Good Neighbor Thomas Maloney: Calm After the Storm

“Sometimes the most important thing we do is just convince [people] that tomorrow things will be better.” —Thomas Maloney

November 1, 2004

You might figure that, after 34 years as a firefighter, Thomas Maloney would rather let someone else get out of bed in the middle of the night to help families facing the smoking ruins of their homes. But if that’s what you think, you don’t know Maloney.

Maloney, now a sales executive with Liberty Pierre Joseph Realty Inc. in Pittsfield, Mass., is the go-to guy on the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team in rural Berkshire County in Western Massachusetts.

“Sure, I’ve had my fill of fires, but you never quit wanting to help people,” says Maloney, who’s been in real estate for 21 years. “Sometimes just being there to share their tears is the best thing you can do.”

In fact, Maloney and the Disaster Action Team he’s chaired for eight years do a lot more than that, arranging emergency shelter, clothing, food, and basic necessities for victims in the immediate aftermath of a crisis.

“Last winter we had 16 people made homeless in one apartment building fire, and Tom spent the entire weekend helping folks get resettled,” says Stephen Duffy, fire chief in Pittsfield, a town of 47,000 residents.

Rich Griffin, an electrician who was living in the building, was one of those people. “It was at least 20 degrees below zero, and the building smoldered for days,” he recalls. “Right from the start, Tom and the Red Cross team were there for us. They got us food, housing, clothing, and other things we needed. They really came through for us.”

Maloney, 73, figures helping others is in his blood. “Sometimes I’ll come in after a fire and my wife will tell me she didn’t hear the phone ring, and I’ll say, ‘It didn’t. I heard about it on the news, and I knew they’d need me.’”

People who work with Maloney say he conveys his passion to everyone around him. “Our Disaster Action Team looks to him for leadership,” says Kathleen Phillips, executive director of the American Red Cross, Berkshire County Chapter. As chair, Maloney recruits and trains team members and travels throughout the county to negotiate contracts with emergency shelter providers and other vendors.

“Having someone with Tom’s experience and dedication is invaluable,” Phillips say. “When there’s a fire or other emergency, he knows what to do first and how to help without interfering with the efforts of the police and fire departments.”

Maloney doesn’t just help the victims. “He understands what it’s like [for firefighters] to be wet and cold and dog tired,” says Chief Duffy. “In the winter he’ll have hot coffee and doughnuts for us or find a bus for my guys to warm up in.”

A terse-talking New Englander who answers the phone, “Tom here!” Maloney says his commitment to the Red Cross stems from his experience in the military and, later, with the fire department when the Red Cross was “always there with a smile and a ‘cuppa joe’ when you needed it.”

He says it’s rewarding to now be the one dispensing the coffee and comfort. “People are confused and scared. They can’t believe what’s happened. They don’t know what to do next, so we try to calm them down and help them with basic things like calling their insurance agent or finding them something warm and clean to wear,” he says. “Sometimes the most important thing we do is just convince them that tomorrow things will be better.”

The Red Cross’s Phillips says Maloney is respected throughout the state. “For the past 10 years he’s helped with flood relief and ice storm recovery, search and rescue situations, and, of course, hundreds of fires. To say he’s dedicated doesn’t say enough about his commitment to others,” she says.

Maloney says his career in real estate is a perfect cap to a life of service. As a firefighter and as a real estate professional, he says, “helping people is what we do.”

Contact Maloney at Liberty Pierre Joseph Realty Inc., 44 Mohegan St., Pittsfield, MA 01201; 413/443-6856; Par5Tom@aol.com.

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