Red Cross Stays Busy in Sumter


Written by: Nancy Cataldo, Executive Director, American Red Cross, Sandhills Chapter

Yesterday, the Sandhills Chapter of the American Red Cross was very busy helping members of the community recover after a home fire, as well as practicing for future hurricane responses.

Red Cross volunteer, Steve Shumake, responded to a fire that completely destroyed a home in Sumter.  In total, he assisted a family of four including a nine year-old child. He provided the family financial assistance to purchase food and clothing lost in the fire, as well as temporary lodging and referrals to local agencies.

One adult suffered severe burns and was flown to the August Burn Center in Georgia.  We have been in contact with the Augusta Chapter of the Red Cross to check on the client in the hospital and get updates on his condition. We will continue to be there for this family on their road to recovery.

Yesterday we were also busy participating in a State Hurricane Exercise in Clarendon County.  The exercise involved a shelter opening at Manning High School as a result of a hurricane evacuation. Red Cross staff and volunteers partnered with South Carolina Emergency Management and the Department of Social Services (DSS) to open the shelter and provide services to the individuals that registered. We also had a volunteer that staffed the Clarendon Emergency Operations Center.

As part of the day, the Red Cross trained 42 DSS workers in Shelter Operations and 12 people participated in our Shelter Simulation class. Our partners at McDonald’s in Manning provided the lunch and Clarendon School District 2 provided snacks and drinks to all participants.

As you can see yesterday was a busy day.  We were able to help a family in their darkest hour and also prepare to help our community in the event of a large disaster because of you. Thank you to our dedicated volunteers for giving their time and to our financial donors for supporting our mission each and every day.


Disaster Alert: We Need Your Help

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Red Cross Helps Five after Apartment Fire in Columbia

On February 8th, our local Red Cross disaster responders provided emergency assistance to three adults and two children that were displaced by an apartment fire at 7404 Bailey Street in Columbia, S.C.

Red Cross disaster responders arrive on the scene of the apartment fire.

Red Cross disaster responders arrive on the scene of the apartment fire.

Here is a recap of our response…

Three Red Cross responders arrived at the scene of the fire and assessed the damage with first responders.

First responders and Red Cross disaster workers assess damage caused by the fire.

First responders and Red Cross disaster workers assess damage caused by the fire.

After determining how many people were displaced by the fire, our responders provided individual assistance and comfort to each family.

Red Cross provides individual assistance to each family affected by the fire.

Red Cross provides individual assistance to each family affected by the fire.

In total five people received temporary housing and financial assistance to purchase food and clothing. In addition, each person received a comfort kit with basic hygiene items and referrals to partner agencies to assist with long-term recovery.

One of the most important things that our workers can give after a fire is comfort and a hug.

One of the most important things that our responders can give after a fire is a hug.

Since July 1, 2012, the local Red Cross has responded to 733 disasters and has provided immediate emergency assistance to 2,454 adults and children.

All of this assistance is made possible by generous donors and volunteers. You can help your neighbors recover from disasters like home fires by making a financial contribution to the American Red Cross today by visiting or by calling (803) 540-1230. Donations may also be mailed to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 91, Columbia, SC, 29202. If you would like to become a volunteer, please call (803) 540-1242 or visit

Red Cross Helps Seven University of South Carolina Students after Home Fire

On December 3, 2012, Red Cross disaster responders assisted seven University of South Carolina students that were affected by a home fire located at 1101 Olympia Avenue in Columbia, S.C.  The Red Cross provided financial assistance to all seven students to purchase food, clothing and other essential items. In addition, each student received a Red Cross Comfort Kit filled with basic hygiene items like a tooth brush, toothpaste, soap and shampoo.

Here are three videos that paint the picture of how quickly a disaster can happen and how the Red Cross is there to help…

Since July 1, 2012, the local Red Cross has responded to 482 disasters and has provided immediate emergency assistance to approximately 1601 adults and children.

You can help your neighbors recover from disasters like home fires by making a financial contribution to the American Red Cross today by visiting or by calling (803) 540-1241.  Donations may also be mailed to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 91, Columbia, SC, 29202.

You can also help by becoming a Red Cross volunteer.  For more information about volunteering, call 803-540-1242 or contact your local Red Cross chapter.

Neighbors helping neighbors

contributed by Ginny Parrish-Loy, Red Cross Volunteer

On February 1st, Joey Hutto, the Disaster Manager of the Aiken County Chapter of the American Red Cross, received a call at 10:56 p.m. from the incident commander at the scene of a fire at the Clearwater Finishing Plant in Clearwater, SC.  The incident commander requested drinks and snacks for firefighters who where responding to the scene of a mill fire.  Aiken County firefighters from Bath, Beech Island, Belvedere, Clearwater, Langley and North Augusta were on the scene trying to contain the fire.  According to observers, the fire could be seen up to 12 miles away and explosions from the fire were triggering 911 calls from the public.

