Janesville native makes ‘time to give back’ for those suffering amid wildfires

By Kay Elmsley Weeden, American Red Cross

Jamie Stahl has seen his share of disasters, but he was still ready to deploy this July the moment the call came as part of the American Red Cross response to the western wildfires. When a second call came in August, he was ready to help people then, too.  

As an American Red Cross disaster cycle services volunteer for four years, Stahl is familiar with the need to quickly travel to places where a natural disaster strikes and help to address the immediate and long-term needs of the affected families. In July, he was one of many volunteers sent to the western United States to assist families who had lost so much to the fires. He was deployed to Lakeview, Ore., originally for two weeks, to set up shelters for families displaced by the recent summer wildfires.  

Jamie Stahl, of Janesville, stands in front of a disaster relief trailer parked outside a shelter set up during wildfires in Oregon in July 2021. Submitted photo

“Our goal is to be there for people during a really hard time. We try to make sure they have what they need and we are there to listen and help address their concerns,” said Stahl.  

For a collection of individuals, the new shelter is now their temporary place of respite, supported by red-vested Red Cross responders. Each person is welcomed into their short-term home with a safe place to sleep, food, drinking water most of all, compassion. Here is a place where volunteers strive to reduce the stress and fear for families who may not have had much notice to leave their homes and who may have lost everything. Medical professionals are also available to address any health concerns, including replacing medication left from a hasty exit. The Red Cross collaborates with local agencies to provide assistance for pets to ensure a safe place for them as well.

As a Red Cross shelter supervisor, Jamie’s job duties include establishing the shelter is set up properly with sleeping areas with cots, certify that it is ADA accessible, make certain toilets and showers are functioning as needed, ensure there are feeding and snack areas, and help create separate areas for people to just hang out and decompress. Beyond that, his main task is to engage with everybody staying there – every day. 

Working shifts are typically 12 hours daily, although that can vary depending on factors such as shelter population and the ability for people to safely return home. On this initial deployment, Stahl and some other Red Crossers were able to return ahead of their two-week commitment. But just a few weeks later, wildfires kicked up again, and this time Stahl was deployed to northern California to help during a time when nearly two-dozen shelters or evacuation points were opened for hundreds of people in crisis.

Stahl started as a blood donor ambassador for drives in Janesville four years ago. While he still serves in that role monthly, he has filled much-needed roles as a sheltering supervisor, shelter associate, logistics warehousing. He is also qualified in delivering meals and driving Red Cross emergency response vehicle (ERV). Reflecting on the humanitarian work in high-pressure environments, Stahl he feels grateful for the chance to offer his time and compassion.  

“Life has been good to me and it’s time for me to give back,” he said. “I have the luxury of locking my apartment door and taking off to help where I am needed most.”

With a rise in disasters across the country and in our own backyard, the Red Cross is looking for more humanitarians to join our disaster action teams. Sign up and find details at redcross.org/DAT.

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