, and keepsakes. The only thing they still had to hold onto were their memories.

“I lost both of my pets in the fire,” she adds.

She was devastated. How could she not be? But weeks later, thanks to support from her community, Treena is rebuilding. She’s been gifted tables, chairs, a bed and a dresser. She’s gone back to work and thinks the routine is a crucial first step towards moving on. “I haven’t been able to sleep, so I needed that routine,” she says. “It is a great distraction for me to be back in there with them. They really are a family as much as they are a small company.”

The Canadian Red Cross was there that night, which Treena describes as being “bitter cold.” A firefighter took the initiative and contacted them on her behalf. Treena was familiar with the Red Cross’s personal disaster services — a friend experienced a similar fire a few years prior — but she describes that day as “mass confusion,” and is thankful that before she could even consider it, the Red Cross was already on its way.

“These two girls came marching in across this icy yard and came right over to me, approached me and introduced themselves,” says Treena. “They were told about [the fire] and immediately came right to the scene to see what they could do. That’s just amazing to me."

Those two ladies were Carolyn Wanamaker and Tonya Bradley, Canadian Red Cross volunteers (and co-workers at a nearby Freight company).

“We met with Treena while the fire was still very active,” says Carolyn, who’s been volunteering with the Red Cross for 10 years. “It was a very, very smoky environment.”

Treena Smith

Treena Smith received Canadian Red Cross assistance following a house fire.

Carolyn and Tonya took Treena and her daughter back to their car to warm up. With the heat on, they got to talking. “She was in shock and didn’t know what she needed,” says Carolyn. And so they offered Treena and her daughter food and shelter. They offered them a hotel room, gave them a Canadian Red Cross comfort kit, including toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, and clean clothes. Most importantly, Tonya says, is that they listened to her.

Treena didn’t need the hotel room and has been staying with her sister, who lives nearby. But she realizes how important shelter would be to people in her situation who don’t have family and friends around. “There are probably so many people out there that these things happen to who don’t have a sister’s house to go to, who don’t have their parents nearby,” Treena says. “To know that we have the Red Cross, that we have these resources, that these people that will come in and offer assistance in that way is utterly amazing.”

“You’re left standing there with nothing, you can’t reach out, you can’t grab a toothbrush, you can’t grab anything. There’s nothing left,” she adds. “They gave us a [cash] card to get some provisions, some personal items, and some food."

For Treena, that card was a difference maker. She’s allergic to wheat and gluten, and because she’s on a special diet, eating is not as simple as a trip to the drive-thru.

“I am so very thankful. I’m glad that we do have the Red Cross being active in our community. It’s an amazing resource to the community,” Treena says. “Given the fact that I didn’t even need to contact them. They were told about this and immediately those two ladies came right to the scene to see what they could do. That’s just amazing to me.”

In spite of everything she’s been through, Treena is persevering.

“This community is amazing,” she says. “I have encountered a blessing every place I go in this week, everybody I encounter is a blessing.”

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