Fran's son Josh was warned by a neighbour when a bushfire engulfed the street.
If something terrible were to happen near your home, who's the first person you'd go to for help? Your neighbour? During most major emergencies it's our neighbours who will be first to respond, well before emergency first responders can get to us.
Bushfire survivor Fran Elston can attest to that. Her home backs onto bush at the foot of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales and bushfires are part of her life. In 2013 the fires around where she lives burned faster and hotter than usual. Conditions such as a very dry winter, a heatwave and unpredictable hot winds left the area particularly vulnerable to bushfires.
"The fires happened so quickly, the houses were just exploding, and day had turned into night with the smoke. There was no way to phone and warn anyone because the phone signals were jammed," she says.
Fran was on her way home, stuck in a traffic jam of people who had also heard the bushfire alert, when she saw a huge cloud of smoke in the distance. Knowing her son Josh was home, Fran immediately stopped her car, got out and ran.
Josh, who has Down Syndrome, was home with his dog and his carer, who was scheduled to have already finished for the day. Fran was in a panic but she says an angel was watching over her house that day.
"Luckily a neighbour had come and knocked on the door and was checking to see if anyone was home. When Josh and his carer opened the door the whole street was on fire," she says.
It was a lucky escape. The fire had quickly surrounded the house and Josh, his carer and dog had been obliviously sitting inside with the doors and windows shut to keep the smell of smoke out. Almost every house on the street burnt that day and if the neighbour hadn't thought to check on Josh and his carer they may not have survived.
Are you ready?
Ahead of what's expected to be a record bushfire and cyclone season, we are reminding Australians that preparing for an emergency can be simple. Statistics show one in three Australians will be threatened by an emergency during their lifetime.
Australian Red Cross CEO Judy Slatyer says there's never been a better time to take action.
"If you think about how you might react in an emergency and what you might need, you are already on the way to preparing," she says.
"Planning how you would cope means you'll be less stressed if you ever have to face an emergency." Fran says there is one thing she learnt from her family's near miss.
"If you know there are people who live on their own, such as elderly or even an elderly couple, the only thing I could advise is check on your neighbours."
Here are four simple steps you can take to get prepared:
- Start a conversation with your family and neighbours, so in an emergency you can better help each other and recover faster.
- Prepare your mind and look after your wellbeing. The more prepared you are for emergencies, the less stressful they become and you're more likely to have a sense of control.
- Protect what matters most by filling out your RediPlan - Red Cross' free guide to getting prepared.
- Get packing. Build an emergency kit and identify those precious things that are impossible to replace so you take them with you if you evacuate.
Be Ready with Red Cross
We're calling on all Australians: Do one simple thing to prepare for a disaster. Find out how some simple things you can do to prepare today.