Monday, February 4, 2013

When Your House Burns Down, A Little Levity Goes a Long Way

By Ashley Chapman

On January 14, Na’eem Rasheed, age 36, returned from class to find fire trucks blocking his street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. There was so much chaos that it was hard to tell which building was in flames.

“You just don’t think it’s going to be your house on fire,” said Rasheed. 

But it was his house: a four-story brownstone that Rasheed shared with 22 neighbors. By the time Rasheed arrived, firefighters had spent two hours extinguishing the two-alarm blaze, which had ripped through the back of his building and into the brownstone next door.

The Red Cross was on site when Rasheed arrived, providing key resources and emergency relief, including temporary housing for all the displaced tenants in the building. 

Rasheed was the first tenant home, so he took charge by calling his neighbors and roommates to tell them the news. It wasn’t as simple as it sounded.

“When I called them to say ‘the house is on fire, you need to come back,’ many thought I was kidding,” he said. 

When he went to his apartment to retrieve some key items, he was shocked by what he saw: broken windows, an overturned bed and shelves, and possessions strewn across the floor.

“I just started laughing because I couldn’t believe it,” Rasheed explained. “When I’m nervous, I joke around. But the Red Cross guy understood this, and he joked around with me a little bit.”

Rasheed was particularly nervous about where he was going to stay for the night so the emergency housing that the Red Cross provided gave him peace of mind.

“Once I found out that I had a place to stay,” Rasheed recalled, “I began to calm down and was able to help out those around me.”

In the past, Rasheed had volunteered and donated both money and blood to support the Red Cross, but he never knew that the Red Cross also helps out in local disasters. 

“If people have any money, they should donate it to a worthwhile charity like yours because you do a lot of great work that’s very, very important in situations like this,” he said. 

“I’m a very anxiety-prone person, and man, I would have really freaked out if it hadn’t been for the Red Cross.”

When looking back on the past month, Rasheed admitted that the fire, while traumatic, was also a bit ironic. 

“I had been praying that I'd find a way to move out of the neighborhood,” Rasheed said. “But I wasn’t expecting the whole house would burn down."

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