There’s not much time in the day for the new Director of Emergency Director Services to fix up his office, which is why John Callahan has a shopping cart full of electronic equipment taking up a fair amount of floor space.
“I’m trying to get this rearranged,” Callahan offers as a brief apology, but when you’re directing one of the largest and busiest departments of the Salvation Army, remodeling takes a back seat to storms, wildfires, and all manner of other emergencies that can strike across Kansas and Western Missouri.
You might say service is a deep-seated part of Callahan’s DNA who joined the Salvation Army after a career as a firefighter spanning more than 30 years, following both his father and grandfather as volunteer firefighter in Colorado.
“We’ve always been into the service areas,” Callahan explained, “Right out of high school, I went in the Army and served, and then I got into the fire service.”
In 1995, Callahan moved to Kansas City, and joined the Southern Platte Fire Department as a volunteer before becoming a fulltime firefighter in 1996 when the department transitioned to a professional unit. From EMS to Lieutenant to Captain to Division Chief, Callahan has worn every helmet in a firefighting unit over the course of his career.
His dedication to service has passed down to his children, daughter, Patti, studying to be a nurse and son, Jack, in ROTC, two years away from becoming a second lieutenant in the Army.
“Everyone in my family has been into some type of service thing. Whether it was school teacher, law enforcement, EMS, fire, military, that kind of thing.
We’re just a service type of family.”
It was Callahan’s commitment to service which lead him to join a new family early in 2018. The Salvation Army needed a new Director of Emergency Disaster Services, and after retiring from 30 years of firefighting, Callahan was eager to start a new chapter while still serving people in need.
“I knew of the Salvation Army working through the fire department, but I never knew how diverse it is. That’s what I knew from coming out during disasters and helping with hydration and feeding,” Callahan said.
Joining the Salvation Army was eye-opening for Callahan as he saw the true width and depth of our reach and impact. “They really are a diverse group and do a lot of good.”
And a great deal of the good is performed by the very people who Callahan started his career as in Colorado, volunteers.
“Volunteers are very passionate,” Callahan observed from his years of experience, “I don’t think you’ll find anything as pure as a volunteer, because their heart and their soul is in what they’re doing.”
Now working with the Salvation Army and its dedicated volunteers, Callahan is ready to help people put their lives back together because every disaster is personal for the individuals effected.
“I’ve been on a lot of fires. Every fire is devastating, because it’s terrible to see someone lose everything they have,” Callahan remembered from his three decades of fighting fires.
As the new director, Callahan’s priorities include shortening the roll-out time for the Salvation Army’s 18 canteens to hit the road to the scene of disasters and prepare for situations that would test any organizations capabilities.
“What if we need to feed 5000 people?” he asked, not rhetorically. “How are we going to do that? And do we have a plan to do that right now?” A disaster necessitating such a need is indeed possible across the 86,772 square miles in Kansas and Western Missouri.
So, the former fire chief, called to service immediately after high school is ready to tackle a new career, chapter, and challenge with the Salvation Army.
You’ll forgive him if the changes to his office have to wait a little longer.