|Sal Montoro, far right, with Long Island colleagues.
One day he was driving a forklift and cut his hand open. “I saw a Red Cross station and went over for first aid,” he said. “The people were great, and they explained what they did. I promised myself that in the memory of my friends that I lost, I would do something good. That was almost 13 years ago, and I'm still here.”
Recently, with nearly 13 years of experience under his belt as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) captain, board member, shelter committee chairman, and Sheltering Operations Local Emergency Response (SOLER) team founder (SOLER teams set up and run shelters on Long Island), Montoro was promoted to the position of Red Cross National Shelter Operations Manager. In fact, he’s leading the way as the first National Shelter Operations Manager to come from the Greater New York region.
“Shelter Operations Manager is a national title which allows me to supervise shelters in a large-scale disaster,” Montoro explained. “I’m proud of my promotion; it’s taken almost 10 years of work to get to this.”
To be approved as a shelter operations manager Montoro underwent a rigorous training process. It included nearly 15 required courses, multiple assignments as shelter manager, and acting Shelter Operations Manager during Irene and Sandy. “I've been working in shelters for more than 10 years,” he said. “Some were small (25 people); and some large (2,223 people).”
According to Liz Barker, Greater New York senior disaster program manager, Montoro has a passion and enthusiasm for this work that is contagious. “He sincerely wants to help people after disasters, is dedicated to the Red Cross mission, and keeps the success of other volunteers as one of his highest priorities,” she said. “I feel so lucky to have Sal on our side.”
What skill does Montoro believe is most important to a shelter manager? He cites the ability to work well with others. “Before one can be a good leader one needs to be a good follower,” he said. “I've learned throughout the years to become a good listener and a good follower.”
As a shelter worker, Montoro has experienced some particularly emotional scenes. One, he said, took place during Hurricane Katrina, in a Mississippi shelter with over 2,300 people.
“One older woman sat at the front door for days saying she was waiting for her son to come,” he said. “We treated her like she was an aunt, and she treated us with love as well. One day a young man asked for this woman. This was her son; it had taken almost two weeks of looking through all the shelters in Louisiana and Mississippi to find his mother. When he finally found her it was one of the most emotional times of my life.”
“The volunteer work I do is fulfilling,” he added. “It grounds me and reminds me every day how lucky I am. The Red Cross is a great organization. If they'll have me, I plan on staying here for life.”