Today was my last day working for the Red Cross in the Communications Department. Documenting this disaster and talking to the victims of the fire is something I’ll never forget. I feel I’ve learned far more than I have given during my time there, and it’s something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. I decided to include this as one of my blog posts…Afterall, as Martha Carlos, the Chicago Red Cross’ Senior Communications Manager told me today, I ”wandered out on a call to a fire”.
As Petr Sedlak walked through his kitchen Wednesday morning, he noticed how unusually dark it looked outside. “The sun was out just a few minutes ago,” he thought out loud. His curiosity piqued; he opened the blinds to glance around. “It was black,” he said. Within a second, his mind connected what his eyes were seeing. Heavy, dense smoke was rolling out of the windows below his second floor apartment.
Moments later he was racing to bang on doors, trying to alert other residents to the fire that was so quickly spreading through the backside of the two-story apartment building. Sedlak is no stranger to aiding others; he’s currently on the campus police department at NorthEasternUniversity. “I figured most people were still asleep,” he said. “I was heading out to work when I noticed the darkness outside.”
Felicitas Nebril, the owner of the apartment building, was in fact still asleep in her first floor unit when she awoke to the sound of Sedlak’s insistent knocking. Nebril has owned the building for close to forty years, and raised her children there as well. Her daughter Marisel Reyes, was on the scene this morning speaking for her mother. “She has heart issues,” said Reyes. “We lost our dad in 2005, and she doesn’t want to let this building go. It holds too many memories.”
Nebril was taken to her daughter’s home to rest before the Red Cross arrived. Thirty-six year old Reyes and her sister, thirty-four year old Marinette Nebril, were handling the situation as calmly as possible in order to protect their elderly mother. “She was panicking too much; it was affecting her heart. Being away from here right now is best for her,” stated Reyes.
Several inches of water lingered on the floor of the basement apartment in the building. “We just moved in a week ago,” Joy Puentes told me. “There was no time to do anything but get out.” Puentes’ husband Pedro and their two young boys, Angel and Joel, escaped their apartment without injury. “They keep asking me why we had a fire,” said Puentes. “It’s hard to explain to them that we didn’t decide for this to happen.”
I had the heartwarming opportunity to hand each of the sweet little guys a stuffed toy courtesy of the Red Cross, and just for an instant managed to catch a bashful smile sent my way. Knowing these families all have a safe place to stay tonight, some thanks to the Red Cross, made the moment bittersweet.