When a fire alarm sounds, the next people on scene after firefighters and EMTs are usually volunteers from the American Red Cross ready to assist victims.

"This has been a very busy month for the SUN Area Chapter and its regional office," said Kathy Smyser, Central Pennsylvania regional communications manager. "Since our fiscal year began July 1, the chapter has responded to 25 fires, caring for 75 people."

According to Smyser, chapter volunteers are currently assisting five families left homeless following Monday morning's fire in Kulpmont, which destroyed four homes and damaged four other buildings.

"Some families are currently in hotels while others are saying with family or friends," Smyser said.

"We are providing lodging and restaurant vouchers, and grocery money for those in other homes so their hosts are not put out."

The Red Cross also provides clothing and emotional support for victims.

Tough month

It has been a taxing January for SUN area chapter volunteers. In addition to Kulpmont, families affected by fire in Middleburg, Milton and Northumberland were assisted. According to Smyser, the victims in Monday's fire in Coal Township did not accept help and the organization did not respond to Shamokin's fires because the blazes affecting abandoned or vacant buildings.

"Fires are the number one disaster that the American Red Cross responds to," Smyser said. "We help more fire victims each year than people affected by tropical storms and hurricanes."

Such an effort would tax the coffers of any organization, and the Red Cross is no different.

"When we raise funds, we are always working to help those involved in the next disaster," she said. "We know there will be another disaster, so we count on donations to do the work we do."

In 2011, the American Red Cross received more than $1 billion in contributions and grants toward its mission of helping others, distributing $382 million in grants and similar amounts, according to the organization's tax return posted on its website.

Donations help people affected by disasters like floods, fires, tornadoes and hurricanes, and countless crises in the United States and around the world. A gift enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance for those affected by disasters, according to www.redcross.org.

Contributions may be sent to the American Red Cross, 430 W. Orange Street, Lancaster 17603 or 249 Farley Circle, Lewisburg 17837, or any one of the local Red Cross offices. Arrangements can also be made by calling call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or going to www.redcross.org.

Fire safety

Smyser said there's plenty the average person can do to ward off potential disaster.

"It's always a good idea to check our smoke detectors and the batteries in them," Smyser said.

Smyser said heaters are a big cause for fires during the winter months. She urges people to use them safely.

"We've seen so many cases where the cause of fires was heater-related, whether it be from a space heater, or an overloaded outlet or breaker box. The cold weather really puts a strain on such devices," she said.

Another great tip is to devise a plan in case of fire and pick a meeting spot where everyone can gather safely.

Smyser urges families not to wait until it's too late.

"All those fire safety things you've put off doing, now is as good time as any to do them for the safety of yourself and your family," Smyser said.

More tips can be found at www.redcross.org.