How the Canadian Red Cross helped a family travelling the world together

(We are thankful to this family who agreed to share their story, and we are respecting their anonymity as they have yet to inform friends and family back home of their recent ordeal.)
A German family was travelling the world together, excited to experience the beauty and diversity of other countries. Along their journey they visited places such as Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia to name just a few. Exploring Canada was yet another adventure for the parents and their 8-year-old son. However, while traveling through Ontario, their adventure turned into a literal disaster.

As they were settling in for the evening, they heard a loud bang followed by an alarm. Unrenowned to them, a fire had started on the veranda outside the home where they were staying in Thunder Bay. After quickly investigating the noise, they were frightened to see the hallway engulfed in flames and full of smoke. During the incident, the father went to rescue pets which resulted in him receiving burn injuries to his hands and face. The family was forced to escape through the window. In shock, standing outside barefoot in the snow, they watched as the ceiling caved in. They brought nothing with them, there had been no time to grab any of their possessions, everything they had was in the house that was now burning. They got into their car and drove to a neighbouring house to call for help.

Volunteers Cheryl and KimThe family was brought to the local hospital’s emergency department, where they were assessed, and the father was treated for his burns. While at the hospital, two local Red Cross volunteers, Cheryl Mohring and Kim Rae, met with the family and offered help. The Red Cross volunteers were able to tend to the family’s immediate needs by offering warm blankets and hygiene kits as well as emotional support during this difficult time. To assist the family in the days following, the Red Cross secured accommodations at a hotel and sent the exhausted family there by taxi, as well as provided vouchers for food and clothing since their possessions had been destroyed. The family was provided with a contact they could call from the Red Cross day or night for assistance. The family was moved by the offer for support, having escaped with their lives and only the clothes they were wearing.

In the days following their displacement, the family did contact Sharon Luhtala, from the Emergency Management team at the local Red Cross office, and additional support was provided including further accommodations and medical needs. After five days, the family received ongoing support from the local community before making arrangements to continue their travel.

When sharing details about that tragic night, the family expressed their deep appreciation for the volunteers who helped them in their time of need. While the experience was harrowing, they left with an appreciation for the kindness and compassion they experienced as visitors in Canada; “Without Red Cross we would have been homeless, moneyless in our pajamas, barefoot ending on the street. It was a dramatic experience but, in the end, it was the greatest discovery about Canada and its people on our world travel!”

Many of us believe we won’t be impacted by a disaster, but the reality is that disasters happen frequently. In fact, the Canadian Red Cross responds to disasters big and small every three hours across Canada. Preparation can make a real difference for people impacted by any type of disaster. Knowing the risks in your community, making a plan, and putting together an emergency preparedness kit are steps that the Red Cross advises people take before – not after – a disaster strikes.

By working together to assist people when they need us the most, the Red Cross provides hope for vulnerable people who are facing the stress and uncertainty of disasters. From our incredible volunteers to our staff, our donors and partners, those who support the Canadian Red Cross help make stories like these possible.

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