Red Cross Recognized in Highland County, Offers Smoke Alarm Installation


At their March 6, 2018 meeting, The Highland County Board of Supervisors recognized March as Red Cross Month in Highland County.  So what exactly does the Red Cross do?  To get the answer, AMR spoke with Pat O’Neil, a Red Cross Community Volunteer Leader in Highland, Bath, and Augusta Counties, as well as a member of Highland’s Local Emergency Planning Committee.

She says, “Our Mission Statement says that we prepare for and respond to emergencies through the power of volunteerism and our very special donors, which is mostly private people.  We have several different areas that we call lines of service, one of which is our service to Armed Forces.  We help Armed Forces members.  If there’s a disaster at home, we’re the communication link with them.  We also have, of course, blood services.  We provide 40% of the blood that’s needed in the United States.  Of course, we also have Health and Safety, which includes things like teaching CPR and swimming and all kinds of different things like that to help people be safe in their lives.”

Since 1999, Ms. O’Neil has been volunteering.  “You can be an active volunteer with one hour a month, once you’re in and accepted as a volunteer and you’ve been trained, and there’s so many different things you can do to help out,” says Ms. O’Neil.  “You don’t have to go to all the emergencies.  You can work in an office, you can drive a forklift truck, you know, all different things, so we hope that we’ll get some more volunteers and keep the volunteer thing going.”

She continues, “My role as a Community Volunteer Leader, I try to keep contact with all the different counties, especially with their Local Emergency Planning members and trying to keep up with their planning for disasters so that we can all be on the same page if something happens.  Also, I’m a DAT, which is a Disaster Action Team member, and that means that I respond to local disasters, which are primarily home fires.  Now it might be a flood, it might also be a tree on a house, different things, but, mostly, it’s fires, and we go right when fire is happening and offer the clients some financial assistance to help them get through the first couple of days after the fire, and then we follow up to help them in their recovery.”

All of these efforts make an impact.  Ms. O’Neil concludes, “During the first nine days of 2018, Red Cross responded to 3,150 home fires, which was up 60% from last year,” says Ms. O’Neil.  “Now, I don’t know whether that’s due to the weather or whatever, but, you put that together with the fact that every day in the United States, seven people die from home fires, it sort of brings home how much we really need to be aware of home fire safety, and I know that, so far, something like a little over 380 families have been saved in the United States by the smoke alarms that Red Cross has installed, so that’s quite a few people.  We hope to make that more.”

In order to help that number of safe families grow, smoke alarms will be installed locally in Highland County on Saturday, March 24th.  Residents can request a smoke alarm or have a check of their current battery-powered one by contacting Pat O’Neil at 540-337-6414 by the end of the day Friday, March 23rd with their name, phone, and address.  Highland County Volunteer Rescue Squad Lieutenant, Mary Schooler, can also be contacted with requests at 540-474-5686 or at the squad’s main office number of 540-468-2295.  In case of inclement weather, those on the list will be contacted Friday night with further details.

Anyone needing assistance or wishing to volunteer can call 1-800-RED-CROSS or visit

Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

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