Red Cross Staffer Celebrates 25 Years (and More!) with the Organization

By: Debbie Chitester, Disaster Program Manager for Summit, Portage, and Medina CountiesIMG_1212.JPG

I literally have been with the Red Cross since birth, as both of my parents had volunteered with the Red Cross since before I was born.  Serving and helping others was instilled in me at a very young age.  One of my earliest memories centers around playing house in the old feeding vehicle at the chapter building on 12th and Prospect.

The blizzard of ’78 hit when I was 7-years-old. My family lived at the office for a week while my parents helped with the many aspects of sheltering and communication.  My job, that week, was to be the elevator operator. I learned how to close the doors, wind it up and push the buttons to make it go. I also served as the message runner, taking messages from one end of the hall to other.

Over the years I listened to the calls my parents would take from clients, those that had fires or any other emergency.  This was a time before a centralized emergency number existed, so people called the Red Cross.  Through their examples, I could see that helping people was so rewarding.  I watched my parents receive such great satisfaction from giving a little boy, who just had a fire, a bag of apples. I saw, first hand, the power of a simple gesture.

For many years, my dad would always take the Disaster Action Team shift over the four day Thanksgiving holiday.  He would always say that he had so much to be thankful for, that he wanted show that gratitude by helping others. So, growing up, there were a few Thanksgiving Day meals interrupted by a call to assist others in need.

It was witnessing these experiences as I was growing up that drove me study Social Work in college. So I, too, could help people.

These memories from my childhood led into many more memories throughout my career.  My first disaster relief operation was Hurricane Andrew in 1992.  I had just graduated college and had just been hired on as a caseworker after completing my internship.  We provided casework services out of tent in South Florida, and we made a home of it for our clients and volunteers.  A few weeks into my assignment, we got word that then President of the Red Cross, Elizabeth Dole, was going to stop in for a visit the next day.  We all wanted to show off our “home” and set about to tidy up the place. Across the compound was a sign that announced the name of our little home.  It had been beat up and faded by the South Florida sun, so I decided that it needed to be spruced up. I found a black sharpie marker, sat down in front of that sign and just started coloring.  It was kind of therapeutic in a way to color the sign.  As I sat there, the Disaster Mental Health volunteer came by to check on me.

“Everything ok?”

“Oh, yes! I love to color, and it is kind of helpful for me to do this!” I replied.

“Oh,” he said, “that is good.” He turned to walk away. Then he turned back.

“Should I be concerned that you are only using black?”

I smiled back, and, laughing, said, “It was the only color I could find!”   The next day Elizabeth Dole showed up, as schedule, and while I do not think she saw my sign, I was still proud of my coloring project.

In my years with this organization, there has always been change. We have moved forward in the last 25-years by always keeping the needs of the client in mind.  The biggest, positive change for clients was the implementation of Client Assistance Cards, a pre-paid gift type card that we use to provide financial assistance.  This may seem like a such an odd thing as the most positive change, but it really helps the client become more involved with their own recovery.  The card helps to take away some of the stigma of being a disaster client, as they can now go where they want and do not have to endure the special attention of using a specific voucher.

I love what I do, and have lived the mission of the Red Cross for a long time.


Regional CEO Mike Parks, Debbie Chitester, and Regional Chief Disaster Officer Tim O’Toole 


Debbie celebrated 25-years as a paid staff member with the Red Cross on July 19. She was recognized with an award, seen here, from Regional CEO, Mike Parks and Regional Disaster Officer, Tim O’Toole at the Quarterly All Staff Meeting on August 15.

Check Your Smoke Alarms

Have you checked your smoke alarms lately? Do you know when they expire? Do they have working batteries? Do you know two exits from every room in your home? What about other people who live in your home? Could they get out of a room if a fire blocked the door?

With the heartbreaking news coming from Greater Cleveland about three separate cases of fire fatalities, six deaths, including children, we are imploring residents to get fire safety smart.

Don’t put this off. Start now, today.

“The most common cause, as related to fatal fire, often can be slow or smoldering fires at night,” stated Regional Disaster Officer, Timothy O’Toole in a recent WEWS interview.

This is why it is extremely, EXTREMELY important for you to know more about your own smoke alarms. (See first paragraph for the questions you should be asking yourself.)

Yesterday, reporter Jennifer Auh of WEWS, and cameraman, Brian Sobolewski, saw for themselves the importance of smoke alarms and fire safety education. They tagged along with two Red Crossers – John Gareis and Shelby Begg – as they installed smoke alarms in the home of Arlene Jordan.

If you do not have smoke alarms, contact us. Red Cross volunteers will come to your home and install smoke alarms – for FREE – and help you get started on a fire safety plan. To learn more about our program, visit and click on your county.


Tiffany Circle Members Visit Cleveland FBI Building

Greater Cleveland Chapter Board and Tiffany Circle Member, Laurie Laidlaw, welcomed fellow Tiffany Circle members recently to an exclusive experience.


They were gathered at the FBI building in downtown Cleveland as part of their quarterly Tiffany Circle gathering. Stephen Anthony, the Special Agent in Charge of the Cleveland Office of the FBI, spoke to the women about the special relationship of the FBI and the Red Cross, and shared information about the FBI surveillance and response during last summer’s RNC.

The group also learned about active shooter scenarios from Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Todd Werth, and how they could stay safe during such an event.

Finally, the Tiffany Circle members were given a tour of the FBI Cleveland Gun Vault.

By investing $10,000 or more annually in their local Red Cross chapters, the women of the Tiffany Circle follow in the footsteps of a long line of women leaders who have helped the Red Cross serve the American public in times of war and peace with disaster assistance, blood collection, safety training and countless other community assistance services.

