PUBLISHED: 5:10 PM on Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Picking up the pieces after a fire
It's the most common disaster the American Red Cross responds to across the nation and one of the most devastating. And you may think that it will never happen to you, but what if it does? What will you and your family do to pick up the pieces after a fire?

Immediately After

If you have been involved in a fire the first thing to do is make sure that any injuries are treated by a medical professional. Wash small wounds with soap and water. To help prevent infection of small wounds, use bandages and replace if they become soiled or waterlogged.

Remain calm and try to pace yourself. You may find yourself in the position of taking charge of other people. Listen to what others are telling you and deal patiently with urgent situations first.

Check with the Fire Department before attempting to enter your residence. Do not cut or walk past colored tape that was placed over doors or windows to mark damaged areas unless local authorities advise that it is safe to do so.

Recovering Emotionally

Your and your family's emotional care is just as important as healing physical injuries and rebuilding a home after a fire. You may be very surprised at how you and others may feel following a disaster.

Disasters can stir up many different thoughts and emotions. People may experience intense fear concerning their safety and that of a loved one. They may experience shock, grief, disbelief, anger and guilt. Memory problems, anxiety and/or depression are possible following a disaster.

Disasters are traumatic experiences for everyone and children, senior citizens, people with disabilities and people whom English is a second language are especially at risk.

A child's view of the world is safe and predictable, but when disaster strikes, that safe and predictable place is temporarily lost.

Children often become fearful that the event will happen again and that their family will be injured or killed. Children may become more clingy to mom and dad, they may have nightmares, trouble sleeping or bed wetting may occur. It is important to remember that how you react following the traumatic event will influence your child's reaction and can help them recover more quickly and completely.

Some basic steps to meet your physical and emotional needs:

• Try to return to as many personal and family routines

• Get lots of rest and drink plenty of water

• Limit your exposure to the sights and sounds of a disaster on TV, radio and news print

• Stay focused on the positive

• Recognize your own feelings

• Accept help from others

• Do something you and your family enjoy

• Stay connected with family and other support systems

• Realize that sometimes, recovery can take time.

Helping Pets

If you have pets, try to find and comfort them. Remember that they to may be scared and may react by scratching or biting so handle your pet with care.

Pets need regular care and attention to help them calm down, so try to leave pets with a family member, friend or veterinarian boarding facility while cleaning up your home:

• Use toys, a blanket or favorite human's unsoiled clothing to comfort pets.

• Make sure pets are fed their usual diets, and have plenty of water.

• Visit your pets regularly and speak calmly to them. Take them out to play; doing so can also help in your recovery, as well.

Disaster happens but we can all recover and assist in the recovery of our families by recognizing before hand the effects of trauma and gaining the tools that help rebuild after a disaster.

For more information on recovery after a disaster, children and traumatic events, disaster preparedness for seniors and how to help your pet, please call the American Red Cross at 463-5713.

"If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend the first four sharpening the axe."

- Abraham Lincoln

Linda Wahl works with the Juneau Chapter of the American Red Cross.