First Days of Retirement on Deployment

By Kathleen Maclay, Red Cross volunteer


On his final day of work in his 39-year career, Jim Camarillo of Menlo Park rose early to join other volunteers at the American Red Cross shelter at the Twin Pines Casino in Middletown, where nearly 100 men, women and children had taken refuge the night before from the ravages of the Mendocino Complex fire.

He’s performed similar tasks in the aftermath of three hurricanes — Ivan (2004), Rita (2005) and the latest, Harvey (2017) — and the San Bruno pipeline explosion (2010).  In between, he’s responded to a couple dozen structure fires close to home as part of a Disaster Action Team. His latest deployment marks his first foray into the increasingly common emergency efforts related to wildfires that so far this year in California have scorched 4.8 million acres.

“It’s eye-opening,” Camarillo said about his experiences that have taken him across the country and back, into rich neighborhoods as well as poor ones, to extend a hand to those in need.

At the reception desk at the Twin Pines shelter just off Highway 29, he warmly greets or bids farewell to those seeking safety, a bottle of cold water, a meal, directions and more from the Red Cross and its myriad partners in the Mendocino Fire relief effort.

“Sorry to see you leave, but happy to see you go!” gushes the warm-hearted former Cub Scout master and little league coach.

“I actually enjoy calming down the agitated and giving our clients the personal respect they deserve and the attention that they require,” said Camarillo.

He said he enjoys greeting people and making them comfortable, putting them at ease and lending an ear when they need one.

Camarillo began as a Red Cross volunteer after being prodded into action by watching the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  Thirty days after taking a Red Cross crash course in response to that natural disaster, Camarillo landed in Longview, Texas.

“Everywhere we go, people are so appreciative,” Camarillo said.

For anyone considering volunteering with the Red Cross, he advised that the organization “has multiple jobs for multiple personalities, whether you’re introverted or extroverted, outgoing or a worker bee – just pick your interest and go in slowly. You don’t have to run the Red Cross, just do your part.”

Part of his reward, Camarillo said, is the warm response by his wife and three adult children. “They’re so proud of me volunteering. I’m setting the right example.


Wildfires across California have stretched the Red Cross volunteer ranks. To apply online to be an event-based volunteer in the Mendocino Complex area, visit