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John Gallups knows a thing or two about responding to disasters. The former Montgomery, Alabama police sergeant, hostage negotiator and volunteer firefighter has spent most of his life on the front lines of emergency situations, often among the first to arrive when calamity strikes.

Since leaving law enforcement 22 years ago to embark on an insurance career, John hasn’t lost his drive to help others. He frequently travels to volunteer in relief efforts for natural disasters, lending a hand to survivors of fires, hurricanes and tornadoes from Florida to California.

“We’re supposed to help people,” says John, a Senior Investigator in AIG’s North American Special Investigations Unit in Wetumpka, Alabama. “We have to show people that there is still hope in this world, and people will follow our action long before they follow our words. And that’s why I do what I do.”

After Hurricane Irma slammed into Florida’s Gulf Coast in 2017, John arrived to a scene of utter devastation. Houses had been flattened, trees were strewn about and survivors were gripped by shock.

“It was just such an eerie feeling to see houses totally destroyed, with one house standing alone with no damage,” he recalls. “The looks on people’s faces when we spoke to them—they couldn’t even comprehend what was going on.”

John stepped in to serve and deliver food to the victims, steer them into shelters and clean debris from people’s homes.

We’re There to Show Them Hope

A year later, John rushed to Magalia, California, the scene of the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire outbreak in California’s history. The Camp Fire had destroyed homes and claimed lives in a wide path of destruction across Northern California over a period of 17 days in November 2018.

“I’ve been in the fire service for 20 years,” John says. “I’ve fought house, wood and wildland fires before, but this is something I have never experienced in my life.”

Among his most gut-wrenching volunteer responsibilities was to accompany families to the site of their homes for the first time to assess the damage after the fire had been extinguished.

“They see in a lot of cases that their houses were totally destroyed,” John says. “They don’t know how to react. We ask them about their memories and their families, and remind them that nobody was killed. We’re there to show them hope.”

In January, the father of two and grandfather of two, served food to first responders when a tornado tore through his hometown of Wetumpka. John serves as the chaplain for the city’s police department. John has also visited Haiti, helping provide meals for children, assisting a pharmacy in distributing medications, building homes and training people in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

“God and prayers from Angie, my wife of 20 years, help me carry out these volunteer activities,” John says.

He also got a little help from AIG. John takes advantage of AIG’s Volunteer Time Off program, which grants employees two days a year to devote to volunteer activities on top of their normal paid time off. He also takes advantage of the company’s Matching Grants Program to donate monthly to the 1:1 Foundation he started to help first responders manage the stress of their jobs. AIG’s Matching Grants Program matches employee donations to eligible U.S.-based charitable organizations by 2:1 for donation amounts up to $5,000 a year.

“I’ve never seen a company that has been so supportive in helping me to help others and gives employees time off to be boots on the ground in disasters,” John says.

This project is supported by AIG’s volunteer programme.

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