By Tim Healy, American Red Cross Northwest Region Volunteer
There’s no other way to say it: Darci Teel has a passion.
It’s her job. It’s her personal story. It’s her Red Cross contribution. Darci’s passion is safety.
Currently a board member of the Central and Southeastern Washington Red Cross chapter in Kennewick, WA, Darci first attracted the attention of Michele Roth, executive director of the Red Cross for that area, two years ago. Darci’s work with the Sound the Alarm campaign, a national Red Cross effort to install tens of thousands of smoke alarms in vulnerable homes and communities across the nation, prompted Michele to ask her to join the area’s board of directors.
Darci had worked on the Sound the Alarm campaign as a volunteer for more than five years. And she had helped to bring her employer, Hanford Mission Integration Solutions, into the campaign to eventually become a regional sponsor of Sound the Alarm.
“I had learned that she previously helped with installs, education and promotion when I reached out to her to join our board,” says Michele.
Nationwide, the Red Cross Sound the Alarm campaign has installed more than 2.3 million free smoke alarms, and the campaign is confirmed to have saved more than 2,300 lives. Michele says the Red Cross has a rigorous process to confirm that its smoke alarms were directly responsible for people being warned of a fire before it will take credit.
Kennewick Fire Chief Chad Michael says the Sound the Alarm campaign has been a great success. “The campaign is clearly focusing on the right areas,” says the chief. “It’s not a matter of if the alarms will save lives. It’s when.”
Michele recalls that there was another reason she invited Darci to join the board. “She knew first-hand what it is like to go through a home fire, what it is like to have the support of the community. Her story is real.”
Darci’s experience goes back to 1981. She was a high school senior in Montesano, WA, a small town of about 4,000 just east of Aberdeen in the southwestern portion of the Olympic Peninsula. It was spring break, and she was skiing at Mt. Bachelor in Oregon.
“I was up at the lodge to meet some friends for lunch,” Darci recalls. “It was surreal. You find out your house burned down, and you think it’s a joke. But it’s not a joke.”
She learned that while her house didn’t actually burn to the ground, there were parts that suffered significant fire and heat damage, and the loss from smoke was extensive. “At 18, I realized how unimportant material possessions are. Family and friends are what matter.”
One memory puts it in perspective: “I remember I lost my cap and gown for graduation to smoke damage. I was mortified that I’d be the only one walking down the aisle without. But someone anonymously gave me a cap and gown.” Darci pauses for a moment. “To this day, I get choked up just thinking about it.”
It may be this deep sense of what matters that still drives her. Married for 38 years, Darci has two grown daughters and four grandchildren.
She recalls the day recently when her oldest granddaughter, 6-year old Lily, came home and was excited to talk about her class’s discussion on earthquake preparedness. Darci had been diligent as a mother to talk about fire safety, regularly go over evacuation plans while making sure everyone knew about their meeting place in the event of a disaster. “It was cool,” she said of her granddaughter’s excitement.
It’s hardly an accident that Darci is evangelistic about fire safety, and not just because of her own experience. For 32 years, she has worked on cleaning up the massive nuclear waste site at Hanford near the Tri-Cities. In that job, she has devoted herself to safety.
Today she is the Senior Vice President of Mission Assurance for Hanford Mission Integrated Solutions, which coordinates logistics for the many entities working to clean up the 577-square-mile Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Darci works to instill a safety culture for the effort. “That’s my focus at work and in the community: Keeping people safe.”
Michele Roth is thrilled to have someone with Darci’s background, skills and passion contributing to the Red Cross. “Darci has had a much bigger impact than she realizes.”