Former Firefighter Serves with Red Cross in India, Sri Lanka and Iran
By Lalit Nadkarni, American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter Volunteer
August 21, 2009
“Being able to serve is a privilege,” says Jim Stephenson, a retired Southern Marin Fire District firefighter, of his involvement with the American Red Cross, which began back in 1991. Stephenson first participated as a Red Cross volunteer in Sacramento while on a disaster planning project at the local fire department. He began as a volunteer caseworker, and eventually worked his way up to director of disaster services for the Sacramento chapter.
Stephenson’s desire to travel and serve various communities led him to become a volunteer with the American Red Cross on a national level, and later with the emergency response unit for international disasters.
Stephenson’s first experience serving overseas came with the severe flooding of Assam, India in August 2000. After a rigorous British Red Cross training program, Stephenson was assigned to a logistics team that was tasked with getting supplies through customs and into India, ultimately giving them to the American Red Cross for relief distribution. He returned to India in 2002 for another flooding disaster, this time in Bihar.
Subsequent assignments took Stephenson to Iran and Pakistan following massive earthquakes in 2003 and 2005. While in Iran, Stephenson personally assisted in setting up tent camps for 6,000 internally-displaced persons.
Stephenson was also on call during for the Asian tsunami in 2004, and flew to Sri Lanka to help with disaster relief efforts. Faced with the challenge of setting up a temporary transfer point for general relief supplies, Stephenson identified a damaged but usable port authority warehouse and quickly readied it for use. Along with the American and Sri Lanka Red Cross distribution relief teams, additional trucks were hired to move supplies as needed. Despite the challenge of roads being down and little fuel available, Stephenson said this was the smoothest Red Cross operation that he had ever worked on.
Stephenson currently works approximately three days a week as a member of the chapter’s staff and has been living in Mill Valley since 1996.
Quoting his favorite Red Cross motto “The Red Cross is the organization that puts your care and concern into immediate action,” he said he liked the idea of being the instrument allowing this change and aid to happen.