The Spaccarelli siblings don’t argue often. But when they do, it’s about preparing people for calamities like house fires through their fire safety programs at the Red Cross.
Last year, Joe Spaccarelli joined the Red Cross after seven children died in a house fire in Midwood, Brooklyn, in March 2015. According to Spaccarelli, the family’s hot plate malfunctioned and the only working smoke alarm was in the basement of the home. The incident was enough to make Spaccarelli quit his job of 27-years to work full-time for the Red Cross as a lead for its home fire safety program. Spaccarelli started volunteering for the Red Cross during Superstorm Sandy, in 2012.
“When that happened, I lifted an eyebrow going ‘huh, it must be a very worthy cause,’” said Lori-Ann, Spaccarelli’s younger sister, about her brother quitting his job to work for the Red Cross.
Lori-Ann Spaccarelli, of Farmingdale, joined the organization as a volunteer last year. She became one of the Long Island volunteer leads for the Home Fire Safety program, after her brother left the position in September to be the program director for Get Alarmed New York City. The Red Cross volunteer and elementary school art teacher in Syosset school district said she couldn’t “say no” to helping a program that her brother loved.
The Red Cross’s Home Fire Safety and Get Alarmed New York City programs don’t only focus on educating people about fire safety and the importance of fire and smoke alarms. Volunteers also install smoke alarms free of charge. The fire safety program aims to reduce home fire-related deaths by 25 percent.
The goal of Get Alarmed NYC is to establish 100,000 smoke alarms in the NYC region within two years. The siblings said they install three to four alarms per home. While they said some homes don’t have an alarm at all, other homes don’t always have one that is working.
“When we go into a lot of these homes, it’s either that the smoke detectors aren’t working, the batteries are missing or the batteries are low,” Joe Spaccarelli said. “It beeps, they take the battery out.”
Spaccarelli added that some residents never get a chance to replace the batteries. Forty percent of the time, fire-related deaths and injuries occur when there isn’t a working alarm in the residence. According to Red Cross CEO Elizabeth Barker, the Red Cross responds nationally to around 70,000 home fires a year. Home fire preparedness isn’t simply about adding smoke detectors and informing people about escape plans, but also about educating young children.
Lori-Ann Spaccarelli started the Pillowcase Project in her school. The program teaches young kids how to get out and cope with home fires and other hazardous. The Disney-sponsored program began after Hurricane Katrina, when college students in Louisiana packed various items in their pillowcases before heading to a shelter.
According to the Spaccarellis, the program puts children at ease during a tragedy, which also helps parents remain calm.
“The children exiting those [Pillowcase Project] lessons come out with much more confidence and conviction when they go home to let their parents know,” Joe Spaccarelli said. “They know what to do and they’re comfortable.”
While the duo didn’t have any prior experience running these kinds of programs, helping others is in their blood.
Growing up, the Spaccarellis said their parents regularly gave back to their community, which encouraged the siblings to help others as well.
For the siblings, helping others is a family affair and Barker said the pair brings that same vibe to the Red Cross.
“Usually what I have is a husband-wife duo,” Barker said. “It’s been really fun to have this brother-sister dynamic to work with. It makes it feel more like a family.”