Community ties shine in Red Cross assistance to Saskatchewan family displaced by fire

When Mark Pettitt fundraises for his local United Way in Estevan, Saskatchewan, he always tells people that giving is important because, “you never know when you might be the one needing help.”

Little did he know that he would need assistance from the Canadian Red Cross, one of the organizations supported by the United Way Estevan, when an October fire forced his family out of their home in the middle of the night.

Estevan family's greenhouse on fireAt 3:30 a.m., Mark woke to a neighbour banging loudly on his front door. Fortunately, the neighbour’s dog alerted to the smoke and flames, waking the neighbour who quickly called 9-1-1 and then rushed to get Mark and his family safely out of the house.

With firefighters on scene, and the family out safely, a police officer informed Mark that the Canadian Red Cross had already been contacted and that a room was waiting for them at a local hotel.

Providing support to those affected by personal disasters, such as a house fire or flood, is one of the primary services provided by the Canadian Red Cross. In 2019-20, Red Cross volunteers and staff in Saskatchewan responded to 149 personal disaster incidents affecting 207 families, comprised of 661 individuals, in 54 communities across the province.

Depending on the needs of the family or individual affected, this assistance can include shelter, food, emergency clothing and medical supplies for up to 72 hours.

“We have volunteers across the province who are ready to respond at any time of day or night to help people in Saskatchewan displaced by a house fire,” said Red Cross Emergency Management Coordinator Rawrie Bullock. “It is only through the generosity of our contributors and, ironically, organizations that support us like United Way Estevan, that we are able to help people in the face of disaster.”

Petit family from SaskatchewanIn the case of Mark’s family, the main priority was to get them into the hotel that was arranged for them by the volunteer Red Cross Emergency Management responder.

“I feel so fortunate because your brain isn’t thinking at all,” he said. “It was so nice to have someone there looking after everything so we could do a few things, like call our insurance company and find a place to stay long-term.”

The next morning, he connected with the responder, someone it turned out he has known for years, who was able to help with other necessary items he and his family needed. “I’ve known her for years and had heard of her helping others affected by house fires, and here she was helping me as the Red Cross and as a neighbour. You just never know right?”

As it turned out, the fire started in an attached greenhouse and quickly spread to the outer wall of Mark’s home, blowing out several windows. The home sustained smoke and water damage but was mostly intact.

Mark and his family are thankful for their neighbour’s quick action. “They woke us up which gave us extra time to get out and the fire department arrived quickly because they had called 9-1-1 right away,” he said.

As the restoration work on the family home is underway, Mark is installing hard-wired smoke detectors linked to all rooms in the house, as well as to the attached garage. He is also preparing an emergency kit that will live by the front door.

“I used to always laugh at people saying you should have an emergency kit by your door,” Mark says. “Now that I’ve had a fire, I can tell you that your brain doesn’t always work in those stress situations. Trust me, everyone needs an emergency kit beside their door.”

Grateful for the support of the Red Cross and emergency responders, and his neighbour, Mark says he has learned a lesson about the important of being prepared and that disaster can happen to anyone.

“You always think things happen to other people, but everyone is other people. We are other people.”

The Canadian Red Cross relies on local volunteers and donations to provide immediate support for those affected by personal disasters or in situations of large-scale disaster.

Learn about the volunteer opportunities in Saskatchewan, or if you are interested in supporting the work of the Red Cross locally, nationally or around the world, visit


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