Joey called his lead disaster volunteer, Jerry George, who immediately called his volunteer team, which included, Debbie Sasser and Mark Maxwell. The three went to work immediately. Jerry inspected the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle and Debbie and Mark contacted Walmart, who donated water, bananas and granola bars for the first responders. Joey responded to the scene in his private vehicle.  By 12:15 a.m., a little over an hour later, Red Cross volunteers, were on the scene serving beverages and food to the first responders.  Jerry George said of the scene, “it was like a snow storm of ashes.”

Firefighter enjoying the hot beverages provided by volunteers.

The Waffle House across the street from the fire generously donated coffee and hot water for cider and hot chocolate.  The team served over 90 first responders.  Mike Harris, a volunteer firefighter with Beech Island and a driver for South Star EMS, said of the Red Cross volunteers, “what they’re doing is great…they had plenty of everything we needed. It was a big help.” The volunteers stayed on the scene until 3:30 a.m. providing assistance.

Jerry says it is not hard to get up and go (to the scene) in the middle of the night. It is what these volunteers do.  Debbie, a volunteer who lost her home to fire just six weeks earlier, did not hesitate when the call came to help.  Volunteers like Debbie, Jerry and Mark are the heart of the American Red Cross.  Their level of service and passion to respond at all hours of the night makes it possible for the Red Cross to be there in times of disaster– no matter the time or place. 

This was the second time in one week that the Aiken County Chapter assisted first responders. On Saturday, January 28th, volunteers Becky Fitzpatrick, Dale Crouch, Craig and Linda Holmes and Larry Becker, responded to a call from public safety officers for assistance. They provided meals for over 70 first responders.  

This is yet another way the Red Cross provides services in the community.  Volunteers go out in the middle of the night, not only to help victims of disasters but also to serve first responders so they can go about the important work of helping and protecting their neighbors. 95 percent of the Red Cross workforce is made of volunteers – just like the dedicated ones in Aiken County.      

Volunteers responded to the scene providing snacks and beverages to first responders.

You can help people affected by disasters like tornadoes, as well as countless crises at home and around the world, by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief.  Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters.  Visit or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.  Contributions may also be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter at 1314 Pine Log Road, Aiken, SC 29803 or to the American Red Cross, P. O. Box 37243,Washington, DC 20013. 

“Miracle man” escapes fire and is thankful to the Red Cross

Contributed by Randy Burns, Special to The Item 

"Miracle Man," Robert Brunson, an amputee without hands and portions of his legs shares his survival story.

The words hero and miracle get bandied about rather easily at times, but Sumter emergency responders were quick to use the words in describing how a 64-year-old physically disabled man managed to rescue himself from a blazing house fire earlier this week.

Robert Brunson, an amputee without hands and portions of his legs, was by himself in his wheelchair watching TV in the bedroom a few minutes before 1 a.m. Monday when the first fire alarm went off at his home at 991 Ravenwood Drive, about two miles from Sumter High School.

Brunson dismisses any talk of being a “miracle man.”  All I did was use just good common sense,” he said.  “When the alarm went off, I was not in the bed.  I was watching TV sitting in the chair.  That was good, but it would only have taken me a minute to get in the chair if I had been in the bed.  I knew what to do when I heard the alarm.  People say I’m a miracle, the way I do things.  I have learned to use my nubs as hands. And I can walk with my artificial legs and walker.  I just try to do the best I can.  I think I do more for myself than some people who have two arms and two legs.”

Practice leaving the house on his own in case of an emergency paid off.

“As I was trained to do by my wife, I rolled straight to the front door,” Brunson said.  “The alarm kept ringing, but I didn’t smell anything or see any fire.  I thought it was a false alarm.  Sometimes the alarm would go off like that.  I opened the front door to let some air in the house, thinking it would turn the alarm off.”

A couple of minutes later, the second alarm went off, Brunson said.

“I said to myself, something ain’t right,” Brunson said.  “I rolled back into the living room, and I felt the heat.  I saw the smoke, and I knew the house was on fire.  I told myself to get out of the house.  I rolled out the front door in my wheelchair, hollering for help.”

Marie and Robert Brunson's home at 991 Ravenwood Drive burns Monday.

