By Elaine Biller, Greater NY Volunteer
On Sept. 17, 2014 a massive 3-alarm fire raged through a Second Avenue apartment building in Midtown Manhattan. More than 140 firefighters were on hand to quench the blaze. Five Red Cross workers responded to help those affected, including Alexis Schroeder and her roommate.
For Alexis, this was just one more complication in an already complicated life.
She and her roommate, a friend from high school, had moved into their Midtown Manhattan apartment just four weeks earlier. Soon after the move, Alexis was struck by a taxi while jogging after work.
Since then, she’d been on leave from her job, juggling doctor’s appointments to treat a bulging disc in her back. As her pain subsided Alexis was looking forward to returning to her work in marketing in mid-October.
The day of the fire, Alexis was walking home from her bank after clearing up some suspicious activity on a credit card. When she got to her street, she smelled smoke, then saw it billowing from her apartment window. Gripped by fear, Alexis relaxed only when she saw firefighters pull her roommate to safety through the dense black cloud.
The women watched as flames consumed their building. The fire left six apartments unlivable, with the top apartments severely damaged by smoke.
That evening a NYC firefighter and Red Cross volunteer Paul Allwright escorted Alexis and Colleen back to their apartment to retrieve anything they could salvage, especially documents and prescriptions.
Sadly, the apartment was unrecognizable. “There were no floors,” Alexis said. “My bedroom … everything was destroyed. My roommate's room was destroyed as well.”
The women were devastated by the sight and overwhelmed, not knowing where to begin. Paul guided them through those first few hours of shock and numbness.
“We weren't able to think about anything, about what to grab,” Alexis said. “I didn't have any money with me with my whole credit card situation. The Red Cross was there with things you don't even realize you need.”
Paul arranged temporary housing for the women for the days immediately after the fire and provided them with emergency funds for food, and so they could replace some clothing. And he let them know the Red Cross would continue to be there for them in the days that followed; that they were not alone. He explained that Lilliam, their Red Cross caseworker, would continue to support them in numerous ways.
“Everyone's been really great,” Alexis said.
In the months since the fire, the women continue to rebuild their lives. For now they are staying with friends in the city on weekdays and with their families in New Jersey on weekends.
“The Red Cross generously helped us out,” Alexis said. “We really didn't know what type of help was provided by the Red Cross. We couldn't say nicer things about it.”