Marty Grisham: Washington Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters and the Importance of Volunteers

By Kellie Hale

Did you know that April is National Volunteer Month in the United States? It is a month where the importance of volunteering is recognized and honored. To celebrate volunteers and their contributions (particularly during COVID-19), the Center’s monthly Confluence newsletter will be highlighting people and organizations who donate their time and talents to causes that help the betterment of communities.

One of those people who is dedicated to volunteer work is Marty Grisham who is the Vice President of the Washington Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (WA VOAD). The purpose WA VOAD is to bring voluntary organizations together within the State of Washington during times of need through “cooperation, coordination, communication, and collaboration.”

Before Marty became Vice President of WA VOAD, he was the Emergency Manager for the City of Tukwila Fire Department where he had been with the organization for 38 years. In the early 1980s, he co-founded the Seattle King County Disaster Team, an international response team. While being on the team, Marty participated in the response of major disasters around the world from Mexico City, San Salvador, the Soviet Republic of Armenia, and the Philippines. “My experience over the years has taught me firsthand the importance of emergency preparedness and the somewhat daunting work of Emergency Management” said Marty.

Transitioning from City of Tukwila to WA VOAD was not difficult for Marty since being a volunteer was how he started his career in the fire service as a volunteer firefighter. To this day, he still serves as a Merit Badge Counselor for the Boy Scouts of America on subjects such as first aid, safety, and emergencies. Center Director, Linda Crerar and her staff had the privilege of conducting a Zoom interview with Marty to learn more about WA VOAD, his experience as a volunteer, and the importance of volunteer work. Marty shared that, “WA VOAD is really an important element in the state, in that we as members of WA VOAD come from all aspects of our volunteer base in the state.” Members of WA VOAD have worked in volunteer organizations that are faith-based, non-governmental organizations, and non-profit organizations.

Marty went on to add, “When we receive requests, the norm is usually following a major windstorm, a tornado, earthquakes, and flooding. These are the big ones that we would normally receive a request. What people are requesting are volunteers.” Some of WA VOADs volunteers are trained with a background dealing with disasters, but most of the people WA VOAD engages with are simply good people wanting to help others.

“Volunteering requires out-of-the-box thinking,” Marty said and then added, “We aren’t going off of a class where we learn how to do this. We sometimes get put in situations where we are asking ourselves, how can we do that?” When asked about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted WA VOAD and its operations, Marty shared, that with all the restrictions of businesses closed and social distancing, it has brought on a lot of challenges. “Our people are not trained in that” he said when it comes to a medical emergency disaster. In this area, people are looking for volunteers who have a medical background and experience. Marty added, “It has limited who we can send out to volunteer. Another challenge with this pandemic is that most of our volunteers are older and in the high-risk age group of possibly catching the Coronavirus. It presents a whole new challenge in who can help and who cannot help in regard to their training, but also their individual circumstances.”

Volunteering is an important economic factor in our country’s proprietary resources to help expand the capacity of non-profit organizations, faith-based groups, local agencies, and community organizations by allowing them to serve more people than they could not through the assistance of good Samaritans wanting to volunteer their time to a good cause.

It was a pleasure talking with Marty about the importance of volunteers. His experiences and the stories he shared were very inspiring. Marty reminded us that the majority of the people in the world are good, and that at the end of the day, people want to help out others in times of need.

To view Marty’s interview, click here