Sumter Fire Battalion Chief Bud Ivey said Brunson was sitting in his chair in the front yard when he arrived shortly after 1 a.m. “Mr. Brunson was hysterical,” Ivey said.  “You know, he had just lost everything.  “Ivey said it was evident that Brunson himself was safe.   “It’s really a testament to smoke alarms and fire detectors,” Ivey said.   “Without them, I believe he would have perished in that fire.”  At the time of the fire, Brunson’s wife, Marie, was working the midnight shift as a nursing assistant at Covenant Place. Marie Brunson said she asked two questions when a neighbor called to tell her of the fire.   “First, I wanted to know where my husband was,” she said.   “And second, I wanted to know if he was all right.”
“When he saw me coming down the street, I was running to him,” she said. “He said, ‘Boo, we have lost everything.’   I told him, ‘No, we haven’t lost everything.  You are still alive, and I’m alive.'”   Brunson said she wasn’t surprised her husband was able to rescue himself. “He did what he was taught to do,” she said. ”  I am just so happy we had smoke alarms.   I advise everybody to have smoke alarms.” 

The Brunson's, Marie and Robert, call each other "Boo." They have been married 25 years. Robert Brunson said his wife is his friend, therapist, partner, lover and wife.

 The Brunsons say they are also appreciative to Red Cross for their assistance.  Red Cross provided the Brunsons with three nights of lodging and money for clothing and personal items.   “I knew about the Red Cross,” said Robert Brunson. “But I found out how important they are.  I don’t know what we would have done without Red Cross.”

Red Cross Volunteer Larry Nettles said Ivey called him about 1:30 a.m. Monday.  “Chief told me to come quick, that they had a man in a wheelchair by himself,” Nettles said.  Nettles said he learned quickly that Brunson was “an amazing man.” “His surviving that fire is nothing short of a miracle,” Nettles said.  “Mr. Brunson is a real hero.”

The Brunsons asked Nettles to be with them on Friday morning when the insurance adjuster met with them.  Their house was a total loss, estimated value at $80,000 with contents estimated at $30,000, according to an incident report filed by the Sumter Fire Department.  The fire started in the laundry room area of the house and is thought to have been caused by an electrical short.  “They were nervous about what he would say,” Nettles said.  “They just bought the insurance in November, and they wanted someone to be with them.”

The Brunsons were delighted with their meeting.  They will be provided lodging for three months, until they find a permanent home.  “We are going to get another house and move back home on the same property,” Brunson said.Robert Brunson said he is fortunate to live in Sumter.  “I’ve lived in New Jersey, North Carolina and Georgia,” he said.  “But there’s no better place than Sumter.  Everybody has been great.”  Brunson said he is particularly lucky to be married to Marie. “We call each other Boo,” he said. “We’ve been married 25 years. I met her on a bus headed for Myrtle Beach.  She was going to work. And I was looking for a job.  Well, I ended up with a new job and a new wife.”

Brunson said he is excited about the future.  “Everything is going to be fine,” he said.  “You know, my wife is my best friend.  She’s my therapist, my partner, my lover, and my wife.”

Greg Haskins and Larry Nettles are the two Red Cross volunteers that assisted Robert and Marie Burnson.  These dedicated volunteers were on the scene providing immediate emergency assistance to the Brunson’s at 1:30 a.m. on the night of the fire. 

 Click here to read more stories from The Item.

Be Safe this Thanksgiving in the Kitchen!

The kitchen is the place where family and friends love to gather, but it is also the setting of more fires than any other room in the house.

Cooking is the number one cause of home fires in this country and during the holidays, the American Red Cross wants everyone to be aware of steps they should take to avoid a fire while cooking.

Click here to take a Red Cross quiz to see if your cooking safety knowledge is up to snuff!

Start by not wearing loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking.  Never leave cooking food unattended – stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling or broiling food.  If you must leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.  Other safety steps include:

  • Check your food regularly while cooking and remain in the home while cooking. Use a timer to remind yourself that the stove or oven is on.
  • Keep the kids away from the cooking area. Enforce a “kid-free zone” and make them stay at least three feet away from the stove.
  • Keep anything that can catch fire – pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, and towels or curtains—away from your stove, oven or any other appliance in the kitchen that generates heat.
  • Clean cooking surfaces on a regular basis to prevent grease buildup.
  • Consider purchasing a fire extinguisher to keep in your kitchen.  Contact your local fire department to take training on the proper use of extinguishers.
  • Always check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving the home to make sure all stoves, ovens, and small appliances are turned off.
  • Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen, on each level of your home, near sleeping areas, and inside and outside bedrooms if you sleep with doors closed.  Use the test button to check it each month. Replace all batteries at least once a year.

The Red Cross responded to more than 62,960 home fires during the 2011 fiscal year.  House fires are the worst disaster threat to families in the United States.  To learn how to prevent a fire in your home and how to keep members of your household safe, you can download The Red Cross Fire Prevention and Safety Checklist.  Downloadable fact sheets are also available at on how to be fire safe over the holidays, how to avoid home heating fires, candle safety, proper use of smoke alarms and teaching your children what to do in the event of a fire.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation’s blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit