Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Life of Purpose: Why Retired Army Colonel Jim Myers Serves with the Red Cross

written by Amy Yen, volunteer contributor 

As our volunteer, Jim Myers, explains, no one expects a home fire to happen to them.
Watch the video above to learn more about how to stay safe should it happen to you!
Video courtesy of Red Cross Chicago.

Jim Myers, age 64, is a retired Army colonel, father, grandfather and volunteer. Instead of relaxing or traveling in his retirement, he gives his time to the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) in Collin County. He responds to local disasters, answering calls at all times of the day or night to provide immediate relief and support to individuals and families in their greatest time of need.

It’s nothing new. Jim Myers spent 10 years in active military service and another 27 in the Army reserve, spending his final assignment supporting FEMA. During that time, he responded to 22 disasters. That’s when he first came in contact with the Red Cross.

“Working with FEMA, I was well aware of the Red Cross,” said Jim. “The Red Cross is essential to response and recovery during disasters.”

When he finally retired, Jim went to volunteer for the local Red Cross and was immediately recruited onto the DAT team. In his first month, he was called to three grass fires. His first house fire came at 4:00 in the morning. He arrived on the scene to find that the dog had gotten the family out before the smoke detectors had even gone off. With his basic DAT workshop training, he went straight to work; comforting the family and helping them start on their road to recovery.

“The family was shell-shocked. They didn’t know what to expect after the fire. The dog was there with his chest out, thinking, ‘I just saved my family!” he recalls. “I just reminded them that as terrible as it looks, everything there can be replaced. Your family is alright and we’ll put you in a motel tonight. Before you know it, you’ll be watching TV with your feet up, eating pizza. You’re all going to be safe.”

Jim says that what’s important is helping a family go from “shell-shock” to optimism that they will recover. “We help them realize it’s not the end of the world even though it might feel like it at the time.”

Jim did a damage assessment on the scene and gave the family plastic bags to put some clothes in. They went in to rescue valuables, like family albums that couldn’t be replaced and gave the kids each a teddy bear.

“There’s a payback to volunteering. The personal connection—when you give the kids a teddy bear and see a smile on their face even after a disaster—that’s the payback,” said Jim. “I’ve got four children of my own and six grandchildren, so I know about kids. You’ve got to give them hope, and we do that.”

Jim encourages volunteers to take all the Red Cross classes they can; from the DAT workshop, which he says is a necessity for anyone working on-site at a disaster, to psychological first-aid, which helps volunteers understand what the victims are going through.

To learn more about the Disaster Action Team and other opportunities to volunteer locally during National Volunteer Week, check out redcrossdallas.org.

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