Jim Daly, a former lieutenant in the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, has been retired 17 years, but the 70-year-old is still responding to emergencies.
As a volunteer in the Salvation Army’s emergency disaster services, he spent two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks in a Salvation Army tent supervising a 10-person team of volunteers serving food to relief workers near ground zero in New York.
He’s led Salvation Army teams providing assistance at the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in 2007 and the north Minneapolis tornado of 2011. And he’s responded, frequently in the middle of the night, to the scene of smaller catastrophes like local house fires.
This year, he spent two weeks in Texas helping in the Salvation Army’s response to Hurricane Harvey.
Often serving as an incident commander, his job typically is managing the logistics of serving thousands of hot meals from the Salvation Army’s mobile kitchens to victims, police, firefighters, even journalists at disaster scenes.
“It just seemed like a continuation of being a police officer,” said Daly, who grew up as an Irish Catholic kid in St. Paul, went to Cretin High School and the University of St. Thomas and now lives in Little Canada. “It’s just a different way of helping people.
Except now the former cop is a licensed kitchen manager and an expert in food safety and “quantity cooking” who ties on a red Salvation Army apron to flip pancakes and wash dishes.
Daly said he’s seen the difference that a simple hot meal can make to someone who has just lost everything.
“You can see that in people’s faces. They’re just lost,” he said. “People are so thankful that someone cares enough at 3 o’clock in the morning to hand them a hot dog.”
The Salvation Army uses local resources first to help people, but if the crisis is big enough, the organization will send volunteers across the country to provide relief.
In places ranging from Victoria, Texas, to Washington, Ill., to New York City, Daly has heard people say with wonder, “You came from Minnesota to help us?”
Salvation Army Major Rae Doliber, the divisional disaster services director in Minnesota, said Daly is one of a handful of disaster volunteers nationwide that the Salvation Army will call to take charge of a major disaster response.
“He is so level- and clearheaded in his decisionmaking,” Doliber said. “He can just bring a peace and calm to a situation that’s just totally out of control.”