Biles makes Western North Dakota safer one smoke alarm at a time

People standing with large check
Auston Biles (center) helps give a donation to the American Red Cross on Basin Electric’s behalf. Also pictured are Zoe Wergeland Manstrom, American Red Cross of Western North Dakota executive director (left), and Jennifer Holen, Basin Electric charitable giving administrator (right).

Growing up, Dakota Gas senior safety coordinator Auston Biles always knew he wanted to help people, but didn’t quite know where to begin. That is, until he saw an ad in the paper requesting firefighter cadets at his local fire station.

He began work at 16 years old, starting out by washing equipment while undergoing training. “As I learned more skills and how to apply them, seeing them in action is when it really sunk in that I wanted to make a difference,” Biles says.

This prompted Biles to start taking emergency medical responder courses at 17, and by 18 he had hit the ground running. He has worked in various capacities as a first responder all over the United States, including fire, wildland fire, dive rescue, search and rescue, and as an emergency medical technician (EMT). “I have seen folks on their worst day wondering what they are going to do in the next hour, day, week as they watch their worldly possessions go up in flames,” Biles says. His experience as a first responder drove him to do more.

Biles began serving on the American Red Cross board of directors for western North Dakota in 2017. In 2018 he was voted in as chairperson, a position he has held ever since.

Biles’ role as a board member involves networking with businesses and individuals to help raise donations, educating public and private groups about programs the Red Cross has to offer, giving presentations about local disasters, and working with national teams to put together disaster resources for large scale incidents. “From the very start of the Red Cross, it has been about alleviating human suffering and using the power of volunteers to spread the love and generosity of others,” Biles says. He works as a liaison for the Red Cross in multiple functions, including volunteerism.

One of Biles’ passions is participating in the “Sound the Alarm, Save a Life” program, an effort to install free smoke detectors nationwide. The Red Cross-sponsored event involves boots on the ground volunteers going door-to-door offering to install smoke detectors free of charge to families. During the time of installation, volunteers share fire safety information and help families create emergency plans in case of disaster.

Biles’ first Sound the Alarm event in Dickinson, North Dakota, stands out in his memory. “We had knocked on many doors and heard a lot of ‘nos’ that day,” Biles says. Then finally, they received a ‘yes’ from a single mother with two kids. Biles was just finishing up the family’s training when the mom began to cry. She explained that her family had experienced a kitchen fire in their home the previous year, which was put out immediately. “Their home didn’t have one smoke detector in it. She was so thankful that the Red Cross was coming through to install smoke detectors and save her family’s lives while they slept,” Biles says. This moment solidified Biles’ purpose in working with the Red Cross.

Since then, he has conducted five more Sound the Alarm events throughout western North Dakota. For Biles, the benefit of his service is clear. “It is so rewarding to help those families make their homes safer and in turn raise awareness and save lives,” Biles says.

The Red Cross is currently looking for more volunteers. Through his time working with the Red Cross, Biles has found that there is something for everyone to do. “We always hear of the Red Cross helping out in these far away natural disasters, but they are constantly working in our own backyards as well,” Biles says. “If you have a passion, they have an opportunity for you to use it.”

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