By Gina Cortez, FEMA External Affairs, DR-4145-CO
Reservist James Gentile was sound asleep in his hotel room when the phone rang during a recent frosty night. On the line was his supervisor asking him to report to the Colorado Joint Field Office at 5 a.m. A heating coil had burst, flooding two floors of the JFO where Gentile works. With the readiness to respond to emergencies that has characterized him for almost five decades, the self-described energetic 81-year-old logistics specialist sprang into action once again.
“There were puddles of water on the rugs,” said Gentile, who, along with a team of logistics staff, rushed to the JFO. “We got the vacuums to get all the water out as much as we could.”
Whether in a small-scale emergency like the one at the JFO or a large-scale one, he thrives under pressure. And it always been that way, said Gentile, who might have the longest-running career in government emergency work in the country. It’s the adrenaline rush that keeps him going.
“That’s when I am at my best!” said the resident of Newton, Massachusetts, with sparkling eyes. “Stressful events provide an opportunity to grow and develop. I get motivated when I am under stress. It’s about finding solutions and trying new approaches to make your life easy.”
Problem-solving and courtesy go hand in hand, he said, smiling as he focused on delivering office items to customers from behind his Supply Room desk a week after the JFO flooded.
“Kindness is important when you work with people,” he said. “Things do not work if you have an attitude.”
And how has the long-time logistician kept his stamina over decades? Gentile credits deployments for it and adds that his own doctor marvels at how active he is. He exercises three times a week and prefers stairs over elevators.
With 85 deployments, Gentile has anecdotes. Gentile remembers the northeastern blizzard of February 1978, when he worked in Boston for the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration (FDAA), the pre-FEMA agency in charge of coordinating major federal disaster response and recovery operations under the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The nor’easter pounded the New England region, dumping almost 27 inches of snow in some areas and killing almost 100 people.
“The snow was so high and deep that people had to travel by plane and helicopter,” recalled Gentile, who spent his birthday in overdrive mode managing logistics emergency operations.
After Colorado, he will return home to his family and will continue doing what he knows best.
“I will be waiting for the call,” he said. “I will be ready to get to a disaster site again and help set up the office for the program people to arrive.”