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Sounding the Alarm: Leech Lake Reservation family saved through Red Cross campaign

LEECH LAKE RESERVATION, MN– You hear it all the time, smoke alarms save lives. It’s almost a cliche. But want proof of why you hear it all the time? A Minnesota family of five wouldn’t be alive if the alarms didn’t exist.

The Greene family on the Leech Lake Reservation went years without a functioning smoke alarm in their home.

Fortunately, the Minnesota Red Cross canvassed their reservation on the East Side of Leech Lake late last year and installed new fully functioning alarms in their aging home.

Little did Red Cross volunteers know, that six months later, the home would be little more than a pile of rubble.

New Year’s morning 2019 will forever haunt the Greene Family.
“I woke up to go to the bathroom and when I woke up I heard the fire alarm going off,” says ‘father’ of the home and tribal Elder, Guy Greene.

The alarm, alerting the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Elder to an electrical fire in his garage, He says, “the heat and the smoke just blew me right back out of there. It was too explosive, too sudden.”

Guy, a military veteran went to work getting his family to safety “I got back upstairs as soon as I could, I’m all crippled up, I can’t walk. I managed to holler at my wife and she got the kids.”

Guy’s Wife, April grabbing only the children inside the home. April says, “I guess we don’t have nothing left, except our family.”

Months before the fire, the Greene family had noticed their smoke detectors had long expired.  They were bad, we probably had it for 40 years in there, since we built our house,” says the April, the ‘mother’ of the home.

Fortunately, a program through the Red Cross sounded the alarm.

“About 6 months earlier Red Cross volunteers and the Federal Dam fire department canvassed this area installing smoke alarms,” says Tony Guerra, Disaster Program Manager with the American Red Cross out of Duluth.

Brand new smoke alarms funded through the American Red Cross “Home Fire Campaign” which installs free smoke detectors for at-risk homes.

The Greene Family lived in this home on the Leech Lake Reservation for 44 years. And though they say they lost everything in the house fire, they credit the newly installed smoke detectors for saving their family’s lives.

April says, “I do believe it did save my family.” Her husband, echoing her statement, “that’s exactly what helped save us was that smoke alarm.”

The family, marking a milestone for the Red Cross campaign. Guerra says, “this is our first confirmed save of a Red Cross partners installed smoke alarm in Minnesota and the first one on a tribal nation.”

The Minnesota Red Cross has successfully installed over 1,000 smoke detectors through their campaign on five out of seven Northern tribal reservations since 2016.

“It’s a rural area, smoke alarms play a vital role in alerting people and getting them out of the house,” Guerra explains.

The tribal Elder hopes the Reservation Business Committee will create a policy that each home is required to have the smoke detectors.

Guy says, “everybody should have smoke alarms. If you don’t have common sense, you don’t have smoke alarms ya know.”

A Public Service Announcement the Greene family hopes will stick with reservation families and beyond.

With nothing to lose through the free program, Guy and April both agree, if you don’t have any of the alerting devices, you should give the Red Cross a call.  Guys say, “saving lives, that’s number one.”

A final plea from the mother of the home, “I just want everybody to please put some detectors in your house. It’s life-saving It’s life-saving.

The Minnesota Red Cross says they have a pile of smoke detectors at their office ready to be installed. Officials say they would rather see them on resident’s walls than in their office.

The Greene Family has a Gofundme page set up to help with their recovery.

To learn more about how to donate and the “Home Fire Campaign” click here.

Across Minnesota, Red Cross and fire department volunteers have installed more than 15,000 free-smoke alarms since 2014. Nationally, the Red Cross has documented just under 600 lives saved because of the program. 


LEECH LAKE RESERVATION, MN– The Greene family of five was fast asleep New Year’s morning when a smoke alarm alerted the household elder, Guy Greene to a fire in the home’s garage.

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe family was able to escape the engulfed house, but 6 months earlier the family’s fate could have been much different.

Tune into KBJR 6 news at 10 p.m. Wednesday to hear how the Greene Family escaped with their lives and the message they want to send to people today.

Jessie Slater

Evening Anchor and Reporter

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