by Amy Yen, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross North Texas Region
No matter how many times NFL offensive tackle Byron Bell tells his story, it doesn’t get easier. But he knows it’s important that he tells it.
In December of 2007, while Bell was playing in the New Mexico Bowl for the University of New Mexico, his family’s home in Greenville, Texas burned to the ground and he lost his 8-year-old brother Isaiah.
“He was just a young kid. I used to question why it happened, but it happened,” says Bell. “It’s been close to my heart for a long time.”
Bell played the final season of his college career in his brother’s honor and fought his way onto an NFL roster, playing this past season with the Dallas Cowboys. Now in his sixth NFL season, he wants his story to do more than be his personal motivation.
“Since I lost my brother, I always wanted to do something,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to help families who lost homes. I don’t think a lot of people understand the tragedy of a home fire. I’ve been through it, and I know what it feels like.”
That’s why Bell is partnering with the American Red Cross Sound the Alarm campaign to raise awareness about home fire safety and install smoke alarms in at-risk communities. Every day, seven people are killed and another 36 suffer injuries as a result of home fires. The Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, launched in 2014, aims to reduce this number by 25 percent.
“It’s amazing that the Red Cross responds to six home fires a day, just here in North Texas,” Bell says. “It’s good we have volunteers to help out these families who are going through these tragedies. Losing a home is crazy because you have to figure out your next step, where you’re going to live, how you have to take time off work. I’m happy that the Red Cross is out in the communities helping those people. I just want to give a helping hand to whoever might have lost a loved one, just be there for them.”
Bell will join Red Cross volunteers and the fire department for a Sound the Alarm event in Lancaster on April 28, one of 14 events scheduled in North Texas. During the event, volunteers and partners will canvass high-risk neighborhoods and install free smoke alarms, replace batteries for existing alarms & help families create escape plans. Working smoke alarms in homes cut the risk of death in a home fire in half, something Bell wants everyone to know.
“I want people to know this stuff is real,” he says. “Losing a home is real. People need to know to be checking those [batteries] every month & making sure the fire alarms work. My tragedy happened at night & that’s when people are usually sleeping. If that alarm isn’t going off, you’ll never know it’s happening. If an alarm had gone off in my house, it probably would have saved my brother. I want people to know that those fire alarms can save your life, so you want to make sure those things work.”
Beyond installing alarms, Bell is looking forward to getting out in the North Texas community, so close to his hometown. Just last year, the Red Cross installed 9,500 smoke alarms and made 3,500 homes safer in North Texas alone. Nationwide, the Home Fire Campaign has already saved 416 lives.
“I’m looking forward to interacting with people in the community & installing the fire alarms. I’m a people person, so I’m looking forward to meeting people & shaking their hands & just being there for people & hearing their stories. Just being there with the Red Cross, I’m excited,” Bell says.
This year, the American Red Cross DFW Chapter is calling for more than 300 volunteers to join Byron Bell in the Sound the Alarm Campaign between April 28-May 12. They will install more than 3,000 smoke alarms in 13 different at-risk communities in the Metroplex area. Bell is looking forward to meeting the volunteers.
“I just want people to get out there. People need help & I was one of those people,” he says. “Have an open heart and open mind. People work their whole life to buy their dream home & when you lose your home, it hurts. Volunteer if you can. Know that these families really need you.”
In the 11 years since his family’s tragedy, Bell hasn’t told his story a lot, but he knows he can make a difference by telling it now.
“I don’t talk about it a lot, but I know I need to, because I want people to check their electricity, make sure everything is running right, make sure sockets are safe & make sure their fire alarms have batteries. The fire at my house happened because of electrical issues, & I don’t want it to happen to anyone else. I want people to check the batteries in their smoke alarms, to make sure that they’re installed in the right places in their homes, so they’re safe & protected.
“I want the world to know that I’ve been through tragedy but I didn’t let it deter me & neither did my mom or my other brothers. I wish my brother was here today to be here with us. My brother died of smoke inhalation & smoke alarms can save lives. That’s why I want to tell people my story.”
Ready to join Byron Bell & Sound the Alarm? Sign up to volunteer at one of our upcoming DFW events!
“If anyone’s willing to come out, it’d be great to see them in Lancaster on the 28th,” says Bell. “I’ll be there, hitting the ground running!”