They’re fired up about emergency management

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 26, 2007

ISLE OF WIGHT—It would be hard to find two people more enthusiastic about their work than Rusty Chase and Andy Aigner.

The Isle of Wight County Department of Emergency Services Coordinators, who have been on the job for less than three months, beam when they talk about their duties.

&uot;I just love the work,&uot; said Chase, 44, coordinator of the division of emergency management. A former safety officer and emergency planner for Southampton Memorial Hospital in Franklin, he has 30 years’ experience in emergency planning.

&uot;It’s exactly what I’ve always wanted to do,&uot; Aigner added.

The 31-year-old career firefighter, coordinator of the division of fire and emergency medical services ( EMS), is a former battalion chief with the Hanover County Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

The positions held by the two men were created to alter that of Director of Emergency Management, previously held by one individual. By designating the responsibilities of the job to two professionals, one in emergency management and the other in fire and EMS, it allows the county to better prepare IOW citizens for emergencies by developing a strategic plan for fire, rescue and emergency management operations.

Chase, who worked for about a month before Aigner assumed his duties, said of his partner when he came on board, &uot;I did not know who Andy was before he came here, but the first day, it was like we’d always known each other.

Actually, like we were family.

&uot;We’ve just meshed. In fact, I now sometimes call him my little brother,&uot; he added with a grin.

Chase said Aigner had been here only two days when his skills were put to the test &uot;big time.&uot;

&uot;It was when we had the terrible accident on Route 258 and had to call in so much emergency equipment, several fire departments and rescue squads, even three medical helicopters.

&uot;We each knew what had to be done and we did it.

We coordinated the plan, of course, but Andy took care of his responsibilities and I did mine.

Everything fell right into place.&uot;

Aigner feels the same way.

&uot;That wreck was a real disaster,&uot; he said.

&uot;One of the worst I’ve seen.

&uot;But when you’ve trained and worked in this capacity for so many years like Rusty and I have, you’re prepared.&uot;

This is foremost in the minds of the two men.

They want to be as prepared as possible if a disaster should strike the county.

Chase said his job is planning and mitigation for emergency preparedness for disaster, whether it is manmade or natural.

&uot;I work closely with the Sheriff’s Department, Social Services, the Red Cross, ham radio operators, the county administration and fire and rescue departments.

&uot;When and if we have a disaster, I will work in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to see that all these components come together.

&uot;With the help of these services, I make sure that the citizens have shelter, ice and food.

Andy takes care of the medical attention.

&uot;We try to get the word out, when for instance, there is a hurricane approaching, so citizens can prepare for it.

&uot;Unfortunately, not all citizens, those with disabilities maybe, or the elderly, can do much in the way of preparedness.

&uot;In a case like this, the schools will use their busses and drivers to transport those who need it to designated shelters.

We’re very fortunate to have this resource.&uot;

Chase said his department has worked to make the shelters ready.

&uot;For instance, we’ve upgraded the generators at Windsor High School and Smithfield Middle School, the two schools which are our primary shelters.&uot;

He said he is planning for additional shelters.

At present, Carrollton Elementary and Smithfield High are our backup shelters, but we hope to eventually have them all over the county.

&uot;I am so indebted to the superintendent of schools, Dr Michael McPhearson and Peter Andreu, for giving me the opportunity to go into the schools to talk to the staff about what we’re doing.

&uot;I want all county residents, young and old, to know that there is a plan to help them in case of a disaster, of course, but I have a special concern for senior citizens.

Often they are frightened and have no way to help themselves. I want them to know that we will take care of them.&uot;

Chase urges citizens to look at the county website, , which gives information on hurricane preparedness.

&uot;This has a wealth of important information, which is always up-to-date. It will go a long way in helping us get the word out.&uot;

Aigner, a firefighter since he was 14, is a fourth generation fireman and expects to continue in this profession &uot;for the rest of my life.&uot;

&uot;For me, it is the only job to have, the one I have always wanted. And I could not ask for a better partner than Rusty&uot;

According to information released by the county in June, Aigner’s role will be to enable the county to better deliver those services that the county has committed to provide to the county’s volunteer agencies.

This would include the hiring, evaluating, scheduling and training of paid personnel, the coordination, funding and provision of training in support of the volunteer agencies, overseeing of capital and operating budget process and the coordination of medical transport billing.

He said, like Chase, there is a lot he wants to accomplish. &uot;My main goal is to provide the best quality service to the citizens of this county, while maintaining the volunteer system.

&uot;I think that’s the key — building our volunteers to be the very best.

Both Chase and Aigner have had extensive training in their fields.

Chase is a member of VA1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team as a paramedic/respiratory therapist and was deployed for Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita.

He worked in EOC in Franklin during Hurricanes Floyd, Isabel and Tropical Storm Ernesto.

Aigner has worked his way up through he ranks since 1990 and excelled in several firefighting positions, including communications, fire marshal and battalion chief.