Steven Labov has dedicated the past 43 years of his life to his community through service, and he hopes to make it 50. With no signs of stopping in his many volunteer roles, it looks pretty likely that he will reach that goal.
The Elkins Park, PA resident has always had a passion for public service, following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps to enter a career in law enforcement. He retired last year as sworn Director/Commanding Officer of the Cheltenham Township Police Department’s Auxiliary Police Unit, which he began volunteering for when he was 18. Steven remains dedicated to serving his community through his several other volunteer roles. He is the Chief of Department for the U.S. Search and Rescue Task Force; serves as a volunteer notary, including through the Wills for Heroes Program; is the National Vice President and National Advisory Board Member of National Association of Chiefs of Police; and is a volunteer member in the Emergency Services Section of InfraGard, a partnership program between the FBI and private sector.
Steven also voluntarily serves on several National Boards related to law enforcement, including The Chapel of Four Chaplains; co-authored 15 books and served as a senior consulting editor on a rescue and prevention series, the profits of which he donated to non-profit organizations; and has received several awards and citations for his work, including three life-saving awards related to his work with the Search and Rescue Task Force.
DESCRIBE YOUR VOLUNTEER ROLE WITH THE U.S. SEARCH AND RESCUE TASK FORCE.
I started approximately 30 years ago. It was an interest that I had even though I originally started in law enforcement. It was just something different, but it piqued my interest in order to help serve others. It’s a totally different type of work and it’s sort of a science, similar to the science of firefighting. People think in Search and Rescue, they’re just looking for people, but there’s an actual science to it and there’s a lot of training that a specialist must obtain. I’ve done a lot of searches, for example, for individuals with dementia and there’s a science just for individuals like that so when you go on a mission, you’ll know exactly what to look for based on the individual that has that type of problem. It’s really been a passion, along with law enforcement. Of course, that brought me to New York City during the incident at 9/11. It was a three-and-a-half-month ordeal. It’s not something that one would expect would ever happen in their lifetime. You have to be able to handle these things because it’s constant day after day dealing with death and destruction.
It’s not just missions, which can be few and far between, but it’s also education. We found out if we can educate individuals, and in particular children, on what to do if they do get lost, it makes the rescue of the individual or the search mission much less time consuming and by that, we need a lot less in the way of resources. The longer the search mission take, the larger the search area will grow exponentially, so education is extremely important.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DO AS A VOLUNTEER NOTARY?
There are a few things I do. One would be to swear in any of the volunteer or reserve officers. Others would be situations such as the Wills for Heroes Program, which provides a free service to draft wills for military personnel, law enforcement, fire and rescue. They need attorneys to volunteer and they also need notaries to volunteer, so I volunteer as a notary in order to serve that purpose. Also, occasionally I get calls for individuals who might require notaries who can’t get out of their house, and I’ll go over and take care of that. I must have been a notary now for approximately 15 years, and in all that time, I haven’t charged for any notarizations yet. So, it’s pretty much pro bono even though it gets tougher and tougher to remain a notary because now they’ve changed the laws in Pennsylvania and aside from approximately $500 every four years, you have to now take training each of the four years, but I do it as a public service.
The notary I actually started because I was able to swear in the officers, especially in the unit I commanded. So subsequent to that, I found out about the Wills for Heroes Program, and I was interested in the fact that they also served military and law enforcement and public safety. They always are in dire need of notaries, so I figured I would do the best I can to make the events that they sponsor and assist them in that way.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DO WITH THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CHIEFS OF POLICE?
Currently I serve as National Vice President and Advisory Board Member of National Association of Chiefs of Police. In that capacity, one of the functions that I follow through with is presenting the Medals of Honor to law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. When I say present to the officers killed in the line of duty, the award is presented to the spouse and in the case where there is a son(s), the Medal of Honor goes to the eldest son. These are very emotional events. They could be attended by hundreds of individuals. I’ve had one police chief who wanted to do the presentation in front of a new police academy and have these individuals at the academy actually see what can potentially happen when you go into the law enforcement field. It’s very gratifying to be able to help the widow or widower, as well as the family, not just with presenting the Medal, but also with assistance for summer camp, we send gifts on the children’s birthdays up to the age of 18. It’s a very worthwhile cause.
I serve on different committees over the years. I served on the U.S. Counter Terrorism Committee, I served on the Awards Committee, but currently right now I’m working with training as well as handling awards as they come into this tristate area.
I’ve been on the board for the National Association of Chiefs of Police probably in excess of 20 years now and I firmly believe in support of law enforcement and especially these individuals who will give their life for the life of another. There’s nothing more you can ask for then somebody who is willing to give their life to save someone else so if they can do that, I certainly can do what I can do to help them.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DO WITH THE INFRAGARD?
InfraGard is a partnership between the FBI and members of the private sector. The InfraGard program provides seamless public private collaboration with government and expedites a timely exchange of information and its relative to the protection of critical infrastructures. I’ve been a member of InfraGard for approximately 10 years. It’s interesting work too. All the affiliates are vetted by the FBI. Members come from different backgrounds — military, government officials, law enforcement, emergency services, community professionals — but each is dedicated to contributing specific insight to advancing national security.
It sort of everything meshing together, and when you serve, say in Search and Rescue, it’s almost like in order to be able to serve the public and other agencies better, you have to do more and be part of other organizations just to be able to have yourself trained to a higher level. That’s part of the reason why all of these organizations come into play, and with InfraGard and with Pennsylvania VOAD, they all work together.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO BE INVOLVED IN SO MANY DIFFERENT AREAS?
I think serving others is really important. If people have the time and want to do something rewarding and helpful for the community, I would tell them to volunteer because through this type of service, they can learn to respect others and find their life more valuable. I have 43 years of service and I would love to make it to 50 years in volunteering. You can’t always help everyone, but you can always help someone. You can make a difference, even to one person.
WHAT’S BEEN THE MOST REWARDING PART OF YOUR WORK?
I would say in general, the sense of service. Little did I know, when I first started as a sworn officer in volunteer status, they called them auxiliary/reserve officers, that I would go up through the ranks to become director/commanding officer. Little did I know, that the teams that I worked with and I would be bestowed lifesaving awards for serving in New York City during 9/11. And there’s nothing greater than to be able to give another person a second chance at a life and to give that person back to their family and to see the look on their family’s face when you do recover that person. I believe I was meant to help others, which is why I went into law enforcement and the public safety field. I feel rewarded when interacting with other people. Part of the job in public safety is to make people feel comfortable even when they’re at their lowest point, so comforting people and giving them strength is really rewarding to me.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED THROUGH YOUR EXPERIENCES AS A VOLUNTEER?
Probably how much I care for others. I want everyone basically to be the best person they can and I want to help support them. Volunteering is free, it just takes time. I put in a lot of time, but even a few hours a month that someone else can put in can make a difference. There’s a quote I use, ‘what I have done for myself alone dies with me and what I’ve done for others in the world remains immortal.’ Sometimes people have to remember that.
WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO LEARN FROM YOUR STORY?
I’ll go to another quote, and this is a really simple quote that will make you think; ‘I make a living by what I get, but I make a life by what I give.’ I’ve learned it’s a privilege to volunteer and it’s a gift that I cherish. I’ve learned that everyone can make a difference. If you have an interest in public safety or the community, there’s a volunteer position for you somewhere that you’ll enjoy and you’ll get involved to be able to help others. When I specifically mention public safety or first responders, people don’t usually think of a volunteer position, but it’s a critical role that those in the community can assist with. We’ve had individuals from varied backgrounds, not just in Search and Rescue but as sworn reserve officers. When I say varied backgrounds, we’ve had physicians, attorneys, electricians, individuals in sales, we even had a chef and many others, serving in critical positions that help the community in different ways. So, while the backgrounds can be varied, specific training is provided for whatever they do. There’s a volunteer opportunity pretty much for anyone. As I said, little did I know when I first started to volunteer that I would be going to New York City during 9/11. Some people can’t imagine what I do, and my response to them is I can’t imagine not doing it.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE PEOPLE TO KNOW?
All of the organizations and all of the people you work with, you sort of become a family. In the police department, one of the officers in my unit started at the academy when she was 19 years old. And I guess it was a few weeks after she started, she didn’t show up to training. When we finally tracked her down and we spoke to her parents, we found out she unfortunately was diagnosed with bone cancer. Three days after her 21st birthday, she passed away. But during that year that she was ill, for some odd reason she had a connection and she only wanted to see one of her close girlfriends and me. I would go over about every weekend or every other weekend. I would sit and talk to her and her parents and her brother. Then when she passed, the parents and I became very friendly because we consider the people we work with like a family. Both of her parents were physicians and it was extremely difficult on them because they were trying all over the world to do whatever they could do to save their daughter, and they couldn’t. It was very meaningful to me, to this day, that we are still very good friends. We see each other often and their son also went on to be a physician. Basically, we’re dealing with a huge family and to me, that means a lot. We know we can count on each other. We’ve had some people say ‘I have to go in for a surgery, would you be able to give me a ride,’ or ‘I need help with this,’ and somebody is always there to help. It’s — I was going to say a secondary family, but really, to some people it’s their only family.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Steven? Find local volunteer opportunities.