Left Photo: Ron Hale, Arkansas OL’s Sheryl Dudley; Right Photo: Libby Dippel (L), California OL’s Nancy Sheehan
Each year, Operation Lifesaver Authorized Volunteers (OLAVs) conduct free rail safety education programs for audiences large and small in communities across the United States.
We asked two OLAVs, a seasoned veteran and a “newbie,” why they began working with the program and what they like best.
Ron Hale, a retired Union Pacific employee, has been an Operation Lifesaver volunteer for more than 20 years. He was recognized in 2014 with the F. Tom Roberts Memorial Volunteer Award for his outstanding service to Operation Lifesaver. In 2013 alone, Hale conducted 547 presentations, traveling almost 14,000 miles, and reached an audience of 23,150 people in the state of Arkansas.
Elizabeth “Libby” Dippel is a recent college graduate who works in the outreach department of SMART (Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit) in California. She enjoys sharing Operation Lifesaver’s safety message in the communities that SMART serves.
Below is our Q and A with these two outstanding volunteers.
OL: Why did you become an Operation Lifesaver Authorized Volunteer?
Hale: I heard about OL from my first State Coordinator (James Hicks). He took me with him to presentations and when I saw what OL did I was hooked. Before that, I had seen a locomotive in the shop at the railroad where I worked (Union Pacific) that was damaged from hitting a car. The locomotive sustained some damage, but an adult and four children lost their lives.
Dippel: I chose to become an authorized OL volunteer after watching my co-worker give OL presentations. I really felt that the safety messaging was extremely important to share and I wanted to take part in spreading that message to everyone.
OL: What drew you to Operation Lifesaver? How did you learn about it?
Hale: I became a volunteer because I felt I could make a difference, maybe help prevent what happened to those people in the car that was hit by a locomotive from happening to anyone else.
Dippel: Prior to working for SMART I had never heard of Operation Lifesaver. After graduating from college in May of 2014, I was hired as an intern for SMART in the Community Outreach Department. A big component of working in outreach is safety education, so I learned within a few days who Operation Lifesaver was and what they do. I instantly became interested, so I watched some presentations and decided that I wanted to become an authorized volunteer like some of my co-workers.
OL: What do you like best about being an OLAV?
Hale: I really like meeting the people and getting their feedback on my presentations.
Dippel: When I was in college, I was heavily involved in leadership and I loved educating underclassmen. Being an authorized volunteer gives me the opportunity to educate people on a much larger scale, and potentially save lives. One of my favorite moments is when a person comes up to me after a presentation and says something along the lines of: “I had no idea how unsafe I was being around the tracks but you really opened up my eyes. Thank you.”
OL: What do you like best about being an OLAV?
Hale: I am now retired from UP, but it amazes me how many people were unaware of the potential dangers around railroad tracks and property.
Dippel: I’ve had many interactions with people who will say things like: “I always used to place coins/rocks/objects on the tracks, but I had no idea that they could shoot back at me with deadly force” or “I never see trains running around here so I used to use the tracks as a walking path.” I think far too many people just don’t realize how dangerous their actions can be, which is why I’m so glad Operation Lifesaver exists.
OL (to Hale): Do you have any stories to share about what people say to you in a presentation that really underscores the importance of Operation Lifesaver's mission?
Hale: Not long after I started as a volunteer, I was speaking to some elementary students when a second grader stood up in the back and said "I hate the railroad because a train killed my daddy." I hope I never forget that day as a reminder of one reason Operation Lifesaver must continue to do what WE do.
OL (to Dippel): How can Operation Lifesaver do a better job of encouraging younger adults to become volunteers?
Dippel: Simply by making sure people have heard of Operation Lifesaver. When I talk to my peers about being an authorized volunteer for Operation Lifesaver, none of them have ever heard of the organization. Making sure people are aware of OLI’s existence would be a great first step. One way to be visible to young adults would be to work with colleges, for example, perhaps posters could be placed on bulletin boards. Also, authorized volunteers could make requests to give more presentations to young adults.
We are grateful to all of our volunteers for the lifesaving work they do every day across the U.S. Why not help make your community safer by becoming an Operation Lifesaver Authorized Volunteer?