While many people were enjoying the opportunity to relax over the long Presidents Day weekend, LeRoy Alexander was dealing with the aftermath of a devastating fire at his home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which destroyed 90% of his belongings.
“Keep your eyes on your fries”
LeRoy, whose passion is performance poetry, wasn’t feeling well that night. After putting on some French fries to cook on his gas stove, he went to lie down for a moment, inadvertently fell asleep, and awoke to see his kitchen engulfed.
“All you could see was smoke,” he said. “If you’re cooking, keep your eyes on your fries.”
Then began a frantic effort to get out of the fourth floor apartment. LeRoy’s neighbor tried to force the front door open from the outside, but the lock had become jammed. As smoke filled the apartment LeRoy was disorientated, trying to find a way out.
The electricity failed, leaving half of the apartment in darkness, and LeRoy had to make his way around from memory while struggling to breathe. He managed to make it back to his bedroom, and, wearing just a shirt, he climbed onto the fire escape and made it safely to his neighbor’s window.
His neighbor gave him a pair of shorts, and as emergency services arrived, LeRoy was taken to hospital where he stayed several hours. It was a frightening and confusing time.
After being released from the hospital, LeRoy stayed with his cousin in the Bronx, who contacted the Red Cross and asked for assistance.
Red Cross Responds
The following evening a team of Red Cross responders met LeRoy at his apartment in Brooklyn.
The fire department had quickly contained the previous night’s fire, which meant some of LeRoy’s belongings had survived. The Red Cross team accompanied LeRoy into the charred apartment with flashlights to collect whatever was salvageable. LeRoy packed a small suitcase and was relieved to find his watch and mobile phone, and to finally have a change of his own clothes.
LeRoy called the help he received from the Red Cross “invaluable.” The Red Cross arranged for him to stay in a hotel and provided him with self-heating meals to see him through the weekend. Finally he was advised to visit Red Cross headquarters to speak with a Red Cross caseworker about next steps.
The fire had left LeRoy feeling distraught but after a few nights in the hotel he felt reinvigorated and better able to deal with the situation. After the weekend, LeRoy did visit Red Cross headquarters to meet with a client caseworker. He said the caseworker was, “patient, professional, caring,” and went the extra mile to ensure that his needs would be dealt with.
LeRoy is unsure whether he will ever be able to return to his apartment, but he is pleased that the Red Cross was there to help him.
LeRoy had heard that the Red Cross helps New York residents whose buildings have caught fire, but “You’re only peripherally aware of the Red Cross until it touches your life,” he said. “Nobody understands the depth of caring that the Red Cross provides until it happens to them. I’m eternally grateful for the care and concern that the Red Cross gave me.”
LeRoy Alexander, Brooklyn, NY