To learn more about how to join our local Tiffany Circle, please call 216-431-3010 and ask for Scott Thompson.

Celebrating the Holidays in NEO

There were tons and tons of cookies.

(And, let’s be honest, isn’t that all you need to get a holiday celebration started?)

With food, friendship, board games, and – yes – cookies, staff from across the region gathered together at the Akron office to celebrate the holiday season.

There were many activities, including a holiday song game where all in attendance were paired off and encouraged to sing a snippet of a holiday classic. The highlight was surely the duet, “Baby it’s Cold Outside” as sung by Mike Parks and new employee, Garland Hairston.

In addition to cookies, singing, laughter and comradery, staff members collected toys that will be given to children who experience a home fire this winter.

Holiday Party 2016

Click on the image above to view our Flickr album.

Frozen, But Not in a Disney Princess Sort-of Way…

True story: One frozen January day in 2013, I went to check on my parents’ home while they were out of town. As I entered the house, it was immediately clear that something was very wrong. I could still see the steam from my own breath even as I walked in to the living room. And there was a rushing sound coming from the back of the house, like I was standing at the observation deck overlooking Niagara Falls.
In their absence, my parents’ furnace had gone out and one of the pipes in the upstairs shower had burst in the frigid temperatures. Water was cascading through the ceiling of the kitchen, pouring out of the cabinets, raining through the overhead light fixture. The carpet in the dining room, just through the arched doorway, was soaked 4-feet out from the pool of water standing on the linoleum.
Everything had to be replaced.
Being prepared and informed may help you and your family avoid the messy and often expensive issue of frozen pipes. With today’s below freezing temperatures already causing concern, here is some information and suggestions around how to thaw  water pipes in the home if they do freeze and what you can do to prevent the problem.
Why Pipe Freezing is a Problem:
Water has a unique property in that it expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes. No matter the “strength” of a container, expanding water can cause pipes to break. Pipes that freeze most frequently are those that are exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines, and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, kitchen cabinets – or bathrooms when the furnace has been not working for who-knows-how-long. Pipes that run against exterior walls (like my parents’) that have little or no insulation are also subject to freezing.
Here’s what you can do right now:
  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
  • When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.
To Thaw Frozen Pipes
  • If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Likely places for frozen pipes include against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.
  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you can not thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
  • Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.
Preventing Frozen Pipes today or tomorrow (or anytime this season):

Before the onset of cold weather, prevent freezing of these water supply lines and pipes by following these recommendations:

  • Drain water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following manufacturer’s or installer’s directions. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed. Antifreeze is environmentally harmful, and is dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.
  • Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
  • Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated.
  • Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes like a “pipe sleeve” or installing UL-listed “heat tape,” “heat cable,” or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes – even ¼” of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.
Future Protection:
  • Consider relocating exposed pipes to provide increased protection from freezing.
  • Pipes can be relocated by a professional if the home is remodeled.
  • Add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in these areas.
  • For more information, please contact a licensed plumber or building professional.

Get Your Vehicle Ready for Winter

Timely Advice Ahead of First Winter Storm of the Season

Driving in a winter storm presents its own unique challenges. The Red Cross has steps people can follow to get their vehicle ready for winter as well as what they should do if they are caught in a winter storm.

“Check your vehicle and stock it with some emergency supplies,” said Tim O’Toole, Disaster Services Officer. “The best thing you can do is stay off the roads during a winter storm.”

GET YOUR VEHICLE READY FOR WINTER  Plan ahead. Have a mechanic check your tires, battery, brakes and antifreeze levels. Make sure your vehicle is ready for winter with a window scraper, shovel, kitty litter or sand in case you get stuck, extra clothes and a Disaster Supplies Kit in your trunk. Pack high-protein snacks, water, first aid kit, flashlight, small battery-operated radio, an emergency contact card with names and phone numbers, extra prescription medications, blankets and important documents or information you may need.


DRIVING IN WINTER  While the Red Cross encourages you to stay off the road if possible, if you have to drive in snow or freezing rain, follow these tips about how to drive safely during a winter storm and what to do if you become stuck in your vehicle:

  • Fill the vehicle’s gas tank and clean the lights and windows to help you see.
  • Pay attention to the weather forecast. Before you leave, let someone know where you are going, the route you plan to take, and when you expect to get there. If your car gets stuck, help can be sent along your predetermined route.
  • If you have to drive, make sure everyone has their seat belts on and give your full attention to the road. Avoid distractions such as cell phones.
  • Don’t follow other vehicles too closely. Sudden stops are difficult on snowy roadways.
  • Don’t use cruise control when driving in winter weather.
  • Don’t pass snow plows.
  • Know that ramps, bridges and overpasses will freeze before roadways.

If you become stuck in the snow or icy conditions:

  • Stay with the car. Do not try to walk to safety.
  • Tie a brightly colored cloth (preferably red) to the antenna for rescuers to see.
  • Don’t run your engine and heater constantly to help avoid running out of gas. Don’t use things like lights or the radio without the engine running so the battery doesn’t conk out.
  • If you can, move your vehicle off the roadway. Stay with it – don’t abandon it. If you have to get out of your vehicle, use the side away from traffic.
  • Start the car and use the heater for about 10 minutes every hour. Keep the exhaust pipe clear so fumes won’t back up in the car.
  • Leave the overhead light on when the engine is running to help rescuers see the vehicle.
  • Keep one window slightly open – away from the blowing wind – to let in air.

WEATHER ALERTS AND FIRST AID TIPS People can download the Red Cross Emergency App for instant access to winter storm tips and weather alerts for their area and where loved-ones live. Expert medical guidance and a hospital locator are included in the First Aid App in case travelers encounter any mishaps. Both apps are available to download for free in app stores or at