emergency management

Master of disasters in Wood County ready to retire

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Brad Gilbert will never forget the day. “June 5, 2010, at 11:16 in the evening,” he said. “It was the big one.” Gilbert has been responding to emergencies in Wood County now for more than 12 years. But that one – the Lake Township tornado – was the worst. “For EMA directors, we know it’s a matter of when, not if,” he said. “We only see those types of tornadoes every 50 to 60 years.” And it just happened to be on his shift. Gilbert announced this past week that he is retiring from this job as Wood County Emergency Management Agency director at the end of March. He has already outlived the terms of many EMA directors in the state, who average 7.5 years in the job. “The job itself I continue to love. It’s the 24/7, it’s the phone calls at all hours,” Gilbert said. When storms roll in, Gilbert has to be ready to roll out. The Lake Township tornado was the worst incident during his time as EMA director. Seven people were killed, more than 30 injured, and many homes and businesses were destroyed. “It’s an emotional thing. No one wants people to die on your watch,” he said. As EMA director, Gilbert has dealt with many crises. There was the train derailment that spilled diesel fuel. “Those are always challenging.” There were two pipeline leaks – one spilling oil into Rocky Ford Creek near Cygnet, and the other leaking propane in Middleton Township prompting an evacuation. There’s been plenty of flooding, especially in the Grand Rapids and Pemberville areas along rivers. “We’ve made a lot of gains on information documenting, so we know what to expect at certain water levels,” Gilbert said. “Flooding is tough because it really impacts people for a long time period,” he said. And then there have been countless incidents of straightline winds and small tornadoes wreaking havoc. Gilbert is responsible for assessing damage from storms to see if the area qualifies for outside government assistance. Gilbert is accustomed to coming into people’s lives at low points. “Usually they are experiencing some of the worst things of their lives,” he said. Yet, he loves the job – the interaction with first responders, elected officials and the public. “We are trying to build collaboration and cooperation across the county,” before an emergency occurs, he…

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