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An Emergency Management program in Leominster helps home fire victims get immediate services and support, bridging a gap between the fire event and the arrival of outside services.
Students from the school district’s Center for Technical Education Innovation helped create a 90,000-square-foot facility within the city’s emergency management center for the new program.
The facility is stocked with clothing and food for people and pets alike, with cots and showers available. Displaced fire victims are able to get into a clean facility, rest, eat and clean up while volunteer liaisons help them find shelter and begin the process of replacing what they lost.
Young children are set up with cots in a separate room and given teddy bears and activities like coloring books. Meanwhile, parents in another room can get settled while working with fire investigators.
Jim LeBlanc, the city’s interim emergency management director, said the program fills a gap in services for people who need immediate assistance.
He recalled a fire where residents ran out of their home into the cold, and the city was able to give them sweatpants, shirts and sneakers, providing some comfort until the Red Cross arrived.
“The American Red Cross used to be in town, but they’re now in Worcester,” LeBlanc said. “They’re volunteers themselves, and it’s four, four-and-a-half hours before they get to us. In that period of time, we’ve clothed people, fed them, calmed them down.”
Mayor Dean Mazzarella came up with the idea a little over a year after a house fire where he realized the gap in services. Since then, the program has been used three times and assisted 25 people.
“After being 25 years here, I’ve stood outside enough fires and disasters to know that it takes teamwork, and you have to lead people,” Mazzarella said. “I’ve watched people, and little kids, stand outside and watch their house burn. … What we did works with other agencies, but takes effect immediately. It stabilizes the victims.”
Mazzarella added that the program helps coordinate donations of items to victims of a fire, while providing a centralized location to collect and disburse whatever the victims need.
The program also works to help fire victims after the Red Cross helps them find temporary shelter. The program offers gift cards to provide additional support, while a Fire Fund set up through the mayor’s office can provide first month’s rent for displaced families who find an apartment.