Be present and listen: Advice from a seasoned disaster responder

By: Shelly Makrugin, senior communications advisor

When Dave Schiller decided it was time to retire after 30 years as a school counsellor in London, Ontario, he was looking for his next venture. He found it with the Canadian Red Cross.

A man sitting at a table in a Red Cross vest and face shield“I wanted to retire to something and not just from something,” Dave explains. He became a volunteer and has since participated in numerous disaster responses across Canada and the United States.

“I like being useful and helpful. People going through disasters and traumatic situations want someone to listen to them and hear what they are going through. I am here for people in distress.”

As a Red Cross volunteer, Dave has worn many hats over the last dozen years, from personal disaster assistance team member and case worker, to supervisor, operations and site manager.

He has crisscrossed the country from Calgary and Siksika in 2013 to assist following the southern Alberta floods, then responded to Fort McMurray wildfires and Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina in 2016.

More recently, Dave has assisted people impacted by wildfires in British Columbia and Saskatchewan in 2018, the Ottawa tornado, and fires in northern Ontario several times over the last few years.
His latest deployment was to Merritt, British Columbia as a safety and wellbeing supervisor, assisting people impacted by the recent floods and extreme weather.

“I enjoy being helpful and there for people who are hurting and in need,” Dave says.

Each disaster is different, but the effect on people’s lives is always devastating. Safety and wellbeing responders aim to provide much needed emotional support.

“One lady in Merritt was quite upset, so I went and sat with her. I listened. When she left, she had an action plan, was more settled and seemed grateful for Red Cross support.”

Dave says people seeking assistance in Merritt have been patient and have pulled together as a community to support each other. He was equally inspired by the Red Cross response.

“I was impressed with the set up and how organized the Red Cross is in bringing people in to help.”
Dave encourages anyone thinking of volunteering to “go for it.”
“As a volunteer, there is a network and fellowship; you meet a lot of amazing people.”

Dave spent several weeks assisting in Merritt before returning home to Ontario. He is ready to answer the call and respond again when needed.

The Canadian Red Cross is recruiting volunteers in all provinces and territories. Find more information and apply at

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