Q&A: 17-year disaster volunteer opens up
We recently chatted with long-time Salvation Army disaster relief volunteer Jim Daly, a retired lieutenant from the Ramsey County Sheriff’s department in St. Paul who has been active with our disaster services team for 17 years.
He’s served at countless floods, fires, and other disasters across Minnesota and North Dakota, and even traveled to other parts of the country to serve with The Salvation Army after tragedies like 9/11.
Daly’s experience proves volunteers are the backbone of our disaster relief efforts.
If you have ever wondered how you can help others after a disaster hits, this Q&A is for you. Daly discusses the rewards of serving through his own experience, as well as why getting trained as a volunteer now is the key to being ready to serve at a moment’s notice when a disaster strikes.
How did you start volunteering with the disaster team?
While working as a lieutenant from the Ramsey County Sheriff’s department in St. Paul Minnesota, The Salvation Army was serving during a SWAT team call around 2 o’clock in the morning. We were stuck in our cars in a trailer park, and it was miserable and cold. One of the deputies came over to tell me that The Salvation Army was there with sandwiches and hot coffee.
What keeps you motivated to serve in this way?
It’s the appreciation from people that you’re serving. People are so thankful. When I teach a training class for new volunteers, I call our work a ministry of presence. It’s not so much that you’re giving somebody a cup of coffee at two o’clock in the morning, it’s that you care enough to be there to give them a cup of coffee.
What’s your advice for those who want to help in times of disaster?
After or during a disaster, everybody wants to help and nobody quite knows how to do it. Volunteers who are not affiliated (not trained) can fill sand bags and do similar things that are needed, but that’s it. You don’t need a background check or any training to fill a sandbag.
To do anything further, though, like working directly with those affected, you need to be affiliated (trained), which includes a background check.
The Salvation Army has a great reputation during disasters. People see a Salvation Army volunteer and they know that this is somebody who knows what they’re doing, has been trained, has had a background check, and are good to go.
How does it feel to know you are making an impact?
The exciting thing is that you’ll be sitting at home and your friends will be talking about that big apartment fire, and you’ll say, “Yeah, I was there.” People talking about the bridge collapse, “Yeah, I was there.” New York after 9/11, “I was there.” But, just for even smaller stuff you get the sense that people really appreciate you.
Can anyone become a disaster volunteer?
People from pretty much all walks of life join the team. The common thing is people want to help people, and we give them the opportunity. We give them a structured way to do it. This is actually doing something.
How would you describe the role of volunteers in times of disaster?
One of the quotes I use is from St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.”
You know, that really describes what disaster volunteers do. This is something you can actually do to help people. Donating money, donating clothes to the Salvation Army Store, every bit helps, but this is an active doing and the disaster volunteer team is an easy channel to get started.
What is the disaster volunteer training like?
There are two eight-hour classes, roughly, to get started. We start by talking about The Salvation Army and what to expect if you were asked to go on a deployment. I try to give people a sense of what it’s like to serve.
I personally talk a lot about preparations. Get a gym bag and have stuff ready to go so when The Salvation Army calls and says, “Hey, we got a big apartment fire can you come and help,” you can say, “Oh, yeah, I could do that.”
Then we cover an abbreviated version of “Safe From Harm,” (a Salvation Army class designed to protect vulnerable populations) talking about things we are likely to encounter as disaster volunteers.
By the time we get into the mobile kitchen operations, that’s more hands on. We have the truck and go outside and do a scavenger hunt: Find the fire extinguisher on the mobile kitchen, find the strips to test the disinfectant, that kind of thing. So, we have some fun.
How to Get Involved
We need people like you who are ready and willing to help at any moment, to join our team. To be considered for service across Minnesota and North Dakota, first take these steps:
- Complete an application and mail it to: The Salvation Army, Attn: EDS, 2445 Prior Ave. N., Roseville, MN 55113
- Attend the required “Introduction to Emergency Disaster Services” and “Disaster Food Services: Handling and Delivery” training courses, plus additional courses for your assigned specialty area (view course descriptions)
We train disaster volunteers year-round at locations in Minnesota and North Dakota (find upcoming classes). There is still time to sign up for the next trainings Jim plans to teach in Bismarck, N.D. on April 1 and 8.
We are also always seeking skilled retired or semi-retired professionals to serve in a number of leadership functions.