By Bernadette Casey, American Red Cross in Greater NY
Most Red Cross volunteers remember arriving on the scene of their first disaster response. Most of them, however, don’t peddle there on their bicycle.
“I rode my bike from my house to respond to my first fire as part of the Disaster Action Team,” says Jim Heavey. He was 15 years old at the time and it is a ride that has lasted 45 years and counting.
Heavey was taught first aid by local dentist Richard O’Leary who at the time was chairman of disaster services for the (then) Greenwich Chapter of the American Red Cross.
The teen was a first aid instructor and active in emergency services throughout high school and volunteered in disaster services at the Greater Boston chapter while attending Northeastern University.
He remembers spending the night in the Framingham State Police Barracks providing assistance during a hurricane and says a highlight during his college days was volunteering as a first aid standby during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Boston in October 1979, as well as during the Boston Marathon. When Heavey returned from college he became safety chairman at the American Red Cross Greenwich Chapter.
Heavey’s career path also strongly reflects a life dedicated to service.
“All that experience with the Red Cross helped me with my career choice. First with all the first aid and CPR training, then I became an EMT and then a volunteer fireman. I pursued law enforcement after I graduated college,” he says.
Heavey became a full-time police officer in 1986 and Greenwich Police Chief in 2011.
Some of the Red Cross programs he is most proud of include Safety Town which provides children going into kindergarten with safety training on topics including fire, animals and school buses. The program has trained several hundred children.
Heavey’s daughter, a nurse at Boston Children’s Hospital, and his son, a volunteer fireman, went to Safety Town when they were children and volunteered with the Red Cross.
“A good way for your children to learn and appreciate their gift is when they can help someone else,” adds the proud father.
Another of his projects is the Battle of the Badges, a friendly blood-drive competition between policemen, firemen, and EMTs. Heavey, like his father, is a 10-gallon donor.
He remains a CPR and wilderness first aid instructor and has been on the board of what is today called the Metro New York North Chapter for 12 years. The American Red Cross Metro NY Chapter serves Greenwich, Conn., Rockland County and Westchester County, and the West Point Military Academy.
Heavey has often volunteered alongside 60-year Red Cross veteran Ross Ogden.
“One advantage being the chief of police is that when we open up the emergency operations centers in town, the Red Cross has a seat at the table and often that seat is occupied by Ross who has all this institutional knowledge. He’s been a mentor these many years on how to address emergency situations when we have major storms. There were times when we had no power for a week and the Red Cross was very important with delivering food and water and assisting with making sure all our public safety people could continue to respond,” says Heavey.
In 2001 Heavey received a special Red Cross citation for exceptional volunteer service and in 2015 was given the Katherine Knapp Award, the highest honor the chapter can bestow on a volunteer. In his role as a police officer he was recognized by the police department along with two other officers for resuscitating and defibrillating a man suffering from a heart attack in 2008.
With a service-oriented professional and volunteer career as expansive as Heavey’s, is it possible to single out a particular moment that stands out?
“There have been lots of named disasters and storms, but the ones that hold the most treasure for me are the smaller incidents like a small fire where you helped an individual and made a difference. It was a significant event to that person in need and those are the ones that are probably most memorable to me,” he says.
“Most people may not get to 60 years like Ross or 45 years like me, but they should recognize the Red Cross is a great opportunity for fulfillment and to help others in their community.”