Steve Meisler of Niles, IL has been a Disaster Action Team volunteer with the American Red Cross for 32 years. Spending over half of his life with the organization, he’s responded to more fires than he can remember.
Of the 60,000 disasters the American Red Cross responds to each year, home fires make up the majority. Volunteering at these types of disasters feels natural to Steve, who grew up around firefighters and police officers.
“My mom was a schoolteacher for 40 years in Chicago Public Schools and she babysat for many of the firefighter and police officer kids who went to her schools,” Meisler said. “To return the favor when she needed a babysitter for my sister and I, it would often be firefighters and police officers on their days off.”
Steve said the firefighters took him in the firetruck teaching him about fire science and safety. That knowledge was crucial when Steve was a teenager and an apartment building caught fire and spread to his family’s house. Everyone safely got out of both buildings, but during the evacuation Steve noticed responders he hadn’t seen before.
“My parents were over by a Red Cross truck, and it piqued my interest about what these people do,” he said. “I started investigating it, and I thought, ‘wow that sounds great, I want to help the community, that’s right up my alley.’ I started training and when I was done, I joined the Red Cross and here I am 32 years later.”
As a Disaster Action Team volunteer, Steve takes calls throughout all hours of the day and night. He acknowledges it’s not an easy job to do for decades but says the mission of the organization is what keeps him motivated to respond to whatever disaster that day might bring.
He also says volunteering helps put things into perspective, allowing him to give back and help others who are going through one of the toughest times of their lives.
“I’ve got a job, I’ve got a place to live, and then I think back to my family’s fire and how I felt then,” Steve said. “So, if I get called to a fire at three in the morning, I just think about how those affected may not know what the Red Cross is or how we can help. The Red Cross does something unique that nobody else does, and that’s what I love about volunteering.”
The vital work of the American Red Cross is made possible by volunteers like Steve who contribute their unique backgrounds, talents, and skill levels. Our needs change based on current events, adding flexibility to get you involved in an area that inspires you! Visit RedCross.org/volunteer to learn more about volunteer opportunities in your area.
Written by Illinois Communications Manager Mara Thompson