Twelve lives saved thanks to functioning smoke alarms

By Judy Abelman, Volunteer Contributor


Fire response 2 - Jan 2018
Red Cross volunteers, Stephen and Mary, sit down with “Miss Shirley” and the other residents to provide recovery assistance after the fire

On a frigid January night in northeast Austin, “Miss Shirley”—as she is called by those close to her—awoke to the blaring sound of a smoke alarm. A fire had broken out in the garage of the home where she is caretaker to ten adults and one child with developmental disabilities.

“Thank God we had working fire alarms.  I just can’t imagine what would have happened without them,” she exclaimed as she met with Red Cross volunteers later that night, dressed only in her bathrobe. Everyone made it out of the home safely.

Shortly after the fire broke out, next-door neighbors Jennifer Biundo and Stephen Pipkin were there to help.  Stephen recalled that, “we awoke to the sounds of the people outside and then realized that the house was on fire.”

The good Samaritans rushed out with blankets, and warmly welcomed all twelve individuals displaced by the fire into their home. They waited together while the Red Cross Disaster Action Team was en route.

Fire response 1 - Jan 2018
Jennifer and Stephen offered tea and comfort to their neighbors while the Red Cross workers started the casework process

With “tea and sympathy”, Jennifer and Stephen temporarily sheltered their neighbors and opened their home to the Red Cross volunteers who responded to help each resident with resources for a nearby hotel, comfort items, prescriptions, food, clothing and mental health support.

Thanks to working smoke alarms, kind neighbors and Red Cross volunteers and donors, “Miss Shirley” and those in her care are on the road to recovery.

Need a smoke alarm? The Red Cross provides free smoke alarms across Central Texas.  If you don’t have enough smoke alarms or aren’t sure if yours are working, contact us. Visit to schedule an appointment or call 512-928-4271.

Want to help prevent home fire deaths and injuries? If you would like to volunteer for a Red Cross Sound the Alarm smoke alarm installation event, visit Here are just a few of the upcoming installation events in Central and South Texas that you can be a part of:

  • January 20 – Bryan/College Station
  • March 24 – Comfort
  • April 28 – Austin
  • May 12 – San Antonio

Author: American Red Cross Central & South Texas Region

The American Red Cross Central & South Texas Region provides humanitarian services -- including disaster relief, services to the armed forces and CPR/first aid training -- to 80 counties in the state of Texas. Chapter offices are located in Waco, Bryan, Austin, San Antonio, Kerrville and Midland.